The Pathfinding Pitamaha of Music

The fusion of philosophy, poetry and music reached great heights in Purandaradasa's compositions which are striking for their gati and prasa, or alliteration and assonance. 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. What was originally only a bhakti movement became with him a musical movement as well and confirmed the very strong bond between art and religion in our way of life in which, over the centuries, the practice of music has been considered nadopasana. Purandaradasa's songs are known in Kannada as Dasara Padagalu. Typologically, they include thaya, . gita, suladi, ugabhoga, padya, khanda-padya, vritta, prabhanda, pada, devarnama and lavani. H e also composed tana-varna-s, tillana-s, pallavi gita-s, ghana raga gita-s, svaravali-s and alankara-s. He composed in Kanjiada mainly and in Sanskrit.


It is the kirtana or what used to be called devarna na that forms the largest class of his presently available compositions. A great many kirtana-s are in madhyamakala, though he was equally facile in composing chaukakala kirtana-s. Some of his compositions contain the nayaka-nayaki bhava and, but for the language, they are apt to be fancied as Kshetrayya's. A majority of Purandaradasa's kirtana-s have only the pallavi and the charana. but there are several of them that have the pallavi, the anupallavi and the charana. According to the late T.V. Subba Rao, who had studied Purandaradasa deeply, it is 38 a mistake to suppose that the music of the Dasa's kirtana-s is of a plain recitative character with little scope for creative imagination. "There are of course many songs of his meant merely for sankirtana purposes," he has observed, "but a much larger number of them are surcharged with musical excellence of the highest quality.

Except insofar as the composer himself did not impose set sangati-s of a sophisticated nature on them, the compositions themselves are the embodiments of raga sanchara-s of exquisite beauty. As lakshya for lakshana they possess such high value that they are cited in renowned lakshana granthas as unquestioned authority for raga sanchara-s." Sangita Saramrita of Tulajaji gives reference to many of his compositions. T h e poet-composer Tallapakkam Annamacharya was a senior contemporary of Purandaradasa and his sankirtana-s had the pallavi and a string of charana-s. Dasa's compositions are of this type as well as of the other form, with pallavi-anupallavi-charanam. The latter form, extensively used by Tyagaraja in his compositions, has come to be called the kriti. It is said that Tyagaraja's mother was familiar with a number of Dasara Padagalu and this influenced him to a great extent. At least twenty five songs of Tyagaraja are modelled on Purandaradasa's songs. For instance Sommane dorakuvado of Purandaradasa and Urake galguna Ramuni bhakti of Tyagaraja are identical in content.


According to Subba Rao, the type of composition which reveals Purandaradasa's extraordinary mastery of the technique of music is the suladi. Sulu hadi literally means 'an easy way to attain salvation'. Tandeyagi tayiyagi in Bhupali raga has been cited by Subbarama Dikshitar in his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini as an example of a suladi. A composition of Purandaradasa's, it is sung in three tempos. Many a prayoga from his suladi-s have been cited as authority for lakshana-s of raga-s, described by Tulajaji in his Sangita Saramrita. Some of the suladi-s indicate that he was influenced by the veera saiva composers of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Despite this background, however, the suladi-s of Purandaradasa are not heard often any longer and Subba Rao has expressed the hope that interest in them would be revived again as it would be of great value for the future of the art and science of Carnatic music.

Pada-s an d Ugabhoga-s

Dasa's pada-s, like Jayadeva's ashtapadi-s, are the common piopc ty of both Carnatic and Hindustani traditions. Even today his pada-s are sung in Hindustani raga-s by North Indian musicians, like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi who sings Hari smarana mado in Yaman Kalyan. His ugabhoga-s, described by Subba Rao as "nearer prose than even a metrical composition," are rendered as preludes to songs.


Purandaradasa has composed songs in all familiar raga-s. He has used about a hundred raga-s. He established indisputable forms for many of them by composing simple songs embodying their swarupa. These could be and have been taken as perfect models for the raga-s concerned by latter-day composers. In one of his compositions he says that the sahitya or the words should be 'sulabha' — easily understood by all; and this is a feature of all his creations. In fact, this could be the reason for Purandaradasa's songs being sung in many different ragaby different singers — the songs are so easy to master that they lend themselves to new melodies, new raga-s. Notation was not in vogue in those days and the disintegration of the empire he lived in also dispersed his followers. Therefore we have no authentic information about the raga-s in which he had sung a number of his songs. Accordingly new modes have been used for the same sahitya. The ragamalika-s Yake nirdava and Chandrachuda are some examples.

T h e beautiful simplicity of Purandaradasa's songs have perhaps also enabled contemporary composers like Balamuralikrishna to freely translate his Kannada compositions into Telugu and Tamil. Dasa's Satyavantirigidu kalavalla is a famous example. The credit for systematizing the tala-s goes once again to Purandaradasa. He picked out seven basic tala-s and composed alankara-s in them. To this day, these sapta-talas are the most frequently used in our music.

In his devarnama-s too he used all tala varieties; and while preferring Chapu and Jhampa tala-s, he used Adi tala in greater proportion compared to his predecessors. Another type of composition in which he exhibits his mastery over Iaya is the suladi, which has the same format as the kirtana but has seven or eight sub-divisions, each of which is set to a different tala. Aiyaswamy Iyer (father of M.L. Vasanthakumari) has said that the words swara vettiraga muvataru iradarinda in one of his compositions indicate that he knew about two sets of thirty-six tala-s. Thus, even from this brief review and the accompanying excerpts from an analysis by the late T.Y. Subba Rao, it can be seen that Purandaradasa made an invaluable contribution to Carnatic music through his compositions in different forms, raga-s and tala-s and by laying the foundation for its systematic learning and further development.