Haridasa Literary Tradition of Karnataka
Three main religious traditions—the Jain, the Virashaiva, and the Vaishnava—are known to have had a signifcant impact on Kannada lit-erature, which has a documented history spanning over a thousand years. In its early period, the Jain poets, most of whom were supported by kings as ‘royal poets’, created the ‘classical’ tradition. Te Virashaiva literature, which fourished in the 12th century, is considered to have been revolutionary for more than one reason. Vacanas, the typical Virashaiva literary expressions, are a kind of poetic prose that have provided a unique dimension to the Kannada literary tradition. Their authors, the vacanakaras, were primarily mystics who led a socio-religious movement that threw open the doors of devotion and spirituality to all, irrespec- tive of caste and creed. Te next stage was that of the Haridasa literature, popularly called the Dasa literature, shaped by the followers of the Vaishnava tradition; and it is this tradition that forms the con-text of our study.
Origin and Development Te Dvaita or dualistic school of Vedanta, champi-oned by Sri Madhvacharya, also known as Ananda-tirtha (1238–1317), is the main source of inspiration for the Haridasa literature. Te monastic tradition established by Madhvacharya continued the prac- tice and propagation of this philosophy. Many monks and scholars of this tradition wrote Sanskrit commentaries on Madhva’s works. Some of these very monks were also responsible for the origin and evolution of another form of expression meant to spread the message of the Madhva philosophy in the language of the common people. Sri Narahari- tirtha (d.1333), a direct disciple of Madhvacharya, is said to have been the promoter of this kind of literature in Kannada. But only one or two com-positions of Narahari-tirtha are available today. We may frmly state, however, that it was Sripada-raya, or Laksminarayana Muni (1406–1504), who laid the foundation for the Haridasa tradition. In spite of opposition from Sanskrit scholars, he composed songs in Kannada, set them to music, and made ar-rangements for a team of devotional singers to sing them at the time of worship in the math. Tough the compositions of Sripada-raya are not many in number, we fnd in them the representative fea-tures of Dasa devotional expression. Here is a well-known composition by Sripada-raya wherein he initiates a debate: Who is great, the Lord or the devotee? O Sri Hari! Is it you that are great, or your de-votees? If examined in different ways [one fnds that] you have become subordinate to your de-votees. While the Vedas are ever praising you as the Supreme Lord and the Highest Soul, you, dwelling in the mansion of Dharma and Arjuna, did follow them gladly whenever you were called. Ten, who is great? You are considered as the Lord of the whole universe; therefore, you are very great. If you are pleased, you do grant even Moksha. But when you are found watching the doors of King Bali, then, who is great? It was Vyasa-raya, or Vyasa-tirtha (1447–1539), a disciple of Sripada-raya, who gave a defnite shape to the Haridasa movement. He commanded great respect from the rulers of the Vijayanagara Empire, especially from Krisnadeva-raya. Tough he was the author of several Sanskrit works pertaining to the
Madhva philosophy, he was very much attracted by the beauty of Kannada compositions. Not only did he compose songs, he also encouraged others to do so. Tradition has it that during his period two dis-tinct divisions took shape among the followers of the Madhva cult. One was the Vyasa-kuta and the other the Dasa-kuta. While the former gave pref- erence to the study of Sanskrit works, scholastic achievements, and philosophical debates, the lat-ter mainly adhered to devotion and renunciation, along with composing the devotional devaranamas in Kannada. Tough both the divisions shared a common philosophical background, there were diferences at the practical level.2 Nonetheless, the Haridasa movement took a defnite form, both from the literary and conceptual standpoints, at this particular stage. Conceptual Background: Bimbopasana Madhvacharya divides all existence into two basic entities: the independent and the dependent.3 Ac-cording to him only Bhagavan Narayana exists in-dependently. All the rest, from Goddess Lakshmi to all individual human souls, depend completely on Narayana for their existence. Ignorance causes these dependent entities to assume themselves in-dependent—and this is bondage. Two types of veil cover the real nature of souls. One is ishvaraccha-dika, that which covers the real nature of God, and the other is jivacchadika, that which covers the real nature of the soul. Te way to come out of this bondage is to become the dasa, slave, of the Lord. According to the Haridasas, it is by completely sur-rendering oneself at the feet of the Lord and elim-inating the false ego that one can obtain deliverance from ignorance and bondage. One distinctive feature of the Haridasas is that, more than anything else, they adhered frmly to the concept of bimbopasana expounded by Madhva-charya. According to this, when the all-pervading Vishnu resides in the hearts of individuals as the in-dwelling spirit, he is called ‘Hari’. Hari is the bimba, the entity refected. Te individual soul is the prati-bimba, the refection of the bimba. Te pratibimba is always subordinate to the bimba and is controlled by it. Te ignorant soul, by constantly contemplat-ing on the concept of bimba, attains freedom. It is to be noted here that even the term ‘Haridasa’ has its origin in this concept.4 Te exposition of this concept of bimbopasana forms one of the Haridasa literature’s main themes. For example, Gopala-dasa says: O man! Meditate upon the Bimba [indwelling God] within yourself by sitting in a joyous mood. Afer having bowed down to the twelve preceptors, after becoming perfectly righteous, afer having re-peated the frst Mantra from the beginning, and after having understood the indweller with pure devotion, meditate upon Him with great conf- dence, sitting in the Padmasana posture—with legs folded across. Without moving the body and with great firmness [of mind], having shut the eyes, having forsaken sensuality, and having fxed the most auspicious and perfect image in the mind, see everything. Having once remembered all the forms of God and the image of the Highest Preceptor, take back the mind and fix it again in the Bimba of your own Preceptor. Aferwards, gently think of all these images with concentration, and having brought them together, join the same with the image of God, who resides permanently in your heart.
In the light of knowledge, having prepared your heart, the lotus of eight petals, and having seated Srinivasa, whatever worship you do out-side, do it inside. Do service (upasana) with four qualities. Look at the form of Hari every moment, saying that He is the ordainer of every item of life, and that there is no one except the Lord. Having discarded afection, without desiring anything, having understood all the other objects as equal, and having observed samadhi with de-votion and foresight (divyadrishti) observe the mode gradually. If meditated in this way, God shall show mercy; and the store of passions being destroyed, you will attain aparokshajnana. Ten Gopala Vitthala will bless you.
Purandara-dasa Even afer Sripada-raya and Vyasa-raya there were monks who composed songs in Kannada. But the majority of the Haridasas were householders. Tey were in the world, yet not of the world. Tough some were engaged in worldly activities early in their career, unexpected turns transformed their lives and they took the path of the dasas. Self- surrender became their life-breath. The name of Purandara-dasa (1480–1564) stands at the top of the Haridasa tradition. He brought about signifcant changes in the felds of literature and music and became a source of inspir-ation for future composers. He is even regarded as the ‘father of the Carnatic or South Indian form of music’. Since no authentic material on his early life is available, it becomes inevitable that we depend upon legend to reconstruct his life. His former name was Srinivasa Nayaka. Tough very rich, he was a miser to the core. His wife was a sincere devotee of God. It is said that Bhagavan Narayana wanted to test Srinivasa Na-yaka and came to him in the guise of a poor brahmana seeking f-nancial help for the sacred-thread ceremony of his son. Srinivasa Nayaka refused him outright. The brahmana then went to his wife and narrated his plight. Filled with compas-sion, his wife gave away her nose-ring. Te brahmana took it to Srinivasa Na- yaka and asked for some money in re-turn. Te sight of the familiar jewel shocked Nayaka. Without asking about its source, told the brahmana to come the next day rushed home to verify the source of the nosring. Fearing harsh punishment, the wife decided to end her life by consuming poi-son. However, she miraculously found the nose-ring in the cup of poison and handed it to her husband. Through further enquiry Nayaka came to the conclusion that it was the Lord himself who had come to him. Tis brought about a great transformation in him. He relinquished all his riches, went to Vijayanagara with his wife and children, took dasa-diksha, initiation into the path of the dasas, and was given the name Purandara-dasa by Vyasa-raya. He emotionally acknowledged the part played by his wife in his transformation: ‘Whatever happened, happened for good. It paved the way for the service of the Lord. [Called] to hold the dandige [a stringed instrument] in my hand I used to hang my head in shame. May the likes of my wife increase! She succeeded in making me hold the dandige.’ Purandara-dasa’s contribution to the Haridasa literature is immeasurable. He gave a new dimen-sion to devaranamas as a form of liter-ary expression. Trough his mastery over language and poetic dic-tion, and by way of his unique presentations, he has been a household name in Karnataka for centuries now. Purandara-dasa’s compositions are thematically multidimen-sional. We have songs praising the glories of the Lord. In others we find dialogues between the devotee and the Lord, wherein the trials, tribulations, joys, and sorrows of the inner life of an aspirant are viv-idly expressed. A major por-tion of his compositions recreate episodes from the Ramayana, Maha-bharata, and Bhagavata. Tose dealing with Krishna, Yashoda, and the gopis of Vrindaban have varied dramatic narrations. His compositions with a social message are also many in number.
Purandara-dasa is known for his def use of words. Here is an example of his efortless use of simile: When I meditate on you, O Lord, what harm can others do to me? What can they achieve by their jealousy when I am surrounded by your bound-less mercy and when I repeat your name con-stantly? Do ants lay siege to fre? Will the dust that a scampering horse throws up envelop the sun? Is there anything that can go against one who has patience? Will the mountain tremble when the wind blows? If a thief tries to break open and seize the money which he sees in a mirror, can he get hold of it? 6 In another song he equates the Lord’s name with sugar candy; and this is how he urges people to get a taste of it: O buy sugar candy, my candy so good! For those who have tasted say naught is so sweet As the honey-like name of the godlike [sic] Visnu. My stock is not packed on the backs of strong kine; Nor pressed into bags strongly fastened with twine. Wherever it goes it no taxes doth pay; But still is most sweet, and brings proft, I say. Purandara Mandapa on the banks of Tungabhadra River, Hampi, where it is said Purandara-dasa composed many of his kirtanas It wastes not with time; never gives a bad smell; You’ve nothing to pay, though you take it right well; White ants cannot eat the fne sugar with me;Te city resounds as its virtue men see. From market to market ’tis needless to run; The shops know it not, the bazaar can have none. My candy, you see, is the name of Visnu, So sweet to the tongue that gives praise as is due.7 Kanaka-dasa In the Haridasa literary tradition, Kanaka-dasa (1509–1607) is a name which stands on a par with that of Purandara-dasa, his contemporary. Kanaka-dasa was born in a village called Bada in northern Karnataka. It is said that he was brought up in a family of shepherds and later became an army chief. It is contended that he renounced worldly life in response to a divine call during a battle and became a Haridasa. He built a tem-ple for Adikeshava, his chosen deity, at Kaginele. Later he went to Vijayanagara and took initiation from Vyasa-raya. Tough he had the support and encouragement of Vyasa-raya, who recognised his inner mettle, he had to face many challenges from some narrow-minded brahmana pandits of the math. Tis fact was even recorded by Purandara-dasa in one of his compositions. Kanaka-dasa strongly criticized the practice of judging a per-son on caste basis:They talk of kula, times without number. Pray tell me what is the kula of men who have felt real bliss? When a lotus is born in mire, do they not bring and ofer it to the Almighty? Do not the gods of the earth drink milk, which comes from the fesh of the cow? Do they not besmear their bodies with deer musk? What is the caste of god Nara-yana and of Siva? What is the caste of the Atman and the Jiva? Why talk of kula when God has blessed you? This ‘caste dialogue’ found expres-sion in one of his remarkable poet- ical works, ‘Rama Dhanya Charite’, the story of the cereal ragi. Tis is the gist of the story: Once there arose a quarrel be-tween rice, consumed by the people of higher castes, and ragi, commonly used by the lower castes, re-garding their superiority as cereal. Unable to resolve the issue, they approached Sri Rama, king of Ayo-dhya. Rama listened to both of them and, reserv-ing his judgment, ordered that they be placed in the gran-ary for some time. After the stipulated period both were called back. By then the rice had turned stale, while the ragi was still in good condition. On the basis of this test Rama declared the supremacy of ragi and called it raghava dhanya or rama dhanya afer his own name. Popular etymology has it that raghava dhanya later became ‘ragi’. Te allegorical way in which Kanaka-dasa portrayed caste has given this poem a unique place in the history of Kannada lit-erature and it is considered one of the major sources for socio-cultural studies on medieval Karnataka. It is said that Vyasa-raya used to create some situations now and then to show the real worth of Kanaka-dasa to his other disciples. Once on an Ekadashi day, when fasting is observed as a reli-gious practice, he called together all his disciples and gave them each a banana, with the instruction that nobody must see them eating it. Te disciples hid themselves in diferent places of their choice and consumed their fruits. Kanaka-dasa, however, brought his fruit back. On being questioned by the guru, he replied: ‘When the all-pervading Lord is observing everything in this universe, can one really get a place where nobody is watching?’
On another occasion, in an assembly, Vyasa-raya posed an interesting question to anaka-dasa: ‘Who among the people of this assembly will go to Vaikuntha (the abode of Bhagavan)?’ Point-ing his fnger at every person, he asked Kanaka, ‘Will he go to Vaikuntha?’ In each case Kanaka answered in the nega-tive. Even when Vyasa-raya asked, ‘Will I go? ’, the reply was the same. Tis was too much for the pandits and they began to fume. Finally, the guru asked Kanaka, ‘Will you go to Vaikuntha?’ Kanaka replied calmly in his characteristically ambigu-ous way, ‘If I go, I go. …’ Te pandits thought this to be a self-assertive reply and a big uproar ensued. Finally, at the guru’s bid-ding, Kanaka explained what the statement meant: ‘If the “I”—the ego—is destroyed, then will I go to Vaikuntha.’ Here, special mention ought to be made of Vaikuntha-dasa of Beluru and Vadiraja-tirtha of the Sode Math. Both contributed to the Haridasa movement in their own way. Tough Vaikuntha-dasa belonged to the Ramanuja sect, he was very close to Vadiraja-tirtha, who held him in very high esteem. Vaikuntha-dasa is considered a great devotee and mystic, and Vadiraja-tirtha has composed hymns and songs both in San- hymns and songs both in San-skrit and Kannada. His compositions are known for their devotional fervour. Later, the Haridasa movement received good support and nourishment from Sri Raghavendra-tirtha (1595–1671) of Mantra-laya Math. However, only one composition of his is available today. Special mention may also be made of Mahipati-dasa (1611–1681), who gave a distinct mystical dimension to the movement through his compositions.
Prabuddh The Second PhaseTe second phase of the Haridasa tradition begins with Vijaya-dasa (1687–1755). His former name was Dasappa. It is recorded that Purandara-dasa appeared to him in a dream and wrote his ankita or kavyanama, pen-name, ‘Vijaya Vitthala’ on his tongue and blessed him with the Haridasa initi-ation. Tis became a turning point in Vijaya-dasa’s life. He composed innumerable songs and had many disciples. He was responsible for the rebirth of the Haridasa tradition. Te soul-searching seen in Vijaya-dasa’s compositions is especially note-worthy. Tis is how he prays to God to cure him of bhavaroga, the disease of worldly existence:
O Lord, healer of worldliness! What is this disease that I am sufering from? You do examine, having felt my pulse calmly. Te eyes cannot perceive the image of Hari. Te ears cannot hear the kirtana of Hari. Te nose cannot smell the fragrance of the sandal-paste applied to Hari. Te tongue cannot taste the ofering made to Hari. Te hands cannot move to worship the feet of Hari. Te head won’t bow down at the feet of the elders and the precep-tor; my feet won’t travel on pilgrimage to places as-sociated with Hari; and the other limbs won’t move to serve Hari. O Vijaya Vitthala, the relative of the unprotected! You are my precious Lord. Terefore, remove this very dangerous disease of time imme- morial. I shall never forget your favour.Another Haridasa who made a signifcant con-tribution to the Dasa literature is Prasannavenkata- dasa, a contemporary of Vijaya-dasa. He was from Bagalkot in the Bijapur district. He lost his parents at a very early age. Greatly depressed, he went to Tirupati. Tere he met some Haridasas and was in-spired to tread the divine path. His craving for the Lord was so intense that he took a vow to fast unto death. It is recorded that Bhagavan Venkateshwara appeared to him in a dream and gave the Haridasa initiation as well as the ankita ‘Prasannavenkata’. Tough he did not have much formal learning and was ignorant of the scriptures, he showed remark-able talent in composing songs afer his initiation as a Haridasa.
Te continuation of the second phase of the Haridasa movement can be mainly attributed to the disciples of Vijaya-dasa. Chief among them was Bhaganna, or Gopala-dasa (1721–62). Te various levels of the spiritual unfoldment of devotional sadhana have found vivid expression in his com-positions. Tis is how he describes the presence of the all-pervading Lord:Wherever seen, there is not such a place where you are not. You are the indweller of all beings, and you are all-pervading. You are in grass, wood, and all animate and inanimate objects; and all praise you saying that there is nothing without you. Just as a lotus, though remaining in water, is not wetted by it, so also, you are the insinua-tor and the inner-dweller yourself. O Gopala Vi-tthala! the Lord of the Deities, only the learned know you and others do not. You yourself are the all-pervading face, eyes, hands, and palms of the universe. You are the all-pervading ears and the support of the universe. You are all-pervading and omnipotent. O Gopala Vitthala! You, who are the universe itself, do grant me devotion to your all-pervading feet.10 (To be concluded)
References 1. See A P Karmarkar and N B Kalamadani, Mystic Teachings of the Haridasas of Karnataka (Dharwar: Karnataka Vidyavardhaka Sangha, 1939), 35. 2. S K Ramachandra Rao, Dasasahitya mattu Sams kriti (Bangalore: Kannada Pustaka Pradhikara, 2003), 135. 3. B N K Sharma, Sri Madhva’s Teachings in His Own Words (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1961), 27. 4. Dasasahitya mattu Samskriti, 150. 5. See Mystic Teachings of the Haridasas of Karnataka, 102–3. 6. R S Mugali, History of Kannada Literature (New Delhi: Sahitya Academy, 1975), 80. 7. Translation by Charles Gower; cited in Edward P Rice, A History of Kanarese Literature (Calcutta: Association Press, and London: Oxford, 1915), 60. 8. See History of Kannada Literature, 82. 9. See Mystic Teachings of the Haridasas of Karnataka, 94–5. 10. See ibid., 102.
The Haridasa Literary Tradition of Karnataka Dr H N Muralidhara (Continued from the previous issue ) Oct 2009
Foremost among the disciples of Gopala- dasa was Jagannatha-dasa (1727–1809).
Before he became a Haridasa, he was known as Srinivasacharya. He was a profound Sanskrit scholar and used to look upon the ‘Kannada dasas’ with
contempt. Once Vijaya-dasa came to his place and invited him to the worship of Vijaya Vitthala, his chosen deity. For obvious reasons Srinivasacharya rejected the invitation. Soon afer he was aficted with intense stomach pain, which later turned out to be due to tuberculosis. Finding no cure, he be-came convinced that this was the consequence of his arrogant behaviour towards the Haridasas. He went to Vijaya-dasa and tendered his sincere apologies. Vijaya-dasa blessed him and sent him to Gopala-dasa. By the blessings of Gopala-dasa not only was his disease cured, he was also initiated into the Hari-dasa tradition and given the name Jagannatha-dasa. He composed hundreds of songs under the ankita ‘Jagannatha Vitthala’. In one of his famous songs he describes the cosmic worship of the Lord thus: ‘Te worship of the Lord is so easy for those who under-stand. Unfortunate is he who does not understand. Te universe is the mandapa, earth the pedestal, rain his ablution (abhisheka); the quarters are his cloth-ing, the malaya-breeze the fragrant incense, all the grain grown on earth his ofering (naivedya), the lightning that shines is the Arati of camphor.’11 Hari-kathamrita-sara, a treatise on the theory and practice of devotion, is an important poetic work of Jagannatha-dasa. It is written in the Shatpadi metre, each stanza containing six lines. In this work one can fnd a rare harmony of scholastic acumen with deep devotional feelings. Here is an excerpt:Even with the prayer of Lakshmi—the presiding deity of the Vedas and Vedangas—He cannot be understood, as He is the ocean of all the eternal imperishable virtues. (Even then) He is subdued by seers who meditate and serve His feet every day. Oh, how kind He must be! He cannot be obtained through mind or speech. But He wanders along with those who meditate upon him. He, having borne the universe within Himself and being the indweller of the jivas, is born with them. He is pos-sessed of immense prowess. And He, having heard the singing of His devotees, appears in their mind. So eager is He that He sits hearing His praise when the devotee sings [the same with devotion]; He hears it standing, if the devotee sings the same sit-ting. He begins to dance [hearing it], if the devotee sings standing; and if the devotee sings and dances [in ecstasy], He gives Himself up. He is so easy [of approach], and cannot remain separated even for a moment. Tis being so, the creatures sufer in this world not knowing how to please Him. Te lineages established by Vijaya-dasa, Gopala-dasa, and Jagannatha-dasa have made signifcant contributions in carrying forward the tradition to later periods. Te list is long; the prominent names include Mohana-dasa, Timmanna-dasa, Rama-dasa, Yogendrappa (‘Pranesha Vitthala’), Karajagi Dasappa (‘Srida Vitthala’), and Ananda-dasa. Te Haridasa tradition is still intact in Karnataka, though with lesser intensity. Even the 20th century saw a long list of Haridasa poets keeping the tradition alive. It needs to be added that this tradition was not restricted to men. We come across many Haridasis such as Helavanakatte Giriyamma, Harapanahalli Bhimavva, and others who have made signifcant contributions not only from the literary point of view but from that of spiritual attainment as well.The Central Message In the socio-religious history of Karnataka the Hari-dasas’ was a distinct note. Tey saved religion from lifeless rituals and the control of so-called scholas- tic circles, and brought it closer to the common people. From this point of view their concept of ‘devotion’ had a revolutionary dimension. Tey not only recreated various incidents from such Puranas as the Bhagavata, they redefned them as well. Tey established the primacy of repetition of the Lord’s name in all spiritual practices. Tis may even be construed, in a way, as an alternative to the Vedic ritualistic tradition. On the one hand, this divine name of the Lord brought each and every person into the spiritual fold, and on the other it unifed the community, erasing distinctions of caste, class, and creed. Purandara-dasa observes: ‘O mind, do not forget to repeat the name of Lord Hari. Why need one perform sacrifces and rituals? Why be-come a mendicant or a monk? Loudly chant the name of the Lord who rests on Adishesha, praised by the sage Narada.’ Ritualistic performances are external in nature, whereas the repetition of the holy name is internal. According to the Haridasas, it is this shif from the external to the internal that makes spiritual practice more meaningful. In this type of sadhana there is no place for ‘middlemen’. Ritualistic practices, though they admit a few into the fold of religion, leave out the majority. On the contrary, the nama-sadhana of the Haridasas includes everyone and excludes none. It prescribes no preconditions for sadhana: In this age of Kali if one chants the name of Hari, generations afer generations will be liberated. Re-member Him who is easy to obtain through simple devotion. Do not say ‘I do not know how to take a holy bath; and I cannot observe the vow of silence.’ Do not say ‘I know not the ways of worship and the means of pleasing the Lord, since I am wretched.’ Do not say ‘I know not the ways of repetition of the holy name and performance of penances and am not initiated by a holy man’. Find a means by which to remember Him whose glory has no end. Rituals demand a specifc time and place for their performance. One cannot observe them according to one’s own convenience. But this is not the case with remembrance of the holy name. Not only that, such remembrance helps bridge the gap between the so-called secular and the spiritual. Te way of remembrance accepts day-to-day activities in their entirety and urges one to spiritualize every single moment. Tis view is aptly illustrated in a famous composition of Purandara-dasa that gives a long list of daily activities and ties them to nama-sadhana: Why not chant ‘Krishna’ when by doing so all difculties will vanish? When you have attained the human birth and are endowed with a tongue, why not chant ‘Krishna’? While waking up from sleep why not chant ‘Krishna’? Moving hither and thither in the household why not chant ‘Krishna’? Losing control of your tongue while talking, why not chant ‘Krishna’? While treading a path carrying burden, why not chant ‘Krishna’? While you smear your body with perfume and enjoy the taste of betel leaves, why not chant ‘Krishna’? When in the joyous company of the sweetheart, why not chant ‘Krishna’? While conversing in a lighter vein, why not chant ‘Krishna’? Considering this too a duty amidst many others, why not chant ‘Krishna’? When you are caressing your child why not chant ‘Krishna’? Seated on a luxurious bed why not chant ‘Krishna’? Te Haridasas stress this internal attitude more than anything else. Even if some people engage themselves in all types of ritualistic practices, but lack sincerity of purpose, the Haridasas dismiss them as indulging in mere show:
There is nothing but showy renunciation: These people have not an iota of devotion towards our Lord. Tey get up at dawn and shiver terribly to show to others that they have had their bath and make them wonder-struck, with all the ego, jealousy, and anger full to the brim within. Tey gather all the vessels of shining brass and copper as if it were a brassware shop and light many lamps before them so that they glitter. Tis is the kind of deceitful worship they ofer. With the rosary beads in their hand and mantra in their mouth, they put on a veil of cloth and contemplate not God but woman (ibid.). It is also to be noted here that according to the Haridasas, ‘dasatva, the state of being a dasa’ is not merely a nomenclature or a designation. Nor is dasa-tva a state of inaction or inertia. It is a very positive process by which an aspirant consciously loses the ego and surrenders completely to the Lord. Even in this process the devotee does not proclaim, ‘I will become a dasa of the Lord.’ It is their conten- tion that if the Lord ‘accepts’ their dasatva, they may become one. Hence, this elimination of ego is not only an end, but is also a means. To quote a famous composition of Purandara-dasa: ‘Make me your slave, Venkataramana, you, the Lord with a thousand names. Eliminate my bad qualities; fx your shield of compassion to my soul; grant me the service of your feet; bless me by placing your lotus-like hand on my head.’One interesting feature of this sadhana is that the devotees not only take some responsibility upon themselves, but they fx an equal amount of accountability on the Lord himself ! Both the de-votee and the Lord enter into an ‘agreement’ to this efect. Says Purandara-dasa: O Krishna, let there be an oath upon you and an oath upon me; and let us both have the oath of your devotees. If I do not utter your name, let the oath be on me; and if you do not protect me, let it be on you. If I adore others leaving you, let the oath be on me; if you forsake my hands, let it be on you. If I deceive you by my mind, body, and wealth, let the oath be on me; and if you do not fx my mind in you, let it be on you. If I associate with the wicked, let it be on me; if you do not make me free from this worldly afection, let it be on you. If I do not make friendship with the virtuous, let it be on me; and if you do not dissociate me from the wicked, let it be on you. If I do not resort to you, let it be on me; if you do not protect me, O Purandara Vitthala, let it be on you.
Tis dasatva of the Haridasas has other dimen-sions as well. At the spiritual level the dasa actually becomes a master of his own senses, while those who claim to be masters are actually slaves to de-sires. At the socio-political level the Haridasas may be considered free souls who declined to be ruled by any human superiors. Tey virtually challenged kingship with their spiritual courage: ‘When Lord Krishna is there to bestow his supreme blessings, what need is there to serve any mortal?’ was the stand taken by Guru Vyasa-raya when he was being greatly honoured by the kings of the Vijayanagara Empire for his spiritual attainments. A similar stand has been taken by the other Haridasas too. Completely surrendering oneself to the Lord and desiring nothing has been the main feature of their spiritual discipline. In fact, one cannot draw a line of distinction between what constitutes sadhana in this tradition and what does not. Existence itself, in all its totality, becomes the theatre of spiritual prac-tice. Te culmination of this idea may be found in one of the songs of Kanaka-dasa: This body is Yours; so is the life within it; Yours too are the sorrows and joys of our daily life. Whether sweet word or Veda or study or law, the power in the ear that hears them is Yours; the vision in the eye that gazes unblinking on beauty of young form, yea, that vision is Yours. Te pleasure that we feel in living together with the fragrance of musk and sweet scents, that is Yours; and when the tongue rejoices in the taste of its food, Yours is the pleas-ure with which it rejoices. This body of ours and the fve senses, which are caught in the net of il-lusion, all, all is Yours. O source of all desire that the body bears, is man his own master? Nay, all his being is Yours (78). For the Haridasas the practice of devotion is not something abstract or conceptual; it is that which transforms the aspirants and keeps them in divine communion every moment of their lives.While describing the qualities of a devotee in one of his songs, Jagannatha-dasa prays to the Lord to keep him in such holy company always. Portions of the song run like this:O Ranga, the ocean of mercy! Protect me, having bestowed upon me the union of the auspicious devotees that sing your fame. Tey [the devotees] do not know any other God except you. Tey shall never forget the favour done by you with-out any motive. Tey shall never do away with the service they do at your feet every day. Tey are not aware of any other thought except that of the highest Truth. Tey remain just like the deaf and the dumb. Tey never entertain in their mind any wicked contrivances. Tey never accept at any time anything which is not [frst] ofered to you. And they do not hanker afer the pleasures of liberation (moksha) either. Tey [always] believe that victory and defeat, proft and loss, honour and dishonour, safety and danger, pleasure and misery, gold and wood, the lovable and the ugly, praise and insult, and the like are all subordinate to your will. Tey are unswerving devotees (ekanta- bhaktas) like the gods. Tey are the followers of rites and observances suitable to the country and time. Tey are free from the snare of desire, anger, love, passion, and other vices. And they are cap-able of [bestowing] blessings and curse. Tey con-sider that whatever is eaten and fed is all sacrifce to you. Tey enjoy the nectar of your name like the bee [that enjoys fragrance]. And they consider that their wives and children are all your slaves. Tey never forget at any cost their usual observ-ances. Tey are worshipped by [all in] the world. Tey never cringe [for anything] with meekness. Tey never accept anything that comes from your enemies, and they give whatever is begged of them. Tey are ever joyous. Tey laugh, they weep, and they dance [in ecstasy]. [Tey] the Bhagavatas never desire for riches, nor [do they seek] poverty. Tey never remove their mind from you at any time. O Jagannatha Vitthala, how great and how blessed are your devotees! Forms of Literary ExpressionTe Haridasa literature has two important aspects: the philosophical and the literary. Te main com-positions of the Haridasas are in the form of kir-tanas, songs, ugabhogas, non-metrical short pieces,and suladis, compositions set to seven diferent talas, traditional metrical patterns. Kirtanas are also known as padas or devaranamas. Normally theybegin with a pallavi, refrain, followed by three to fve stanzas that elaborate the idea or the emotion expressed in the refrain. Te last stanza contains the ankita which identifes the composer. Te ma-jority of ankitas are prefxed to the name ‘Vitthala’:Purandara Vitthala, Vijaya Vitthala, Gopala Vit-thala, and so on. Tis is because the Haridasas are traditionally devotees of Panduranga, or Vitthala,of Pandharpur in Maharashtra. As a form of literaryexpression, the kirtanas have two facets: one is the ‘text’ or linguistic content; the other is the ‘perform-ance’ or traditional rendering. It is at the stage ofperformance that many fresh shades of expression unfold. Te development of this form to its full-est artistic reach is the unique contribution of the Haridasas to the Kannada literary tradition. Spon-taneity is one of the main features of these compos-itions. Tey take shape according to the need at the time of its expression. Tough musical performance is the main form of expression, the compositions are not meant to demonstrate the features of mu-sical raga. In this respect the Haridasas difer from the Vaggeyakaras or composers like Tyagaraja. Te Haridasa compositions are more bhava-pradhanathan raga-pradhana, that is, they give precedence to sentiment over melody; and this is attested to by the very linguistic and prosodic nature of the compos-itions. Te features that the Haridasa compositions exhibit can be grouped into a few select patterns, the possibilities of which each composition tries to explore in its own distinct way. Tese compositions are not ‘tuned’ to music. Tough the compositions have both raga and tala content, these are intrinsic to their structure, not extrinsic. Even their metrical patterns and tala forms difer from the classical trad-ition in being more akin to desi, local, structures. ‘We should live thus’ The study of the Haridasa tradition amply demon-strates how a devotional movement can take people nearer to God. Even today we have thousands of bhajana mandalis, singing troupes, across Karna-taka that sing Haridasa compositions in chorus, and the majority of these troupes are of women. Moreover, theirs is not mere singing but a ritualistic performance wherein a defnite method is followed. And this method has become part and parcel of the daily routine of the common folk. Each and every daily activity is associated with some song or other of a Haridasa. For instance, there are count-less songs which depict mother Yashoda waking up, bathing, adorning, feeding, and playing with the child Krishna. Mothers perform similar activities with their children singing these songs, thereby ele-vating the mundane to the level of the divine. Several passages, proverbial statements, idiom-atic expressions, and punch lines of the Haridasa kirtanas have found their way into the Kannada dic-tion, and can be heard in routine conversations of even the illiterate. Without particularly knowing the author, people recall a line or two from a song and say, ‘… we should live thus.’ Te Haridasa move-ment is democratic in the true sense of the term—by the people, of the people, for the people. What more can we expect from a literary tradition? It has made the land, the language, and the people blessed. References 11. See History of Kannada Literature, 83. 12. See Mystic Teachings of the Haridasas, 112. 13. See ibid. 56. Notes and References 1. Mohandas K Gandhi, Gandhi: An Autobiography (Te Story of My Experiments with Truth) (Boston: Beacon, 1957), 265. 2. It should also be pointed out that, at 100,000 verses, the Mahabharata is four times longer than the Bible. 3. Why do I use the term theology and not philosophy? To be sure, each of these thinkers was also a great philosopher. But in the context of writing com- mentarial literature on works of scripture, and taking the received tradition as the starting point for refection, I use the term theology, to contrast such refection with refection that begins from a more abstract starting point. It is not a pejorative term, although I have encountered Indian scholars who have taken it as such, as implying something less scientifc or rational than the term philosophy. But that is not my understanding. As a refection on the Gita, this essay is itself a work of theology. 4. According to Swami Vivekananda, Vedanta is ul- timately based not on any text, but on the experi- ences of the enlightened sages who wrote those texts. Te Gita itself makes a similar claim for the priority of direct experience (Bhagavadgita, 2.46). Te Upa- nishads are widely regarded in the various Vedanta traditions, though, as pre-eminent among the texts that communicate the insights of realized sages.
5. Gita, 2.2–3. All translations from the text of the
Gita are my own. 6. Beyond the seeming contradiction between the Gita’s teaching of non-violence in some sections and apparent endorsement of war in others, scholars have cited linguistic and styl- istic differences between the Gita and the larger portion of the Mahabharata, of which it forms a part, to argue that the Gita, at least in its current form, is a later composition. See C Jinarajadasa, Te Bhagavad Gita (Madras: Teo- sophical Publishing, 1915) and S Radhakrishnan, The Bhagavad Gita (HarperCol l ins, 1993).
7. An excellent collection of articles that explore this
issue from a variety of perspectives is the volume edited by Steven J Rosen: Holy War: Violence and the Bhagavad Gita (Hampton: Deepak Heritage, 2002).
8. Gita, 16.2. 9. Wilhelm Halbfass, India and Europe: An Essay in
Understanding (Albany: State University of New York, 1987), 14–16. 10. Joshua, 6.21: ‘Tey devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.’ 11. Gita, 18.41–4. 12. Swami Jyotirmayananda, Mysticism of the Maha- bharata (Miami: Yoga Research Foundation, 1993). 13. Gita, 13.1. 14. Mohandas K Gandhi, Te Bhagavad Gita According to Gandhi (Berkeley: North Atlantic, 2009), 36–7.