They thrash me, Vithu,
now don’t walk so slow.
The Pandit’s whip,
some crime,
don’t know what:
How did Vithoba’s necklace come around your throat,
they curse and strike
and say I polluted you.
Do not send the cur at your door
giver of everything.
yours is the deed.
With folded hands
Chokha begs
I revealed out secret,
don’t turn away.

This poem, composed in Marathi, was written by Chokhamela in the 14th century in present-day Maharashtra. Born in a Mahar family that was made to live outside the village, he became the leading Dalit voice of the Bhakti movement in the region. His poetry is rendered in the form of the time – abhanga, or songs of praise for Vithoba, the deity of Pandharpur.

Chokamela’s work largely observes and questions his place in society. His relationship with god is seen through the lens of an “untouchable”: many of his compositions describe his plight of sitting at the threshold of the temple, forbidden to cross it.

The verse above has been immortalised by Bal Gandharva in the 1931 Marathi play Sant Kanhopatra.

Composed by Krushna Rao and Vinayakbua Patwardhan, set to Raag Pilu.

Oos donga pari, one of the most popular poems of Chokhamela is often taught to school children in Maharashtra. It is featured in the book 100 Great Indian Poems by Abhay K.

The sugarcane is crooked,
but not its juice.
The bow is curved,
not the arrow.
The river is bent,
but not its water.
Chokha is twisted,
not his faith.
Why are you drawn
to the shape of the thing.

An adaptation of these lyrics in Kannada is credited to Purandara Dasa, a Bhakti poet born in the 16th century to a Brahmin family in Karnataka, and one of the chief proponents of Carnatic music.

Naa Donkaadare Eno, performed by RK Srikanthan, set to Raag Desh.

Another Chokhamela composition, performed by many sought after artistes even today, Johar Mai-baap Johar, garners loud applause at musical gatherings despite its wrenching lyrics, which describe the poet begging for leftover food.

Johar, mai-baap, johar.
I am the mahar of your mahars.
I am come,
for your leavings.
The servant of your servants
wails with hope.
I have brought, says Chokha,
my bowl
for your leavings.

Performed by Bal Gandharva in the 1931 Marathi play "Sant Kanhopatra'.
Performed by Kumar Gandharva

All translations by Rohini Mokashi-Punekar from the book On the Threshold: Songs of Chokhamela.

Read all the articles in the Art of Resistance series here.