Veet — A Brick

And so the talk turned to sons who don’t take as good care of their ageing parents as they should. The blame shifts to the daughter-in-law. The son gets off the hook — old story.

Which reminds me of the “sthalapurana” or origin story of the temple in Pandarpur in Maharashtra where Vithoba is the residing deity.

The story features the filial Pundalik who gets married and then starts treating his parents badly. Wanting a respite, the parents propose to go on a pilgrimage to Kashi, but for whatever reason the son and DIL tag along too. The old people, who travel on foot, are expected to cook every day. Each night they have to groom the horses the son and DIL ride. And this sorry tale continues till they get to an ashram of a saint where they decide to take a break.

Pundalik is unable to sleep well. Around midnight, in the distance, he sees three beautiful women in soiled clothes enter the prayer room — do a variety of tasks — and emerge with clean clothes at the end of the session. This happens the next night too. Turns out, they are are forms of the rivers pilgrims bathe in to rid themselves of their sins. Ganga is already dreading the day Pundalik will reach Kashi for a dip! Was it a vision or just bad conscience telling him a few truths in the still of the night?

In any case, Pundalik decides to treat his parents right from then on.

Later, when god himself pays Pundalik a visit, he is so busy doing stuff at for his parents, he throws his visitor a brick and asks him to stand on it. The idea is that Krishna can at least keep his feet dry because the streets are full of slush after the first rains. When Pundalik returns, god is still waiting — on the brick. Pundalik apologizes but Krishna is actually happy that the man is so devoted to his parents now. He is willing to grant Pundalik a boon. Why don’t you stay on and grace us all with your presence?, he asks.

The visitor, who is joined by his wife, turns to stone and so that’s how we have the Vittal Temple at Pandarpur.

Here is Arun Kolatkar’s poem on the sthalapurana:
Vamangi by Arun Kolatkar

last time I visited the temple
Vitthal was nowhere to be seen
only a brick
lay next to Rakhumai

that’s okay, I thought
Rakhumai’s better than nothing
should rest my head
on someone’s feet

after genuflecting
lifted my head off her feet
to cover all bases
just in case

then, while leaving
asked Rahkumai
where’s Vitthoo?
can’t see him

Rakhumai replied
what d’you mean, where’s he gone?
isn’t he here beside me
to my right?

looked again
just to make sure
and said
there’s no one there

spent a lifetime, she said
looking beyond my nose
now it’s hard to see
peripherally

I have become stone
look how stiff my neck is
can’t twist myself
to my left or my right

when he comes, when he goes
where he goes, what he does
I really, really
don’t know at all

assuming always, that Vitthoo
would stay at my side
I remained complacent
silly me!

on Aashaadi-Kaartiki
so many come to visit
so how come
no one tells me anything

all at once, today
I feel accosted
by the loneliness
of twenty-eight eons…

translated by Mustansir Dalvi
from Chirimiri, by Arun Kolatkar, Pras Prakashan, 2004

Vamangi means the ‘left-sided one’, and refers to Rakhumai, who is always seen on the left of Vitthal, as in the temple of Pandharpur. They are worshiped and venerated together, as in this hymn:

“Yuge atthavis vitevari ubha
Vamangi Rakhumai dise divya shobha
Pundalikanche bheti parabhamhahega
Charani vaahe Bhima uddharile jaga
Jaya jaya deva
Jaya Panduranga”

(For 28  eons, he stands on the brick
to his left, Rakhumai stands full of grace
To meet Pundalik is the greatest of fortunes
At the feet of this hallowed ground flows the Bhima
Jaya jaya deva
Jaya Panduranga)