A chandala is an outcast. On the outskirts of the city named Avanti lived a chandala. There was a temple of Vishnu in Avanti and the chandala was devoted to Vishnu. He was also a good singer. Ekadashi tithi is the eleventh lunar day. Every month, on ekadashi tithi, the chandala would fast during the day. At night he would go to Vishnu’s temple and sing praises of Vishnu. He never failed to observe this ritual.
The river Kshipra (Shipra) flowed by the city of Avanti. On one particular night, on ekadashi tithi, the chandala went to the banks of the river to collect some flowers for worshipping Vishnu. On the banks of the river there was a tree and on that tree there lived a brahmarakshasa (demon). As soon as the demon saw the chandala, it wished to devour him.
“Please not tonight,” said the chandala. “I have to worship Vishnu throughout the night. Let me go now.”
“Not on you life,” replied the demon. “I have not eaten for ten days and I am famished. I can’t let you go.”
“Please, ” said the chandala, “let me go. I promise that I will come back once the prayers are over. You will then be free to do with me as you will.”
The demon let the chandala go. The chandala went to the temple. He worshipped Vishnu and spent the night in singing Vishnu’s praises. Next day, he returned to the demon.
“I am indeed surprised,” said the demon. “You are very truthful. You can’t be a chandala. You must be a brahmana. Answer my questions. What did you do all night?”
“I stood outside Vishnu’s temple and sang his praise,” replied the chandala. “For how long have you been doing this?” asked the demon.
“For twenty years,” was the chandala’s reply.
“You have acquired a lot of punya (store of merit) through this,” said the demon. “Please grant me one night’s punya, I am sinner.”
“No,” replied the chandala. “I will not part with my punya. I have given you my body, eat me if you will. But the punya is mine own.”
“Very well then,’ said the demon. “Give me two hours’ worth of punya. I am a sinner.”
“I have told you I will not give you any of my punya,” replied the chandala. “But what is your sin?”
The brahmarakshasa related his story. His name was Somasharma and he was the son of Devasharma. Devasharma was a righteous brahmana. But Somasharma fell into evil ways. A brahmana is not authorised to act as a priest in a sacrifice before he has had his sacred-thread ceremony (upanayana). But Somasharma became a priest at a yajna even though his upanayana had not been held. As a result of this sin, when he died, he became a demon. The chandala was stirred to pity at this sad story and parted with some of his punya. The demon was delighted and expressed his gratitude. He went to a tirtha and performed penance. Thus it was that the demon was freed.
What about the chandala? He returned home and then left for a tour of all the sacred places of pilgrimage. At one such tirtha. He remembered the story of his earlier life.
He used to be a hermit well-versed in the Vedas and the shastras. He used to beg alms for a living. Once he had obtained some alms. But some thieves were then in the process of stealing cows, and the hooves of the cows raised a cloud of dust. The dust fell onto the food and the hermit threw away the alms in disgust. Since he had thrown away alms, he was born as a chandala. After performing penance for this sin, the chandala was pardoned.