Pandharpur, the Land of Lord Vitthal, is one of the most pious place in India revered with steeped devotion to Lord Krishna, who is also locally known as “Vitthal” or “Vithoba”. Padma Purana and Skanda Purana describe that Lord Krishna came to Pandharpur in search of Rukmini Devi, when she became upset from Krishna while they were in Dwarka.
At Pandharpur, the most amazing pastime with Lord Krishna’s great devotee Pundalik took place. Pundalik gave a brick ‘Vit’ to stand, and asked Lord to wait as he was serving his parents.
As Lord stood, He kept His lotus hands on His hips, waiting for Pundarika to return. While He was waiting, Rukmini, having forgotten her distress, came from Dindirvana and re-joined Him. Both of Them stayed in Pandharpur in this deity form. To this day the Lord stands on the same brick with hands on hips, but now He’s waiting for all His devotees to come see Him.
The word “Vitthala” is derived from the Marathi word “Vit”, meaning brick, and "thala" means standing. This is why Lord Krishna is called as "Vitthala" in Pandharpur. While waiting, the Lord seems to tell the devotees, “Do not fear. For those who have surrendered unto Me, I have reduced the depth of the ocean of material suffering. See, it is only this deep.” Lord indicates the shallowness of the ocean by placing His hands on His hips.
Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu visited Pandharpur while on His journey through South India. He stayed here for 11 days. Sri Caitanya Caritamrta Madhya-lila chapter 9 verses 282–283 and 9.300-303 describe Lord Caitanya’s visit to Pandharpur.
Sant Janabai was born in 13th century. When she was 7 years old, her parents visited Sri Vitthal temple in Pandharpur. As soon as Janabai had darshan of Sri Vitthal, she caught hold the lotus feet of Lord Vitthal and said to she won’t return home, rather live in Pandharpur in service of Lord. Her parents persuaded, but she was adamant not to leave the lotus feet of Supreme Lord. Finally her parents relented and left her under the shelter of Lord Vitthal. After that, Sant Namdev came to have the darshan of Sri Vitthal, and saw this little girl crying at the lotus feet of Lord. Namdev took her to his home. Janabai requested Namdev that she would live as a maidservant at his house. Janabai’s devotion to Lord Vitthal was so steeped and unalloyed that Supreme Lord Krishna came frequently in disguise to help her in household chores – grinding grains, picking cow dung cakes and even writing abhangas that she used to sing. Throughout the day, she would sing devotional songs abhangas in glorification of her beloved Sri Vitthal and simultaneously performed household chores. Association of saint Namdev was a great benediction for her.
Sant Sakhubai was a great devotee of Lord Vitthal. Her in-laws used to trouble her a lot. Once when she went to river to fetch water, she saw Varakari people going to Pandharpur, she also started going with them. Her husband and mother-in-law came to know about it. They beat her up and locked in a room tied to a pillar with a rope. Saviour of the devotees Lord personally took her to Pandharpur and tied Himself to the pillar instead. In Pandharpur, she took Panduranga’s darshan and surrendered herself at His feet and she gave up life. When Varakari returned, they told this story to mother-in-law. Hearing this she went inside the room and she saw Lord was in the form of Sakhu. Everyone was surprised to see that. Mother Rukmini made Sakhu alive again and sent her back to village. Seeing Lord Saku placed her head at His feet and streams tears started rolling from her eyes while she was saying to Lord, because of me You had to go through so much trouble. For the devotee Lord gave darshan to all.
Sant Namdev (1270-1350 AD) was a stalwart devotee of Lord Vitthal. He was born in the family of cloth merchant. From his early childhood he was deeply dedicated to unalloyed devotion to Lord Vitthal. He preached the mission of Harinam Sankirtan and devotion to Lord Krishna the prime objective of human life. He sang and wrote Abhanga, the devotional poetry in glorification of the Supreme Lord. Besides Maharashtra, he also travelled to provinces of Punjab to preach the glories of Lord Hari. Namdev's writings were also recognized by the Gurus of Sikhism and are included in the holy book of Sikhism, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
Sant Gora Kumbhar was was potter by profession. He was always absorbed in singing bhajans glorifying Lord Vitthal and chanting the name of Pandurang (Lord Vitthal) even while working. They had only one child whom they named as Vitthal. Once, his wife left her child in the courtyard where Gora Kumbhar was working and went to bring water. Gora Kumbhar was busy in preparing the mud required to make the earthen pots and was as usual engrossed in singing bhajans of Pandurang. His child playing near him, fell in the shallow ditch where the mud for preparing the pots was laid. Gora Kumbhar was churning the mud with his feet. While doing so, he accidentally crushed his child under his feet. He was so engrossed in singing the bhajans of Pandurang that he didn't even hear the cries of his child. On returning back, his wife started searching for the child. As she was unable to find it, she went to Gora Kumbhar to inquire about their child. There, her eyes fell on the churned mud, which had become red with blood. She realised that her child had been crushed under the mud. She started wailing in grief. As an atonement of this mistake, Gora Kumbhar broke off both his hands. Due to this, his pottery business suffered a setback.
Thereafter, Lord Vitthal and Rukmani came in disguise as labourers and started living in his house. As a result, his business started to flourish again. After a few days, on the auspicious day of Ashadhi Ekadashi, the famous saints, both Vitthal and Rukmini in disguise as laborers expressed desire to visit Pandharpur. Gora Kumbhar and his wife decided to accompany them. As they reached Pandharpur, they saw Sant Namdev performing kirtan at a place. All the other devotees were singing with him. Gora Kumbhar and his wife also sat down to join the kirtan. During the kirtan, people raised their hands and started clapping and singing praise of Lord Vitthal. Even Gora Kumbhar instinctively raised his broken arms in the air. To everyone's surprise, hands sprung up from his broken arms. Everyone was glad to see this and they all sung praise of Lord Pandurang. Gora Kumbhar and his wife immediately went to Sri Vitthal temple take darshans and express their gratitude for Lord’s unfathomable mercy on them. Then, as they were taking darshan of Lord Vitthal, same laborers who served them appeared from the deity. Gora Kumbhar and his wife realized that it was Supreme Lord Vitthal and Rukmini who’d come in disguise. Gora Kumbhar and his wife repented for taking serve from them. Pleased by great devotion of Gora Kumbhar and his wife, Rukmini returned there only child to them, who got crushed while Gora Kumbhar was absorbed in singing bhajans.
Sant Eknath (1533 - 1599 AD) was a staunch devotee of Lord Vitthal. He always glorified Lord Vitthal and performed humble devotional service for Supreme Lord’s pleasure, irrespective of any impediments presented to him. On several occasions, pleased by unalloyed devotion of Eknath, Lord Vitthala personally came to him in disguise, and enacted wonderful pastimes with him. He was born in Paithan (56km from Aurangabad).
Sant Kanhopatra was a daughter of a rich prostitute and courtesan named Shyama, who lived in the town of Mangalvedhe, near Pandharpur. Shama was uncertain about the identity of Kanhopatra's father, but suspected that it was the town's head-man Sadashiva Malagujar. Kanhopatra spent her childhood in the palatial house of her mother, served by several maids, but because of her mother's profession, Kanhopatra's social status was de-meaningly low. Kanhopatra was trained in dance from early childhood so that she could join her mother's profession. She became a talented dancer and singer, and was extremely beautiful. Shama suggested that Kanhopatra visit the Badshah (Muslim king), who will adore her beauty and gift her money and jewellery, but Kanhopatra flatly refused. Shama wanted Kanhopatra to marry, but Kanhopatra longed to marry a man who was more beautiful than her. Sadashiva Malagujar, Kanhopatra's supposed father, heard of Kanhopatra's beauty and wished to see her dance, but Kanhopatra refused. Accordingly Sadashiva started to harass Kanhopatra and Shama. Shama tried to convince him that he was the father of Kanhopatra and thus should spare them, but Sadashiva did not believe her. As he continued his harassment, Shama's wealth slowly depleted. Eventually, Shama apologised to Sadashiva and offered to present Kanhopatra to him. Kanhopatra, however, fled to Pandharpur disguised as a maid, with the help of her aged maid Hausa. When Kanhopatra first saw the Sri Vitthala of Pandharpur, she sang in an abhanga to express her gratefulness and praise the Supreme Lord that she was blessed to have seen Vithoba's feet. She had found the unparalleled beauty she sought in her groom in Vithoba. She withdrew from the society and moved into a hut in Pandharpur with Hausa and lived an ascetic's life. She sang and danced at the Vithoba temple, and cleaned it twice a day. She gained the respect of the people, who believed her to be a poor farmer's daughter maddened by the love of Vithoba. During this same time, however, Sadashiva, who felt insulted by Kanhopatra's refusal, sought the help of the Badshah (Muslim king) of Bidar. Hearing tales of Kanhopatra's beauty, the Badshah ordered her to be his concubine. When she refused, the king sent his men to get her by force. Kanhopatra took refuge in the Vitthala’s temple. The soldiers of the king besieged the temple and threatened to destroy it if Kanhopatra was not handed over to them. Kanhopatra requested a last meeting with Vithoba before being taken. Kanhopatra then took the shelter of the lotus feet of Sri Vitthal. Deeply absorbed in pangs from Supreme Lord, she left her body at the lotus feet of Sri Vitthala. As per her last wishes, her body was buried near the southern part of the temple. From this spot, a tarati tree has arose, to which devotees offer obeisances the remembrance of her devotion to Lord Vitthal.