There are lots conflicting legends regarding the reason why the supreme divinity Vithoba came down to the sandy beach of the Bhima and remained there. One of the most accepted legends says that the saint Pundalik got attracted the god by his holiness. Again, Pundalik is a rather mysterious figure. As per the Karmarkar, he might have been a Jaina ascetic from Karnataka. So, in that case, he was not also original dweller of the kshetra and he would not have been a Vaisnava either. He was also mentioned as a devotee of the god Narayana in the southern depression of the Mahabharata. It is said that being impressed by his devotion towards his aged parents, Lord Vishnu appeared in person visibly (pratyaksa) before Pundalika and so Pundalika obtained Vishnu's own residence. According to the legends, when Lord Vishnu also known as Vittal appeared in front of him, Pundalika was busy attending his father and mother on the sandy bank of the Chandrabhaga. He just unmindfully threw a brick to his divine visitor to stand on it. Vitthal was not offended and rather out of love for Pundalika, he stood there upright on the brick and so he remained forever.
But this mythical story brings out some interesting points in mind. The behaviour of the saint Pundalika was the opposite of a virtuous Vaisnava. His devotion was towards his parents and for which he treated his divine visitor with disdain. But still the Lord Vithoba or Vittal could not resist the attraction of his holiness and he instantly placed himself entirely just standing on the brick and kept waiting there. The moral of this story is the extraordinary power of devotion, it does not matter what the object. Lord Vithoba was such a 'lover of bhaktas'. Instead of his rude behaviour towards Vithoba, Pundalika is remembered by the poet-saints of Maharahstra because it is he who brought Vitthal to Pandharpur.
In the legend of Pundalika, the coming of Vithoba is said but from where he came is not mentioned anywhere. As known, Vitthal is regarded to be a Kannadiga deity so he is suspected to come from the South. But since the Vitthal of Pandharpur is looked upon as a swarupa, this origin is not mentioned in the Pundalik legend or in any other legend connected with the arrival of the god in Pandharpur.
Again, as per the Varakan tradition, Pundalik legend intermingled with another legend. According to that legend, Vithoba is said to be identical with Krishna Gopal, who actually came from Dwaraka to Pandharpur as a wandering cowherd following his companions, the Gopas, and his cows. The story goes like this, it is said that Krishna got settled in Dwarka after leaving Mathura and married Rukmini, the princess of Vidarbha. As per the Varakan legend, Radha came to visit her beloved Krishna in Dwaraka and sat in his lap. This annoyed Rukmini, his chief queen. She thus left him in anger and wandered about by herself. She finally reached Dindirvan, a densely forested area on the bank of the Bhima, which lies just outside the northern limit of the present ksetra. Rukmini remained there hiding in a stone with the support of local goddess, Masadevi. If this legend is to agree with the previous one, the reunion of the two could not have taken place before Vitthal alias Vithoba Krishna had come himself to Pundalik and taken his stand on the 'brick'. From this story, it is enough to explain how Vithoba came to Pandharpur. But it is yet not clear whether Vithoba came to Pandharpur for Pundalik's holiness or in search of Rukmini. But the story of Rukmini explains why Vithoba stands alone in the great temple without having his spouse by his side and why the goddess is relegated to a different niche behind the main shrine.
The third important shrine connected with the arrival of Vithoba in Pandharpur is the Visnupada shrine. It is situated on a small rocky island in the riverbed. It is said that in Vishnupada, the god Vithoba arrived in the well-known form of Krishna Gopal. Here, the shrine is an open mandapa built over the rocks and the clear imprints of human feet and apparently also cow prints and even the imprint of Krishna's flute can be seen here.
(Last Updated on : 24-07-2009)