The Abhang 6: Sacred Geography: Pandharpur and the Chandrabhaga~The Body is the Temple of God
Pandharpur is the sacred city or tirtha of the Varkaris, where the main shrine dedicated to Vithobha is to be found. Thus, many abhangas extol the virtues of this city. Vithoba is also called Pandharinath and Pandurang.
Pandharpur lies of the banks of the River Bheem, that is also referred to as the Chandrabhaga. Chandrabhaga means crescent moon. The Chandrabhaga too is often referenced in Abhangas.
There is information about Pandharpur on the web, but Dilip Chitre’s notes in Says Tuka are also very useful as always:
Pandharpur lies to the south-east of Bombay, about 480 kilometres away, on the Deccan plateau; the river Bheema, which at this point is given the poetic name “Chandrabhaga” or “crescent moon”, flows through the sacred city housing the premier shrine of Vitthal; it is an ancient settlement on a busy junction of old trade routes passing through a river valley; for the last seven hundred years Varkari pilgrims have been gathering here twice every year to attend the festival of Vitthal; the Varkaris believe that Vitthal is the form in which Vishnu himself landed on the Earth to visit his great devotee, Pundalik, and has been standing since on “the Brick” on which Pundalik asked him “to wait for a while”; the cult of Vithoba or Vitthal is thus centred in Pandharpur as its sacred geographical nucleus; a Maharashtra-wide network of pilgrim routes meets at this centre; Pandharpur is also the city where the poet-saints and devotees of Vithoba gave a shape to the Marathi language and its literary culture by assimilating the dialects of various pilgrims and disseminated a sense of equality, brotherhood, and spititual community; Tukaram has several poems about Pandharpur and its sacred importance; he also addresses Vitthal quite often as the “Lord of Pandharpur”, Tukaram has stressed the importance of the pilgrimage and the Varkari way of life; but it is not clear whether Tukaram regularly visited Pandharpur himself; he has an epistolatory poem to Vitthal “sent” with Varkari pilgrims; in another poem he describes himself as waiting anxiously for news from Pandharpur and news about Vitthal’s welfare; Varkaris symbolically carry the “spirit of Tukaram” from Dehu to Pandharpur on their regular pilgrimage; this custom is followed till this day; all their beloved saints from Jnanadev to Tukaram are believed to be present in spirit at every festival in Pandharpur; traditions of the poetry of the saints are maintained in oral form and as performed songs through the living medium of the pilgrimage and the festival in which it culminates.
Sakal Tirthahuni Pandhari Mugutmani – Sant Tukaram, sung by Pandit Ajit Kadkade
Majhe Maher Pandhari, Sant Eknath-sung by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi.
This is a famous Abhang, in which Sant Eknath refers to Pandharpur as his “maher” or “mother’s home,” also known as the “maika” and the Chandrabhaga as his sister.
Married Indian women are said to talk about their mother’s home as a place of love, rest, and relaxation. In the Abhangas, Vitthal himself is often referred to in the feminine, as the Divine Mother.
An abhang, when sung, said my friend, should make the blood race. This is blood racing excellence-
Kaya Hi Pandhari-Sant Eknath-sung by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi-In the Abhanga below, Sant Eknath says Pandharpur can actually be found right where one is, in one’s own body. The body thus becomes a tirtha.
In an abhang with a similar theme, Sant Tukaram says “Deh Devache Mandir”, i.e. the Body is the Temple of God:
Deh Devache Madir-Sant Tukaram, sung by Udayraj Godbole.