The Passage of Purandara: From A Midas To A Haridasa

Rama mantrava japiso! Hey Manuja Hari Smarane mado nirantara Para gatike idu nirdara

0 man, chant the mantra of Rama At all times think about Hari This is the foundation for bhakti Ee tanuva nambalu bcdo jeevave — 0 mind, do not believe the body. It is your enemy.

Rama nama payasake — Krishna nama sakkare Vittala nama tuppava — Kalasibayi chapparisiro

Rama's name is sweetened milk Krishna's name is the sugar, Vittala's name is the ghee — Mix the three and taste it. 

Aparadhi nanalla! Aparadtia^&nagilla Kapata nataka sutradrari neene!

I am not in the wrong. You are the creator of the illusory drama that is life

How often have we heard and rejoiced at the above sentiment in songs popular in Carnatic music today? The creator of these songs was a man born in the tail-end of the fifteenth century who lived two very different lives in successive stages: he was a millionaire named Srinivasa Naik who later turned into a minstrel of bhakti; into none other than Purandaradasa whom we revere today as Sangita Pitamaha or the father of Carnatic music. Srinivasa was born in Ham pi in Karnataka into an orthodox brahmin family. This was in the year 1484 according to many reliable sources, although some dispute it. He received a good education, imbibed the religious traditions of his home and also learned music.

He inherited the family's business consisting of banking and trading in jewellery and later on developed into so shrewd a businessman that he amassed a huge fortune. Despite all his learning and affluence, however, he remained unmoved by the pious and the needy. Because properly recorded historical facts are not available, the story of the transformation of this single-minded worshipper of mammon into a saintly minstrel who spent the rest of his life singing the praise of Hari and spreading the message of bhakti probably has a mite of myth mixed into it.

The tale told a million times is that a very poor brahmin in the company of a young boy repeatedly approached Srinivasa seeking monetary help for conducting the upanayanam or sacred thread ceremony of the lad. Srinivasa refused to entertain the brahmin's pleas but the old man persisted. At the end of a six-month period, when Srinivasa still showed no sign of giving in, the ostensibly disappointed brahmin called on Naik's wife Saraswati Bai, a pious and cultured woman who genuinely felt miserable because of her husband's relentless pursuit of wealth and his miserliness. Deeply moved by the brahmin's need she gave him, on impulse, her diamond-studded nose ornament with which he could raise adequate funds to perform the upanayanam.

The old brahmin then went straight to Srinivasa at his place of business and offered the jewel for sale. Suspecting the jewel to be his wife's, Srinivasa placed it in his locker, hastened home and asked his wife to show him her nose ornament. Having given it away and fearing the worst from her already enraged husband, Saraswati Bai resolved to end her life by drinking poison. But miraculously she found die jewel glowing in the dark poison as she lifted the cup to drink it. She was certain this was a result of divine intervention and, with a prayerful heart, she brought and handed the jewel over to her husband. Intrigued by its resemblance to the jewel brought by the old brahmin, Srinivasa rushed back to his shop, only to find the jewel he had left in the locker was missing. The old man too had disappeared. Srinivasa then returned home and, on hearing the full story from his wife, realised that divine power could be invoked only by a pure heart. He was also moved to self-condemnation for being so preoccupied with worldly wealth.

Losing delight in materialistic pursuits and longing to see again the brahmin who he believed was none other than the Lord himself, Srinivasa vowed not to touch food or water till his desire was fulfilled. On the third night of his fast the brahmin appeared to Saraswati Bai in a vision and told her that, if her husband renounced his worldly fortunes and dedicated himself to the service of Hari, he would get a darsap of the Lord. Srinivasa thereupon relinquished all his wealth and, dedicating his house to Lord Krishna, left with his wife and sons to lead a life of a wandering minstrel. On the very first day of this new life, he chanced on the old brahmin and sought and obtained his forgiveness. Whether this oft-told tale of the metamorphosis is legend or fact, the transformation itself is reflected in the song:

Adadella olite ayitu, namma Sridharana Sevi madhalu sadhana Sampattayilu

What has happened is for the good and has become a fruitful means to the service of our Lord Sridhara. T h e song goes on to say: May there be thousands like this wife. She has made one take to the tambura, the staff, the beggar's bowl and the tulsi mala. Directed by a dream-vision, it is said, Srinivasa later went to Vijayanagar to seek spiritual guidance from Vyasaraya, a great sage and also preceptor to King Krishnadevaraya. He obtained initiation into the tenets of the Madhva religion from him. Each Haridasa is given a nom-de-plume by his guru and Srinivasa was rechristened Purandara Vittala. In the song Vvasaraya charana kamala, Purandaradasa describes the feeling of blessedness he experienced when the guru accepted him; it was the fulfilment of a wish carried in many births, he says.

Purandara Vittala was the first to be called a dasa and it was he who established the dasa-kuta or assembly of datas. The scholars and pundits associated with his guru Vyasaraya, who were known collectively as Vyasa-kuta, at first opposed this new dasa movement which emphasized the bhakti marga or path of devotion, especially the worship of Hari or Krishna. However, Vyasaraya himself helped overcome the opposition, deeply impressed as he was by Purandara's transparently honest conviction and also by the fact that his disciple's ideas were rooted in the Vedas and the Upanishads. As a wandering minstrel, Purandaradasa was accompanied by his wife and sons who also joined in singing the praise of the Lord and persuading the people to take to the path of bhakti. Purandar also visited all important temples in his homeland, as well as the shrine of Venkataramana at Tirupati.

He was especially drawn to Hari's manifestation as Panduranga and spent many years in Pandharpur (in Maharashtra). Naturally, he sang about Hari in all his different forms. Preoccupied though he was by thoughts of the divine, Purandaradasa nonetheless concerned himself with the human condition, with life as it existed around him. Thu s he gave attention to everyday preoccupations of the people, to the objective of promoting equality, social harmony and so on.

He was nothing if he was not down to earth even as he sought to lead the people towards divine bliss. Thu s he captured the imagination of the man on the street — for this he was immensely aided by the fact that he used simple Kannada as the vehicle for his message. In an age when literature and songs were predominantly in Sanskrit which was not commonly understood, his songs in the language of the people went directly to their hearts. Lilting in melody and poetic in form, they conveyed religious, philosophical and social ideas in a way that could be understood easily. Purandara's mentor Vyasaraya was so impressed by this fact that he described his disciple's songs as'Purandaropanishad'. In an additional tribute to his disciple, he sang: Dasarendra Purandara Dasarayya — Of all the dasas, Purandaradasa is the greatest.

Songs poured forth out of Purandar a like the gush of water in a mountain spring and they had, too, the crystal-clear quality of the latter. In his compositions, striking for their yati (alliteration) and prasa (assonance), the fusion of philosophy, poetry and music reached great heights. While others before him had produced songs of devotion, his compositions marked a basic departure in that the musical aspect dominated them — and with perfection too. Thu s what started as a bhakti movement became a musical movement as well, reaffirming the strong bond between religion and art that has been the hallmark of our culture over the ages. Purandaradasa lived during the reign of Krishnadevaraya and his successor, who ruled over the very prosperous and stable Vijayanagar empire. Free of wars, the times were calm and tranquil and conducive to the emergence of great philosophers, saints, poets and playwrights and religious reformers as well.

Unfortunately, • after the calm came a storm. Within two years after Purandaradasa's death came the battle of Talikot and the Muslim invasion destroyed the kingdom. In this chaos, the songs of Purandara were lost to the world. A hundred years later a Haridasa named Vijayadasa, himself a prolific composer unearthed and propagated the best of Purandaradasa's songs and spread their teachings. Legend has it that, over a period of about forty years, until his passing in 1564, Purandaradasa composed 475,000 songs, a figure that tests our credulity because to achieve this staggering total, he must have composed at the rate of 11,875 songs a year or about thirty-two songs a day. But then it is said that whatever he uttered came out as music.

If he did compose that many songs, we don't have evidence of it today since only a fraction of that number have survived and only a fraction of that fraction has come down to us with the original music. Purandaradasa spent his last days in a mandapam built in his honour in Hampi by Krishnadevaraya, surrounded by those with faith in him and his bhakti. He died on a Pushya Amavasya day, chanting the Lord's name. Prior to his passing, he is said to have sung these words.

Indina vara shuba vara Indina tara shuba tara Indina yoga shuba yoga Indina karana shuba karana Indu Purandara Vittala rayana padita dinave shuba dinavu This week is auspicious The star [nakshatra] today is auspicious Today's happening is auspicious The day on which the name of Purandara Vittala is sung is also auspicious. Even today, dasas and others who revere Purandaradasa join and celebrate his birth and death anniversaries at the mandapam in Hampi.