Pandarpur is glorified as the bazaar of Nama. The most favorite of the presiding deity, Panduranga is Nama Kirtan. There have not been as many bhaktas for any other deities as there have been for Panduranga. The icing on the cake is the fact that these great devotee-saints have belonged to different castes, creeds, races and sects – a standing example to show that the Lord does not distinguish based on such mundane worldly classifications.
Today we take up the sketch of a Bhakta by name Chokamela… Read on…
Long ago, in the holy Kshetra of Pandarpur(in present day Maharashtra), there lived a great devotee of Lord Sri Panduranga (who was none other than Lord Sri Krishna himself) by name Chokamela. Sri Chokamela’s hailed from a slum and as was customary those days the inhabitants were not permitted to enter the temple. Though Lord Panduranga saw no difference between his devotees based on their birth, colour, race, wealth, region or religion, the selfish world did! To the Lord, the only thing that mattered was the depth of one’s devotion.
The friends, relatives and neighbours of Chokamela led lives without any values, orderliness or sense of direction. They ate whatever they wanted; slept whenever/wherever they wished and were addicted to all sorts of bad habits such as alcoholism. Like a beautiful lotus that blooms in a stinking marsh, Chokamela though, led the life of a pure Vaishnava. He would wake early in the morning, have a bath, wear Tulsi maala and Gopi chandan and chant the divine names of the Lord. As he was not permitted to enter the temple of Lord Sri Panduranga, he stood near the compound wall and sang the divine names joyfully.
Constantly, he advised his kith and kin to mend their ways and about how it was very easy to win the grace of God by simply chanting his Divine Names. Though they all mocked at him in the beginning, gradually his purity and goodwill won their hearts and they gave all their vices. Following his example, all of them woke up early in the morning and accompanied him to the temple where they all stood outside the compound wall chanting the lord’s glorious names. Lord Panduranga Himself relished every nama they chanted, much more than the puja offered by the priests. Like Nandanar, the great devotee of Lord Sri Shiva, Chokamela too, had transformed the entire slum. They were all a group of pure-hearted bhagavatas now.
Naturally, this was not liked by the priests of the temple. Though Chokamela and his group did not in any way interfere with the temple proceedings, the priests hurled abuses at them and told them that they had no right to worship to God. As is the nature of any Sadhu, Chokamela too, did not want to argue with the priests or fight with them. He thought if that was the way that Panduranga wanted it, he would stay at home and worship the Lord.
From that day onwards, Chokamela stopped going to the temple. He would stay at home and meditate upon the Lord. He saw all the pujas in his mind’s eye itself. The experience was blissful.
Time came when Panduranga decided to enact his divine play. One night, after the priests had completed the puja and locked the temple, Panduranga came to Chokamela’s humble abode. Chokamela’s joy knew no bounds. He cried thinking of the Lord’s compassion and totally lost himself in the happiness. The Lord told Chokamela that he would fulfill any wish of his. Chokamela immediately replied “Lord! There can be no greater thing to wish for, than your darshan. Now that you have blessed me with that, I beg of you to show me your temple. I have never been inside even once in my lifetime”
In a flash, the Lord took him inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple and they talked with each other all night long. The conversation was so fascinating that time flew away and it was morning already. The priests opened the doors of the temple and were shocked to find Chokamela inside the sanctum sanctorum. They cursed him and took him to the King. “This man who hails from the slum has entered the temple. Your majesty should punish him appropriately” they said. Chokamela replied “I did not go there on my own. How could I have gone inside after the door was locked? The Lord himself took me inside”.
Nobody was willing to believe his words and they all alleged that he was a magician. The king, without proper enquiry, punished him by banishing him from Pandarpur. He ordered that Chokamela should not live inside Pandarpur and that none from the town should have any contact with him. Chokamela silently accepted this also as the will of God. He put up a hut on the opposite banks of the river Chandrabhaga and continued with his life as before. He and his wife would fast on Ekadasi day and on Dwadasi day, they had the most special visitor one can ever wish for to have a meal at their abode – the Lord himself. This became a routine affair.
On a particular Dwadasi day, Chokamela was seen beating and cursing his wife. The priests from the temple who had come to the river witnessed that scene and felt sorry for the poor woman. “ You have lost all your respect and commitment. Is this the way to serve the Lord? You have committed a great sin by spilling curd on his robe, careless woman!” Chokamela screamed.
These words of Chokamela shocked the priest. They told each other “Oh! What is he saying? He is saying that the Lord has come to take food in his place. How can that be? He is definitely mocking at us. The punishment has not taught him a lesson. He has become more arrogant! We should report him to the king again’
Saying so, they went to the temple and opened the doors. What they witnessed was the most unbelievable sight. The robes of the Lord were drenched in curd. They could not believe their own eyes. “Chokamela was right after all. Lord Panduranga had been to his place. Oh! What a blunder we have committed by insulting and ill-treating a true Mahatma. Let us all go and seek his pardon. Only then the Lord will accept us” they all said in one voice and rushed to Sri Chokamela’s hut. They all narrated the happenings and fell at Chokamela’s feet. Chokamela though, was embarrassed by this act of the priests. He said with tears in his eyes ‘Great Priests! I am just a humble servant of Panduranga. Please do not fall at my feet. I am speck of dust!”
The entire town and the king realized the greatness of Sri Chokamela and hailed his bhakti. The Lord had once again enacted a divine play to make the world understand true devotion.