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Purandara Dasa

Purandara Dāsa (1484 - 1564) (sometimes spelled as a single word) (Kannada: ಪುರಂದರ ದಾಸ) was one of the most prominent composers of Carnatic music, regarded by some Indians as the "father of Carnatic Music". Purandara Dasa addressed social issues in addition to worship in his compositions, a practice emulated by his younger contemporary, Kanaka Dasa. Purandara Dasa's Carnatic music compositions are mostly in Kannada; some are in Sanskrit. He signed his compositions with the mudra (pen name), "Purandara Vittala" (Vittala is one of the incarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu). About 1000 of his songs are extant; some mythology credits him with having composed as many as 475,000.


Inscriptional evidence shows Purandara Dasa was born in 1484 AD in Kshemapura, near Tirthahalli, Shivamogga district, Karnataka state. Some scholars have proposed that his birthplace was Purandaragad near Pune, but this is considered a historical mistake - connecting his "pen name" (his ankita) with a location that mainly served as a military encampment in the 15th and 16th century, and where neither could Kannada have been popular nor would any commercial activity have flourished. The only son of Varadappa Nayaka, a wealthy merchant, and Leelavati, he was named Srinivasa Nayaka, after the Lord of the Seven Hills. He received a good education in accordance with family traditions and acquired proficiency in Kannada, Sanskrit, and sacred music. At age 16 he married Saraswatibai, said by tradition to have been a pious, god fearing girl. He lost his parents at age 20, thereby inheriting his father's business of gemstones and pawning. He prospered and became known as "navakoti narayana" (abundantly rich man).

According to popular belief, he was led to devote himself to musical composition by a miraculous incident which made the heretofore greedy and miserly merchant realize the worthlessness of his attachment to worldly possessions.. A Brahmin man wanted to perform the sacred thread ceremony (upanayana) for his son and came to Srinivasa's wife for money. She gave him her nose ring to sell, and the man sold the nose ring to Srinivasa himself. The miserly Srinavasa lent the man his money. Meanwhile, his wife was worried about what to say to her husband, so she prayed to her favorite deity, who gave her a nose ring just like the one she had just given away. When Srinivasa hurried home, anxious to know if the nose ring was hers, he was bewildered seeing her wear the same one! She confessed what had happened, and he was converted to belief in the virtue of a charitable life. 30 years of age, he gave away all his wealth to charity and together with his family left his house to lead the life of a wandering minstrel to proselytise religion. In his very first song composition, he laments his wasted life of indulgence. It begins with the words 'Ana lae kara' in the Shuddha Savaeri raga, set to Triputa tala.

In the course of his wandering he met the holy sage Vyasatirtha. According to Prof. Sambamoorthy, Srinivasa had his formal initiation at the hands of Vyasatirtha in 1525 when he was about 40 years old, with the name Purandara Dasa bestowed on him by Satyadharma Teertha, a later occupant of the Vyasatirtha Matha (or Vyasaraya Matha). Purandara Dasa traveled extensively through the length and breadth of the Vijayanagara empire composing and rendering soul stirring songs in praise of god. He spent his last years in Hampi. The mantapa (mandap) in which he stayed is known as Purandara Dasa Mantapa (mandap). He took sanyasa towards the close of his life. He died in 1564 at the age of 80.

Purandara Dasa and Carnatic music

Purandara Dasa systematized the method of teaching Carnatic music which is followed to the present day. He introduced the Mayamalavagaula as the basic scale for music instruction and fashioned series of graded lessons such as swaravalis, janta swaras, alankaras, lakshana geetas, prabandhas, ugabhogas, thattu varase, geetha, sooladis and kritis. Another of his important contributions was the fusion of bhava, raga, and laya in his compositions. Purandara Dasa was the first composer to include comments on ordinary daily life in song compositions. He used elements of colloquial language for his lyrics. He introduced folk ragas into the mainstream, setting his lyrics to tunes/ragas of his day so that even a common man could learn and sing them. He also composed a large number of lakshya and lakshana geetas, many of which are sung to this day. His sooladis are musical masterpieces and are the standard for raga lakshana. Scholars attribute the standardization of varna mettus entirely to Purandara Dasa.

The itinerant dasas who succeeded him are believed to have followed the systems he devised, as well as orally passing down his compositions.

Purandara Dasa was a vaggeyakara (performer), a lakshanakara (musicologist), and the founder of musical pedagogy. For all these reasons and the enormous influence that he had on Carnatic music, musicologists call him the "Sangeeta Pitamaha" (grandfather) of Carnatic music.

Purandara Dasa had great influence on Hindustani music. The foremost Hindustani musician Tansen's teacher, Swami Haridas was Purandara Dasa's disciple. Purandara Dasa's compositions are equally popular in Hindustani music. Hindustani music legends such as Bhimsen Joshi and Basavaraj Rajguru have made them more popular in recent years. Young, well known artists such as Venkatesh Kumar, Nagaraja Rao Havaldar, Ganapathi Bhatt, and Nachiketa Sharma are continuing the tradition of singing Purandara Dasa's compositions in north Indian music concerts.


His compositions are also popular as "padas" and "devarnamas". His devaranamas occupy an honored place in the devotional music of south India. His keertanas are generally in adi tala and madhyama kala. His songs touch almost every aspect of spiritual life such as devotion, morality, ethics, good behavior and compassion to all living beings.


Purity of heart, devotion to God, and compassion towards all living beings formed the core of Purandaradasa's philosophy. A householder's life was no impediment to spiritual progress, as his own life was an example. According to him, mere accumulation of knowledge, repetition of formulas and observance of rituals are worthless if the heart is not pure. Equally useless is the wrangling over the "nature" of God. Trust in God is far superior to beliefs in astrology and horoscopes. Purandara Dasa belonged to Madhwa's sampradaya, which teaches bhakti to attain "Moksha".

Compilations of Purandara Dasa's lyrics

  • Jackson, William J. 2002. Songs of Three Great South Indian Saints. Oxford India. ISBN 0-19-566051-X
  • KavyaPremi. 1996. Purandara Daasa Haadugalu. Dharwad: Samaja Publishers. Contains ca. 225 songs; in Kannada language.


Works cited

  • Gavai, Sheshadri. 1956. Sangeetha kalaravinda. Bangalore: Aravinda Publications.
  • George, T.J.S. 2004. MS–A Life in Music. New Delhi: HarperCollins Publishers India, a joint venture with India Today Group. ISBN 81-7223-527-5.
  • The Hindu online. 2006-10-20. Friday Review Chennai and Tamil Nadu. Columns : An authority on Purandara Dasa
  • Iyengar, Masti Venkatesha ("Srinavasa"). 1964. Purandara Daasa Bangalore: Bangalore Press.
  • Iyer, Panchapakesa. 2006. Karnataka Sangeetha Sastra. Chennai: Zion Printers.
  • Kamath, Suryanath. 1980. A concise history of Karnataka from prehistoric times to the present. Bangalore: Jupiter Books.
  • Massey, Reginald and Jamila Massey. 1996. The music of India. With a foreword by Ravi Shankar. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications. ISBN 8170173329.
  • Sharma, B.N.K. 2000. History of the Dvaita School of Vedanta and Its Literature. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 8120815750.

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