The Pundalik Leela: Transformation through selfless Love

As told by Paramahamsa Vishwananda
Shree Peetha Nilaya, April 2019

Paramahamsa Vishwananda shares the story of Pundalik, a sinner who transformed into a saint by selflessly serving his parents. The Lord was so touched by his devotion, He manifested Himself in the form of Panduranga to stay with His bhakta forever.

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Pundalik: How the Panduranga Leela Started

One day, Krishna in Dwarka was thinking. And as He was thinking, He said to Rukmini, ‘I don’t feel so happy here.’ Rukmini said, ‘But You have everything here. Why are You sad? You have all Your thousands of wives, Your queens. What makes You sad?’

He kept quiet and didn’t say anything but He went to Satyabhama and said the same thing, ‘Satyabhama, I am thinking of leaving Dwarka.’ And Satyabhama said, ‘You have everything, Dwarka is so beautiful, why do You want to leave? Well, I will not go with You. I’ll stay and You go wherever You want to.’

So Krishna kept thinking about how would He enact this Leela. Then He asked Narada Muni. Narada Muni said, ‘Okay, listen…there is one thing: in Your mind is Radharani, so You will have to do what I tell You to do. If You want this Leela to happen, You have to listen.’

So, what happened? Because Narada IS Bhakti and Srimati Radharani IS Bhakti also, Narada took on the appearance of Srimati Radharani and came into Rukmini’s palace. So there was Radha next to Krishna, and when Rukmini saw that, she became so furious and so jealous. Because she was doing everything to please Krishna and then Krishna was just thinking of Radha. And you see, to a queen, Radharani is just a cowherd. She is nothing, you know. [The wives] are queens, princesses, all of them, so Radharani to them is nothing. They don’t know the greatness of Srimati Radharani. However, after [this Leela] they WILL know it! 

When Rukmini saw them together, she was furious, and out of anger she left the palace. And that’s what Krishna wanted actually. For this Leela to happen, she had to leave, because the reason He left was only to give Grace to one of His devotees: Pundalik.

So, Rukmini left and went into the jungle on her family’s property, and Krishna acted as if He didn’t know where she was. But for that Leela to happen, Krishna went to Shiva and said to Shiva, ‘Listen, I will not act out this Leela alone. I want You with Me also.’

That’s why the crown of Panduranga is Shiva, and why for a long time there was a big confusion: is Panduranga Krishna or is He Shiva because He has a Shivaling on His crown? But actually, Shiva wanted so much to experience the Leela with Him, and that’s why Krishna went to Him and said, ‘You come with Me, but come with Me as My crown.’ 

The Greatness of Srimati Radharani

Krishna went to look for Rukmini, and, of course, Rukmini was pacified by that. They came back and then she wanted to know the greatness of Radharani.

Then there was one instance where Rukmini brought hot food and gave it to Radharani, and Radha just took it like that, but Her hand didn’t burn. But then Rukmini saw the hand of Krishna, and Krishna’s hand was burned. That’s when she realised that Krishna and Radha are one; they are not separated. Then the anger that she had, everything, disappeared, and she realised how great Radharani is. 

That’s why Krishna always praises Radha. Actually, what He praises is the devotion which Radha had for Krishna. In that devotion, Radha was not thinking of Herself, she was only thinking of Krishna. Whereas, all the queens were thinking only about themselves. Even if they had devotion, they thought, ‘How can I be happy to make Him happy?’ You see, that’s a big difference from, ‘How can I make Him happy forgetting about myself?’ For the queens, their happiness came first. That’s the difference between the queens and Radharani.

So, Rukmini realised that at that moment. But when she realised that, Radha also became part of her. That’s why in the arati we sing, it is said, ‘You married Rukmini and You also married Radha.’ ‘rukmini vallabhā rāīcyā vallabhā’, ‘rāīcyā’ is Radha.

But now we come to the Leela of Panduranga, which is actually Krishna’s Leela, as Panduranga is one of His most merciful forms. He went because of the devotee. He didn’t go there only for Rukmini, but he went especially for Pundalik.

Pundalik Goes on Pilgrimage

Saint Pundalik was not always a saint. He was somebody who harmed people in the forest. Same as Valmiki. But he used to serve his parents, his mom and dad. He loved his mother and his father very dearly and he would serve them, but to everybody else he would be very cruel.  

One day, he got married. The moment he got married, his whole attitude towards his parents changed completely and he became cruel to his parents. He would torture them and not even give them food. The parents became so fed up with their life. They didn’t have any joy of living in their place so they decided they would go to Kashi for pilgrimage, because Kashi is a very holy place. So, they said to their son, ‘We are going to Kashi with the pilgrims.’ 

When the son heard that, he told his wife and the wife said, ‘Okay, we will go to Kashi, too.’ So, Pundalik and his wife went by horse and made their parents walk. The parents walked for days and whenever they would stop at night, they had to feed the animals and so on. So, again the same torture was going on. They regretted so much that they went for the pilgrimage…. ‘Oh, my Goodness, why we have decided to go to this pilgrimage?’, you know. So, like that, each time they stopped for the night, it would be terrible for the parents.

Finally, they came to an ashram of a sage called Kukkut Rishi and they decided to stay for a few days there. So, that night in Kukkut Rishi’s ashram, Pundalik could not sleep, so he asked the rishi, ‘Where is Kashi?’

The rishi said, ‘I don’t know.’

Pundalik said, ‘Eh? How come you don’t know? You are such a great personality, you are so revered as a saint, how come you don’t know about Kashi?’

The rishi said, ‘Well, I don’t know about Kashi because I don’t have a need to go there. You know, if you want to know something, you have to have a need.’ He didn’t have a need to go there. He said, ‘I am in my ashram, I don’t need to go anywhere.’

That night, deep in the night, Pundalik could not sleep and was wondering, ‘What kind of person is that?’ You know, everybody knows where Kashi is, such a very holy place, how come he doesn’t know? For sure Pundalik thought that he was missing something. So, having these thoughts in his mind, he suddenly saw in front of him three beautiful ladies but they were dressed completely in rags and dirty clothes. They came in the ashram and started cleaning the ashram of the rishi. He was shocked and thought, ‘How come these women look like they are from high society, and why are they there cleaning the ashram of such a saint, such a Guru? And also, so late at night?’  He went to bed thinking about that. 

The next day, the same thing happened. The third night, the same thing happened: Pundalik saw them going inside, washing the ashram, cleaning the ashram, put everything in order, then go in a room, and come out very beautiful with very elegant clothes, jewellery and everything, and then leave the ashram. He was intrigued. Every night was the same drama. Who are these ladies? 

The Secret Behind Pundalik’s Transformation

So, Pundalik approached them on the third night and said, ‘Please, can you tell me who you ladies are, and why you are cleaning the ashram every night?

Then the first one said, ‘I am Ganga.’ The second one said, ‘I am Yamuna.’ And the third one said, ‘I am Saraswati.’ The three holy rivers: Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. They said, ‘We come here because everybody who comes to us washes their sins in us and we come here to clean the sins of all the people by serving Kukkut Rishi.’

Then Pundalik asked, ‘But why?’ You know, in his mind he said, ‘Wow! This is a man who doesn’t even know where Kashi is, but yet, Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati themselves come to him.’ Then he was wondering, ‘Why is he so special?’

Then Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati said that Kukkut Rishi was such a great person and he had attained that degree of spirituality just by serving his parents, nothing else. He didn’t serve anybody else, only his parents. By that alone, he had accumulated enough punya that Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati had come to serve him. And by serving him, they are cleansing the impurities and sins of all the people who bathe in them.

Hearing that, Pundalik was shocked. Then he started realising his mistake. He realised what he had done to his parents. From that day on, there was a complete transformation in him. He started serving his parents with Nivrita Bhakti, single-minded devotion. So, the next day the parents were on the horse, and the husband and wife were walking behind. They went to Kashi, visited all the holy places and came back to the place where they were staying in Pandarpur.

Panduranga Comes to Stay 

This is when Lord Krishna paid Pundalik a visit. Bhagavan Krishna came to the door and called for him, ‘Pundalik!’ At that time, Pundalik was busy serving his mother and father.

So Pundalik said, ‘Bhagavan, please wait.’ Then, he took a brick that was there, threw it outside and said, ‘You stand on that brick, I will come.’

So, after some time, after the parents have been served and everything, Pundalik came out, bowed down to Panduranga, to Krishna, and said, ‘Lord, forgive me, I was serving my parents.’

Bhagavan was so touched by his devotion that He asked him, ‘What do you want?’

Seeing this beautiful form of the Lord standing on a brick, he said, ‘Bhagavan, I would like You to stay here forever.’

So, the Lord manifested His form. From Him, a deity of Panduranga appeared outside standing on the brick. This is the deity which you see in Pandarpur. It’s not a carved murti, it’s a swayambu, which means it’s a self-manifested deity. And another name for Him is Vithoba, which means 'the Lord who is standing on the brick'.

You know, chances like this are also a reminder of one’s spiritual path. Often, you will see your life all over again. Second life doesn’t mean only when you had a certain traumatic accident or illnesses and you are cured and have a second life. Second life means also when you find your spiritual path, when you take your old life and how you used to live, and you put it to the side and say, ‘I am a new person.’ This is also a second life. It should not only be a reminder in a drastic, terrible way.

So, you see, a second birth or a reminder of life comes in many ways. For some, it comes in a very shocking way, but for some it comes as a reminder through the Guru and the saints. But one has to be appreciative of life itself and how precious life is, and why God has given life, which is only so that you can attain Him. This reality will finish, but your relationship to Him doesn’t finish. You may not remember, but He does remember. 

That’s why He sends His calling cards from time to time!