Pandharpur is a large town on the banks of Bhima or Chandrabhaga as it is locally known. This is referred to in old texts by various names such as Pandhari, Pandurangapur, PandaraDgapalli, Pandarange, Phaganipur, Pundarik Kshetra. It is impossible to trace the original forms from which these derivatives have been evolved, except in the case of Pandaranga palli and Pundarik Kshetra, one indicating the presence of Pandurang and the other indicating that of Pundarik or Pundalik, the great devotee who caused the god to stand where he today is.
Today it is known as Pandharpur or simply Pandhar. In addition lately huge rest-houses or dharmashalas are erected by great devotees of Vitthal like Sant Gadage Maharaj, Hotels and guest-houses also entertain visitors and lodging at Pandharpur is not a very difficult proposition, of course in off seasons.
When the two great yatras are taking place it is with great difficulty that accommodation of a decent sort could be found. Moreover, in spite of the best precautions that the authorities take the sanitation of the place is not always satisfactory and as such a casual visitor, one who is not a varkari would be well advised to go to the place when no fair is in progress.
The whole town of Pandharpur is clustered with temples big aid small, and the parts of the town that house the principal shrines still do maintain much of their medieval aspect. The streets are extremely narrow, not more than nine to ten feet in width, although paved with stone.
These lanes are flanked on either side by towering houses, many of them three storeyed mansions built on the typical Maratha style. They present a dead surface to the street for the first fifteen feet or so that are built in stone. The upper parts are in brick, have windows and a balcany or two These stand close together and practically hang over the streets making them dark and gloomy. The parts of the town developed in recent years display all aspects of modernity-broad streets and well-spaced houses. But the older part dominates the picture. Custom demands that the darshanof the deity is to be preceded by a visit to Pundalik and by a dip in the Chandrabhaga.
The river has a fairly broad bed here. On either side are vast stretches of sandy banks that are overrun in the floods. On the banks and inside the water are several temple structures. The vast gravelly-stretches are used for camping by the varkaris who flock here in their thousands. To make the approach to the waters easier several ghats or flights of steps have been constructed by charitable Persons.
Most of these were built during the latter half of the eighteenth century, and many are of substantial size, two stretching for more than a hundred feet along the river. However, they do not form a continuous stretch as at some other kshetras, being interspersed with buildings and temples. Building of ghats was a public utility that had assumed the status of a punyakarma, and was practised all over Maharashtra the Peshwa period. Pandharpur received its share of such attention and although some of the ghats are, not in use now, their utility to the people was immense in the bygone days.
In the bed of the Bhima and a furlong f rom the Vitthal shrine is the temple or Samadhi of Pundalik, the man who brought the God to Pandharpur. It is a square room (internally), with an -open arched portico in its front. This portico is larger than the garbhagriha measuring (25 by 17). The shrine is surmounted by a brick and mortar spire that is pyramidal in shape, rising in five storeys. The main object or worship at this place is a Shiva ling. The ling is covered with a close fitting brass cover and on it is set a hollow bust of the god.
The bust of the god wears ear ornaments and a mukut that is surrounded by the coils of a five hooded cobra. On either side of the brass figure are three feet high brass images of Jaya and Vijaya, the dwarpalas of the shrine. At four in the morning the daily routine rites start with the Kakadarati. The daily worship is by a Koli ministrant in the early morning.
It includes the usual baths in the five nectars or panchamrits, milk curds, ghee, honey and sugar, the rubbing with oil and other fragrant substances and the offering of Bel-leaves, flowers and naivedya. The worship is offered to the ling and the brass image is taken out at this time.
After the worship the image is replaced over the ling and wrapped in silk-bordered dhoti and kurata. In the evening the arati is sung. During the Mahashivaratri days a big festival is held here. When one goes to have the darshan of the image he finds himself surrounded by people most anxious to secure the maximum possible punya for the visitor.
This is done through a convenient method, no tapa or meditation is required, he just pays as much as the priest asks for and he is assured of the greatest possible punya. This method of accumulating punya, though profitable to priests would soon ruin the visitor if he is not careful enough to give whatever he wants and not whatever the priests want. This is so because there are so many sacred spots here that a person who is off his guard is likely to accumulate vast stock-piles of punya that would last him during not only this but many more births