In ancient times, in present day Maharashtra, in a place called Dandivana, there lived a pious couple Janudev and Sathyavathy. They had a son by name Pundalik. He was a very smart boy and also pious like his parents and worshipped Lord Krishna. He also loved his parents.
When Pundalik attained marriageable age, his parents got him married to a suitable girl. After marriage Pundalik’s attitude towards his parents changed drastically. He started treating them very badly and disrespecting them. He expected them to do all the household chores while his wife also did not say a word against what he did, or rather she sided him. She enjoyed life while the old couple were slogging at home. Pundalik also forgot Krishna altogether.
The parents were thoroughly vexed and frustrated. They decided to go to the holy city of Kashi and spend the rest of their lives there. They were making preparations to go when Pundalik and his wife came to know of it.
“Why should your parents go to Kashi and live peacefully huh?” said Pundalik’s wife. “Who will do the house work of sweeping and mopping and washing vessels if your mother goes? And who will do the odd jobs your father does?”
Pundalik nodded his head in agreement. He could not prevent them from going. He thought for a while and said, “You are right my dear. We will do one thing. We will also go with them and then they will be compelled to come back with us. Pack our things also”
“But I will not be able to walk such a long distance. And your parents will be riding our horse…” Pundalik’s wife said complainingly.
“Don’t worry my dear. You ride on the horse. Let them walk. They are used to hard life” said Pundalik.
So they both joined his parents on the tour and while Pundalik’s parents trudged along with barefoot on the harsh road, Pundalik and his wife happily rode the horse with not a bit of remorse. The other group members were aghast but no one had the guts to talk to Pundalik as he had become very arrogant and had nothing but harsh words for others.
In those days since people undertook pilgrimage by foot or on horseback or carts, they used to halt for the night at places open for the public to rest or at times in ashrams which were inhabited by holy men. Sometimes they would halt for a few days at one place and then proceed.
Thus, after travelling for many days, the group of devotees including Pundalik’s family reached Kashi. They visited the places to be seen and soon it was time for them to return. For the entire duration of the trip there was not a kind word from Pundalik and his wife towards his parents. On the return trip also, the daughter in law happily rode on the horse while the old parents had to walk
After travelling for a few days, the group reached a big village and decided to halt at the ashram of a sage Kakkut Muni for a couple of days. The ashram was on the banks of the Ganga and all the members were very tired.
As all of them were in deep sleep, in the middle of the night, the sound of anklets awoke Pundalik. Still very sleepy, he opened his eyes and noticed that three young women who were extremely beautiful, but wearing very dirty and filthy clothes came in to the ashram. They went around and swept and mopped the other rooms and washed the sage’s clothes, cleaned the kitchen and did all the chores and went out of the ashram and what surprised Pundalik was that their clothes had become spotlessly white while going! Pundalik could not believe his eyes. It seemed to be a mystery. Pundalik decided to watch the next day also and the same thing happened once again.
The third day Pundalik could no longer contain his curiosity and as they were preparing to exit, he got up and went to them.
“Pray may I know who you are and the mystery of you clothes becoming spotlessly white?” he asked them.
The three maidens looked at each other and one of them spoke. “We are the three rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswathy”, said she.
“People who commit lot of sins come to us and have a dip in our waters and we cleanse them of the sins taking them upon us and that is why our clothes become dirty. When we come here and serve the sage by doing his chores wholeheartedly, the sins carried by us are removed and therefore our clothes become white once again” said another.
“And you are one of the worst sinners since you have been continuously wounding the hearts of your parents, who are the very cause of your existence in the world!” said the third and giving him a despicable look, the three left the ashram.
Pundalik was shocked to hear someone accuse him straight on his face and he had no reply to the accusation. He felt deeply ashamed of himself. He could not sleep a wink after the incident. Memories of his parents showering affection on him when he was a child and memories of his crude rude behaviour haunted him so much that he got up feeling very restless and despondent.
It was very early in the morning and Kakkut Muni had got up to perform his austerities. As he was going out of the ashram, he noticed Pundalik and sensing that something was wrong, beckoned him to come near.
“What is the matter son?” he asked softly. “Are you not keeping well? It looks that you have not slept!” said he.
Pundalik was on the verge of crying. He poured out his heart to the Muni and told him about the incident of meeting the three maidens and about how bad he had been behaving towards his parents over the past few years.
“I have realised now that I have been senseless all these years and how much pain I have caused to my dear parents. Will I ever be rid of those sins in this life?” he sighed. The pain on his face reflected the turmoil that was going on in his mind.
Kakkut Muni looked at him with compassion. “Come my son”, he said as he took him along to the river bank.
“What the maidens told you was true” he said. “They come and serve me like my daughters to get rid of the sins they acquire and you can also get rid of your sins only by serving your parents wholeheartedly”
“But Sire” said Pundalik, “What will my parents think of me if I suddenly change? Will they believe me?”
“Why not Son?” said Kakkut Muni. “Parents are the only ones who love their children unconditionally. Even now, for all the hatred showered by you, they have only love and affection for you and not a shred of hatred”
That moment changed Pundalik’s life forever. He decided that from that moment his life would be only for serving his parents.
That morning his parents were in for a pleasant surprise. They could not decipher how this change happened overnight but nonetheless they were too happy to have their delightful son back.
Pundalik’s wife was also surprised, but Pundalik made her see that he meant what he said. She had no way to disagree and soon fell in line with him.
Pundalik became so much dutiful to his parents that it became the talk of his village and soon started spreading much beyond.
Lord Krishna in the form of Panduranga was watching this and wanted to show case this devotion to the world.
One day, he came as a young man to Pundalik’s house. By this time, Pundalik’s parents were very ill and needed help for every need of theirs. Pundalik was happily catering to their needs. When the Lord came to Pundalik’s house, Pundalik was busy massaging his father’s feet as was his practice when his parents went to sleep every day.
Lord Krishna called out to Pundalik from outside.
“Who is it?” cried Pundalik from inside, continuing to do what he was doing.
“I am Vitthal” said Krishna. “I have come to see you. May I come in?”
Pundalik could see from the opening of the door that it was indeed the Lord of the Universe in the form of a young lad, dark hued, wearing fish shaped earrings, with a beautiful sandal Tilak on his forehead, dressed in his resplendent yellow silk, standing outside. But Pundalik was only half done with his duty to his father and could not receive Krishna.
The floor was wet outside and Pundalik took a brick and threw it outside. “Please stand on it my Lord” said he. “I will finish my duty to my father and come”
Vitthal, with a smile on his lips and hand on his hips, stood on the brick waiting for Pundalik to come and receive him.
Pundalik finished his job and when his father slept, he came out and welcomed the Lord.
“I am sorry, I could not receive you earlier” he said with sincere apology.
The Lord smiled. “Your parents are your first gods Pundalik” he said. “Your service to your parents is your prayer and it will reach me. I am so pleased by your devotion that I want to give you a boon. Tell me Pundalik, what do you want?”
Pundalik thought for a moment and said calmly, “Lord, please stay here for the benefit of mankind. Please stay in this place and bless those who come here!”
Vitthal was pleased and said “So be it”.
And from that day onwards, Vitthal with his consort Rukmini has stayed there which is the present day Pandharpur.