Purandara Daasar – Purandara Daasar was a great composer of Carnatic music before the time of the Trinity of Tyagaraja, Dikshitar and Shyama Sastri. His songs were not in unreachable Sanskrit, but instead he preached the Vedas to millions by singing in Kannada. He was the one who standardized the early lessons in music and has given us many beautiful compositions on Vishnu and Krishna. His works include many different types of compositions, from bhajans and geetams to kritis. Purandara Daasar is believed to have systematized the early music lessons – sarali varisai, janTai varisai, geetams and also chose maayamaaLava gowLa as the raagam to be used for these. MaayamaaLavagowLa is an appropriate raaga because it is symmetric and has gamakams, so that students learn the basic elements of Carnatic music along with some more advanced concepts. His songs are simple, and easy to learn. He composed many geetams and keertanais and songs in kannaDa known as “dEvarnaama.” Because of his role in so many fundamental aspects of this music, he is called the Pithamaha (Great Father) of Carnatic music.
Our knowledge of Purandaradasa’s life stems mainly from the compositions of Vijaya dasa who lived a hundred and fifty years after the passing away of Purandaradasa. This is taken as authentic since Vijaya dAsa is believed to be the incarnation of Bhrigu muni, and an aparOksha gyani (having mystical powers). Vijayadasa had great faith in and devotion for Purandaradasa. It is believed that Purandaradasa himself appeared in Vijayadasa’s dream and bestowed on him the ankitha ‘Vijaya Vittala’.
Purandara Daasa 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 Daasa) 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 Daasa’s wife was a kind woman, he went directly from Purandara Daasa’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 Daasa 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 Daasa 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 Daasa asked him about it, the brahmin told him that it was a gift from a benefactor. Purandara Daasa 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 Daasa 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 NaaraayaNaa, 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 Daasa 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 Daasa 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 Daasa 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. Tyaagaraaja’s praise in “Prahalada Bhakti Vijayam” is for him and in fact, some of his famous songs are patterned after those by Purandara Daasa, such as Nanupaalimpa, based on Daasa’s Bide ninnayya pada. Purandara Daasa 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.
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.
Mudra: Purandara ViTThala