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Various Indologists have proposed a prehistory for Vithoba worship where he was previously: a hero stone, a pastoral deity, a manifestation of Shiva, a Jain saint, or even all of these at various times for various devotees.
Though the origins of both his cult and his main temple are likewise debated, there is clear evidence that they already existed by the 13th century.
The most important festivals of Vithoba are held on Shayani Ekadashi in the month of Ashadha, and Prabodhini Ekadashi in the month of Kartik.
The historiography of Vithoba and his cult is an area of continuing debate, even regarding his name.
Vithoba is associated more with "compassion, an infinite love and tenderness for his bhaktas (devotees) that can be compared to the love of the mother for her children ..
pining for the presence of his devotees the way a cow pines for her far-away calf." G. Deleury, author of The cult of Vithoba, proposes that the image of Vithoba is a viragal (hero stone), which was later identified with Vishnu in his form as Krishna, and that Pundalik transformed the Puranic, ritualistic puja worship into more idealised bhakti worship—"interiorized adoration prescinding caste distinction and institutional priesthood .." Indologist Dr.
The emergence of Vithoba was concurrent with the rise of a "new type of lay devotee", the Varkari.
The Jain author-saint Hemachandra (1089–1172 AD) notes it is also used as an epithet for the god Rudra-Shiva.
Even though Vithoba is depicted with dark complexion, he is called a "white god".
The Varkari poet-saints are known for their unique genre of devotional lyric, the abhang, dedicated to Vithoba and composed in Marathi.
Other devotional literature dedicated to Vithoba includes the Kannada hymns of the Haridasa and Marathi versions of the generic aarti songs associated with rituals of offering light to the deity.
Varkari tradition suggests that the name Vitthala (also spelled as Vitthal, Viththal, Vittala and Vithal; Marathi: The prescribed iconography of Vithoba stipulates that he be shown standing arms-akimbo upon a brick, which is associated with the legend of the devotee Pundalik. Mate of the Deccan College, Pundalik—who is assumed to be a historical figure—was instrumental in persuading the Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana alias Bittidev to build the Pandharpur temple dedicated to Vishnu.