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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.
This is backed by the facts that the temple at Pandharpur is surrounded by Shaiva temples (most notably of the devotee Pundalik himself), and that Vithoba is crowned with the Linga, symbol of Shiva.
However, since the 13th century, the poet-saints like Namdev, Eknath and Tukaram identified Vithoba with Vishnu.
He was first worshipped by the Dhangar, the cattle-owning caste of Maharashtra.
The rise of the Yadava dynasty, which had cowherd ancestry, could have led to the glorification of Vithoba as Krishna, who is often depicted as a cowherd.
Christian Lee Novetzke of the University of Washington suggests that Vithoba's worship migrated from Karnataka to the formerly Shaiva city of Pandharpur some time before 1000 CE; but under the possible influence of a Krishna-worshipping Mahanubhava sect, the town was transformed into a Vaishnava center of pilgrimage. Dhere, winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award for his book Sri Vitthal: Ek Mahasamanvaya, opines that Vithoba worship may be even older—"Vedic or pre-Vedic", hence pre-dating the worship of Krishna.