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Vithoba Saint Chokhamela- A Marathi poet and a leading figure of the Bhatki Movement | Dalit History

About Saint Chokhamela, History and Biography of Vithoba Saint Chokhamela

Vithoba Saint Chokhamela- A Marathi poet and a leading figure of the Bhatki Movement | Dalit History

Chokhamela was a saint in Maharashtra, India in the 14th century. He belonged to the Mahar caste, considered "untouchable" in India in that era. He was born at Mehuna Raja, a village in Deulgaon Raja Taluka of Buldhana district. 

He lived at Mangalvedha in Maharashtra. He wrote many Abhangas. He was one of the first Dalit poets in India. Chokhamela lived with his wife Soyarabai and son Karmamela in Mangalvedha. Chokhamela's task was to guard and work in farms of uppercast people . As a lower-caste person, Chokha was forced to live outside the town in a separate settlement for members of the untouchable caste.

His family also followed varkari sect.

Soyarabai - Wife

Sant Soyarabai was woman saint of the Bhakti tradition. She belonged to Mahar caste in 14th century Maharashtra, India. She followed her husband Chokhamela who was also a popular saint. She has written vast literature but now only about 62 are known. In her Abhang she mentions herself as Chokha’s Mahari and accuses god for forgetting Untouchables and making life bad. Her most simple lines concern the simple food she gives the god. Her poems describe her devotion towards god and voice against untouchability. As an Untouchable saint she says “The body only can be impure or polluted, but the soul is ever clean, pure knowledge. The body is born unclean and so how can anybody claim to be pure in body? The body is full of pollution. But the pollution of the body remains in the body. The soul is untouched by it.” Annually she travelled at Pandharpur for pilgrimage with her husband. They were harassed by orthodox Brahmins but they never lost faith and peace of mind.

Karmamela - Son

Sant Karamamela was a fourteenth-century poet saint from Maharashtra. He was a son of Chokhamela and Soyarabai who belonged Mahar caste. In his Abhangs he accused God for forgetting and how his life was made miserable as a low caste.He rebelled against varna system.There is at least one Buddhist tradition interested in Karamamela, who was a strong and bitter voice, not suffering his social status with content. Kramamela and his family followed the Bhakti movement. Their Abhangs comments on that time, on the way to meditate and God's loves for his devotee. These poems resonate with current Dalit poetry, describing criticism of society and beliefs of religion, disbelief in pure doctrine and pollution, and protest for survival. The abhangs of Karmamela show more bitterness than those of his father Chokamela. You made us low caste. Why don’t you face that fact, Great Lord? Our whole life, leftover food to eat. you should be ashamed of this. You have eaten in our home. How can you deny it? Cokha’s Kamamela asks: Why did you give me life? Are we happy when we’re with you? O Cloud-Dark One, you don't’ know! The low place is our lot, King of Gods! We never get the good sweet food. Its a shameful life here for us, Its a festival bliss for you and misery written on you. Cokha’s Karmamela asks, O God, why is this our fate? (#3-4) ( Maharashtra Government Publication of Tukaram, 1973)

He was initiated into bhakti spirituality by the poet-saint Namdev (1270-1350). Once when he visited Pandharpur, he listened to Sant Namdev's kirtan. Already a devotee of Vitthal alias Vithoba, Chokha was moved by Namdev's teachings.

Later, he moved to Pandharpur. The traditional story is that the upper castes here did not allow him to enter the temple, nor did they allow him to stand in the door of the temple, so he instead built a hut on the other side of the river Chandrabhaga.

While working on construction of a wall in Mangalvedha, near Pandharpur, the wall fell down, crushing some workers. Chokha was one of them. His tomb is in front of the Vitthal temple, Pandharpur, where it can be seen to this day. 

According to a legend the bones of the dead Chokhamela were still chanting Vitthal, Vitthal, apparently yearning to visit the Vitthal temple. The bones were buried at the footsteps of the Vitthal temple. In early 20th century, the Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar attempted to visit the temple, but was stopped at the burial site of Chokhamela and denied entry beyond that point for being a Mahar.


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