Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sri Purandara Dasa (1494-1564)

Purandara Dasa was the follower (dasa) of Lord Purandara Vittala [Lord Vishnu in one of his many avatars.] is known as the father (Pitamaha) of Carnatic music.


Purandara Dasa was born in 1484 in Pandarpur, an obscure village near Purandargarh near Poona. He was originally named Shreenivaasa (or Krishnappa) Naayaka. His father's name was Varada Naik. Purandara Daasa was considered an avatar of Sage Narada - when he was studying, he learned music as well. At 16 he married Lakshmibai, and four years later his parents died. Purandara Daasa had 4 sons and a daughter. He worked as a money lender, continued the family business, and became prosperous, but he was infamous as a miser. They said he earned much money and he lived only to earn it. An incident in his life, however, changed him and he gave away all his wealth. From then on, he composed and lived by the popular saying "we must swim across suffering, win victory over it." It is said that Lord Vishnu decided that it was time for Srinivasa Nayaka (Purandara Dasa) to give up his love of money and become a saint. So he came to him as a poor brahmin looking for money for his son's thread ceremony. Nayaka did not give him the money, but the brahmin visited his shop again and again, and after six months, Purandara Daasa gave him a collection of useless, worn-out coins to get rid of him. The brahmin went away unhappily, but knowing Purandara Dasa's wife was a kind woman, he went directly from Purandara Dasa's shop to his house. He told Saraswathi his story and how her husband had sent him away with nothing. Saraswathi wanted to help the poor brahmin, but felt helpless since she could not give anything without her husband's permission. When she explained her helplessness, the brahmin asked if she had something given by her parents (which, presumably, she could give without asking for her husband's permission). She agreed and gave him the diamond nose-stud that her parents had given her. The brahmin took the ornament straight to Purandara Daasa's shop. When Purandara Dasa became angry with the brahmin for coming back, despite his instructions to the contrary, the brahmin clarified that he was there not to beg, but to pledge an ornament and take a loan. Purandara Dasa was skeptical and asked the brahmin to show him the ornament. When he saw the ornament, he was confused because he immediately recognized it as the one belonging to his wife. When Purandara Dasa asked him about it, the brahmin told him that it was a gift from a benefactor. Purandara Dasa asked the brahmin to come the next day and locked the ornament away. When he saw his wife without her ornament he questioned her about it. She tried to stall him, but he insisted on seeing it immediately. He was angry because he thought she had given away a valuable ornament to a beggarly brahmin. Saraswathi knew that her husband would punish her if she told him the truth. So she decided to commit suicide by drinking poison. Just as she was about to drink the poison, she heard a metallic sound. Lo and behold, the ornament was right there in the cup. She could not believe her eyes. Her heart filled with gratitude, she bowed before the idol of Krishna and took the ornament to her husband. Purandara Dasa was astounded as it was the very same ornament that he had safely locked away in his shop. He quickly ran back to the shop to check. The box where he had safely locked away the ornament was empty! He was now completely and totally dumbfounded. He went back to his house, and pressed his wife to tell him the truth. She told him everything that had happened. After deep thought, this Shreenivaasa Naayaka came to the conclusion that the brahmin was none other than God Himself. He recalled all the incidents of the previous six months. He was disgusted with himself, and his miserliness. He felt that his wife had conducted herself far more decently and generously than himself. Since it was his love of money that had made him ill-treat the Lord, he gave away all of his wealth with the Lord's name on his lips and began to compose music.
Purandara Dasa had earned the name Navakoti Naaraayana, indicating his great riches. Then he began a new life with his family - his wife Saraswati, 4 sons (Varadappa, Gururaya, Abhinavappa and Gurmadhvapathi) and a daughter. Like him, his wife and children composed verses and songs. In course of time Purandaradasa came to Hampi and settled down with his wife and children. Every morning Purandaradasa went into the town wearing bells on his ankels and tulasi mala around his neck. He carried a tamboori in the hand and sang his Hari-keertanas sounding the tamboori with his fingers. He sang these songs to the accompaniment of tamboori and the bells tied to his ankles and went about the streets of the town. The people admired the listened to his songs. Purandaradasa accepted alms given to him during the wandering and led a life of renunication. He who had been called Navakoti Narayana now had willingly accepted the life of a saint and begged for his food. In 1525, Purandara Dasa became a disciple of the great Vyaasa Raayaa, who titled him "Purandara Vitthala," which became his signature, which he uses in all his compositions. Vyaasa Raaya praised him, saying "Among the devotees of Hari, Purandara Daasa is the greatest." Purandara Dasa expressed his gratitude by singing "My only refuge is the feet of Vyaasaraja. I was able to understand Purandara Vittala by his grace." The composer was also given the name Purandaropanishat and many other names. The title Vitthala refers to the Lord Vishnu, or Krishna.

Purandara Dasa is said to have composed 475,000 songs in both Kannada and Sanskrit. PurandaradAsa adopted a simple, lucid Kannada style with telling phrases and similes. He sang many rare ragas with among the most beautiful lyrics. He identified 84 ragas, including ragas such as kalyani, varali, todi, bhairavi, and saaveri, which are popular in use today. Tyagaraja's praise in "Prahalada Bhakti Vijayam" is for him and in fact, some of his famous songs are patterned after those by Purandara Dasa, such as Nanupaalimpa, based on Daasa's Bide ninnayya pada. Purandara Dasa also used a variety of musical types: kritis, keertanas - devotional songs, padams - a dance form using hero-heroine, plus many more rare forms. The verses he sang were his own compositiions on a variety of themes. Some of them described Sri Krishna's adventures in this world. Some others sang about God's kindness to man. A few more verses were simple compositions expounding the philosophy contained in the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavadgita in simple words. In yet other verses Purandaradasa praises Lord Krishna affectionately. In some verses Purandaradasa has even made fun of the Lord. His songs which preached surrender to Vittala have an elusive fragrance, poetic fervour, extraordinary logic and cutting satire. His music was popularized by M.L. Vasantakumari.
The gods his songs adored: Sri Vittala (Krishna) of Pandarapura is associated with Bhakthi and Bhajan movement since the time immemorial. Sri Vittala is still being adorned by large number of devotees barring caste, religion, sex etc. Sri Purandara Dasa has continued this tradition by keeping his ankita or mudra as Purandara Vittala, and his songs praise this Vittala, meaning Krishna or Vishnu. His songs also praised Ganesha, Saraswathi and other gods and goddesses, but the themes always returned to Vittala.

Musical Background: Although Purandaradasa did not have any musical tutelage in his early years, by the grace of God, he started singing and composing songs. He is acclaimed as the Sangita Pitamaha (Great Father) of Carnatic music, owing to his unparalleled contributions.

Region: Purandaragada, Karnataka

Contribution: He formulated the basic lessons of Carnatic music by structuring Swaravalis (graded exercises), Alankaras (exercises based on the Sapta talas), apart from composing Gitas. He introduced Mayamalavagowla as the first scale to be learnt by a beginner. However, the original tunes of his compositions are unavailable. He was the one of the most prolific composers of Carnatic music. Though he wanted to compose 5,00,000 songs in his lifetime, he could compose only 4,75,000. This has been referred to in one of his own compositions.

The poet and the composer

Purandara Dasa's songs are filled with rhyme and meaning. One song talks about how it is human nature to have desire for material objects, only for God to dispose of them, that the human has to suffer without them (kudure andhana aane bayasodhu nara chiththa paadhachaari aagodhu hari chiththavayya - to ride on a horse chariot or elephant is human desire, but to be a pedestrian is what God wills).
Popular Compositions: Jagadoddharana (Kapi), Jaya Jaya (Nata), Innudaya barade (Kalyanavasantam), Venkatachala nilayam (Sindhubhairavi), and so on.

Signature: The mudra he used was Purandara Vittala

Languages used: Kannada and Sanskrit

Theme: His devotional songs called Devarnamas, contain the essence of the Puranas and Upanishads. His songs have simple language, lofty ideas and sublime thoughts. His favourite deity seems to have been Krishna, also known as Panduranga. However, he has sung in praise of other Gods, as well.
Purandara Dasa was the first of the Haridasas, or "servants of Sri Hari" also known as Vishnu or Krishna. All the Haridasas composed in KannaDa, a language used primarily in Karnataka, but Purandara Daasa established the precedent of composing in the vernacular or common tongue. All Haridasas were servants of God and their songs included the following messages:

God is easily approachable by all.

God is to be praised and constantly remembered as our benefactor.

Realising the true nature of God's benevolence towards us and offering even simple worship within the means available to one is more acceptable to Him than ritualistic or pompous ornamentation without mental participation.

Some of Purandara Dasa's lyrics are really memorable. For example, he writes, Kendake orale muttuvudunte?... Do ants cluster around a hot coal? Another line goes, Hasida bekku hatthiya tindanthe.. Describing a hungry cat eating cotton. These lyrics make it clear that Daasa was a poet as well as a scholar of musical form.

His death: Scholars think that Purandara lived for about 80 years (until 1564). On the basis of the verse in the name of Madvapathi his son it is held that Purandaradasa must have passed away a year before the fall of Vijaynagar. Taking it as authentic, his death anniversary is celebrated on the New Moon Day, in the second fortnight of Pushya.


aanalekara (geetam) - sudda saaveri
amma nimma manegalalli - sowraashtram
aparaadi naanalla - revati
bandadella barali - kaapi
bhaagyada lakshmi baarammaa - shree, madyamaavati
candrachuda - raagamaalika
dayamaado dayamaado - kalyani
deva banda - shankaraabharanam
devaki nandana - raagamaalika
dharma shravanavetake - durga
dharmave jayavemba - shenjurutti
gajavadanaa beduvE - hamsadwani
govindaa ninna - jana sammodhini
hari naaraayana - revati
hari smarane maado - yamunaa kalyani
jagadoddhaaranaa - dhanakaapi, kaapi
jaya jaya jaya jaanakikaantaa - naata
kandenaa govindanaa - candrakowns
kodu bega divyamati - saraswati, vasantaa
ksheeraabdi kannige - raagamaalika
mareya beda manave - kamaas
maaraayanaa - sudda dhanyaasi
nambi kettavaru illavo - kalyani
neenyaako ninna - raagamaalika
ninnane nambi - bhairavi
ninne nodi - thodi
odi baarayya - bhairavi
raama mantrava - jonpuri
raama raama raama raama - raagamaalika
sakala graha bala - athana
sanna hejegalittu - valachi
sharanu siddhi vinaayaka - sowraashtram
sharanu sakaloddhaara - naata
simharoopanaada - kedara gowla
shreenivaasa neene - aananda bhairavi
taamboolava kollu - reeti gowla
taaraka bindige - sowraashTram, tilang
tamboori meetidava - sindu bhairavi
tirupati venkataramana -kharaharapriyaa
venkatachalanilayam - sindu bhairavi
venkataramanane baaro - shankaraabharanam
yaadava nee baa - karnataka devagandhari
yaare rangana - hindolam


datta said...

It's a wonderful article about the great pithamaha Shri Purandara Dasa. Very informative and very very touchy......!!!

Divakar said...

Dear Mr Kartik,
Thanks for the article on the great saint Sri Purandhara Dasa. I would like to collect the works of the great saint as much as possible and also, the songs sung by the musicians.
If it is available on any web site please advise.
Divakar RV

cvsmuthy said...

Dear Karthik,

I am a new follower of your blog. Really concise and correct article on Sri Purandaradasa. Very compact also covering as many important points as one would like. I would like to add that he is supposed to be the incarnation of Sri Narada.

Thanks a lot.

CVS Murthy Rao.

Lalitha said...

Hai karthik
IT is very informative and interesting. The points are crisp and narrated in simple way.

I understood many new facts (though old) about the great Mahanu Bhavauru


ArunMK said...

475000 is a large number. If he composed every day for 50 years, he would have to compose 475000/(50*365) or roughly 26 songs a day. It may be more like 475000 lines which is a feat in itself.

asayana said...

Excellent and informative article thanks

Kerala Brahmin said...

Please find english translation of many Purandara dasa krithis in my web site

Namagiri said...

Dear Mr. Kartik Went through the article and list of compositions. I have been taught 2 more Purandaradasa kritis which is not in the list. Since I learnt it when I was very young I would like to confirm them.
1. Vagaladibho Dhana lagu valachithiohswamy
2. Tanuvaneerela gathi pala venu Ranga Namagiri

bneelakandan said...

Dear Mr Karthik,
Very nice article interestingly written .
There should be greatgreat grandsons of this saint now. Do you have any information about them .

vrmnna said...

Please correct: Purandara Dasa was born in Karnataka and not in Maharashtra.