By Swami Harshananda
Purandaradāsa (A. D. 1484-1564)
The Haridāsas of Karnataka have contributed significantly to the Bhakti Movement, the religious movement that chiefly propagated the cult of bhakti or devotion to God, as the best means of
Purandaradāsa was a pioneer in this field.
His biographical details as have come down to us by oral traditions seem to be more mythical than real or historical. Piecing together all such details as are available now, his life can briefly be stated as follows:
He was born sometime in A. D. 1484. His father, Varadappa Nāyaka, who was a fabulously rich diamond merchant, christened him as Śrīnivasa Nāyaka and educated him not only in the traditional learning—Sanskrit and scriptures—but also in music and the family occupation.
In course of time he became a fine young man and was married to a pious girl Sarasvatī from a decent family. He then took over his father’s business and further improved upon it.
In spite of immense wealth he was a miser to the core. He never helped the people who were in distress and approached him for assistance. Once a miraculous incident, for which his pious wife was the cause, totally transformed his life. He distributed all his wealth to the needy, became a beggar for the sake of God and approached the great sage Vyāsatīrtha (A. D. 1447-1539) for initiation into spiritual life. The sage readily obliged and gave him the new name Purandara-dāsa.
Since then, Purandaradāsa spent the rest of his life, until his final departure from this world (in A. D. 1564), in spiritual pursuits, spreading the cult of devotion to God and the message of moral regeneration among the people, both the classes and the masses.
Kanakadāsa (A.D. 1508-1606), another great saint, was his contemporary.
The most valuable contribution of
Purandaradāsa is in the field of classical and devotional music, now well-known as South Indian or Carnatic music. He greatly simplified the methods of teaching, as also learning, which are being followed even today.
Almost all his songs are in Kannada, the lingua franca of the Karnataka State and the rest in Sanskrit. Though he is said to have composed 4,25,000 songs, only about a thousand are available now. Even among these, it is difficult to say which ones are his original or real compositions.
Since he toured the country extensively, visiting most of the important places of Hindu pilgrimage, the maximum number of his compositions are devoted to a nice description of these places.
Other topics dealt with in them are: the philosophy of Madhvācārya (A. D. 1238-1317) to which school or cult he belonged; the great teachers of this school; various celestial worlds; stories and anecdotes from the purāṇas; descriptions of gods and goddesses; daily routine of a devotee of God, especially a brāhmaṇa; and devotional songs on the various aspects of God.
He is also reputed to have authored some independent literary works like the Dr a upadivastrāpaharana, S udāmacaritra and Paratattvasāra. However, none of these is available now.
See also DĀSAKUTA.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore