Purandara Daasa

Saint Composer ‘Sangeetha Pitamaha’

PURANDARA DAASA (1484 – 1564)

Purandara Daasa was born in ‘Purandaragada’, a village in Hampi in Bellari District of Karnataka. He was named as Srinivasa by his parents as he was born in answer to their prayer to the Lord of Seven Hills. He was affectionately called Seenappa.

After his fathers demise Srinivasa continued the family business in precious stones. His business acumen in him enabled him to expand his business and amass a lot of wealth. This gave him the name ‘Navakoti Narayana’. It is a pity that he was a great miser. The expansion of his heart was inversely proportional to the upward leap in his wealth.

Lord Purandara Vittala performed a miracle and made Srinivasa a Hari Daasa overnight. Leaving behind all the worldly possessions, Seenappa came to the street with the Tambura and Cymbals, and continued his journey on the path of bakthi. He surrendered at the feet of Vysasaraaya for guidance and became his deciple. Then on he came to be known as Purandara Daasa. His devotional outpourings continued the quintessence of Upanishads and Puranas. Even now they are popularly known as Devara Namas.

Widely seen as an incarnation of the divine poet-musician Narada Maharishi himself, Saint Purandara Daasa is glorified by the people of Karnataka as the original guru and patriarch of their music. He was a gifted scholar, poet and devotee, and was the first to setup abode in Hampi, even before his contemporaries like Kanaka Daasa, Vaadiraja, Vyasaraaya and others.

Sri Sripadaraya, the guru of Sri Vyasaraya, who in turn was Sri Purandara Daasa’s guru, started a new trend of Kannada compositions called Suladis and Ugabhogas (short prose). Sri Purandara Daasa was ordained by Sri Vyasaraya to continue the tradition, but his creative mind found the situation confusing and chaotic. There was no system by which a beginner of music could learn singing. Talas and ragas were known, but a student would not know where to begin. Sri Purandara Daasa studied the available literature and brought about reforms that embraced all the three fields in music viz. raga (tune), sahitya (lyrics) and tala (rhythm).

Another significant contribution of Purandara Daasa was streamlining of the teaching method of Carnatic music. He introduced graded lessons such as swaraavalis, alankaras, geetams and prabandams with the raga Mayamalavagowla constituting the basic scale of instructions.

The song commonly sung at the beginning of the musical practice are:
Lambodara / Lakumikara //
Kundagaura / Gaureevara //
Karaya neerannu / Karege chelli //
Padumanabha / Paramapurusha //

The new concept of offering prayer in the mother tongue gained currency in Karnataka. The author of this school was Narahari Theertha. A number of saints made their contribution for keeping alive, and building up this tradition – called ‘Dasakoota Sampradaaya’. The shining star of this sampradaaya is Purandara Daasa. He enriched the bakthi literature, and, during his lifetime it is said, that he had composed around 4 lac devara namas of which, over 1000 are known today. His works relate not only to devotion, but also to intellectual and moral values, and reflect his total mastery over raga-tala. His innumerable compositions render themselves beautifully to music, whether they are bhajan, devotional, folk songs or lullabies.

Purandaras compositions were in simple language, using earthly metaphors which were easily understandable to the common people. While many of his compositions go along well with classical music, he used only those notes which were easy to sing. Hence, in order to facilitate effortless learning of music and performance of raga bhava, his compositions involve only seven talas.

He was the originator of the musical scale by which all the rules of Carnatic music are formed – so he came to be known as the Grammarian of Carnatic music. The style and format of Carnatic music which dominates the music world today originated from this pioneering saint musician that Purandara Dasa was. His Sulaadis are worthy of special mention. Saint Purandadara Daasa has gifted the improved form of ancient music by introducing the pattern of Pallavi and Anupallavi and this system was followed later by Saint Thyagaraja and others. Vidwans stick this pattern till this day in all the concerts. This signal contribution earned him the name ‘Sangeetha Pitamaha’ of Carnatic music.

His greatness lies in earning the encomium of his guru Vyaasaraaya – ‘Daasarendere Purandaradaasariah’.

– Salutations to you, Guru Purandara, greatest and kindest of the saints