Author: Suguna Ramanathan
Translator(s): Suguna Ramanathan/Rohini Mokashi-Punekar
Publisher: Book Review Literary Trust
ISBN/UPC (if available): 8188434027
As one ponders, in all the terms that sociology and anthropology can provide, a social system that arranges human beings into pure and impure, and bemoans in moral terms the impregnable fort of the highborn, there comes along in the fourteenth century one such as Chokhamela. Can there be such love in the world is the wondering question that surfaces after a reading of these amazing poems written so long ago.
Nothing so clearly brings into focus the tension between the external world of arrangements and the inner world of feeling as the bhakti movement that rose in protest against caste ritualism in medieval India. That opposition of outer and inner may be underpinned in different ways; the underlying point is the powerful presence of love in some, and the denial of its by powerful others; one kind of power set over against another; the power of ritual orthodoxy exercising its prescriptions against the power of loving devotion that recognizes no obstacles.
Chokhamela was a fourteenth century untouchable saint poet who belonged to the varkari tradition was one of the many sects that questioned orthodox Hinduism in the great wave of bhakti that swept over medieval India. The varkaris worship the god Vitthal, another form of Krishna who himself is an avatar of Vishnu in Hindu mythology. The temple for Vitthal is built on the banks of the river Chandrabhaga in Pandharpur. The varkari tradition is a tradition of belief and worship that is still a living part of the Marathi speaking culture. Chokhamela’s importance lies not only in the fact that he is one of the first, if not the very first, dalit writers of India. It is because his poetry records a peculiar dichotomy: his poignant awareness and questioning of his outcaste marginality, simultaneously coupled with a realization of Vitthal’s need and love for him, an untouchable, that it assumes significance.