Sri Puradara Dasa is known as the Karnataka Sangeetha Pra-pithamaha (founder of Carnatic classical music). Purandara Dasa is believed to have been born in 1494 in Pandarapura in Karnataka. This was the golden age of Kannada literature too, under the most famous Vijayanagar emperor Sri Krishnadeva Raya. The influence of of Sri Purandara on Carnatic music and Kannada literature is immense. He virtually started the branch of literature which is now known as Dasa Sahithya. It was a blend of sublime poetry and music emphasising the virtues of good life over material wealth and religious ceremonies. Kanaka Dasa is another composer who was his contemorary and an important contributor to Dasa Sahithya.
There is a legend as to how he gave up a life of wealth to become an ascetic. He worked as a money lender and was infamous as a miser. Once, a Brahmin man wanted to perform the sacred thread ceremony (upanayana) for his son and came to Purandara Dasa’s wife for money. She gave him her nose-ring to sell for money, and the man went to Purandara Dasa himself to get the money. The miser lent the man his money, but 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. When Purandara Dasa hurried home, anxious to know if the nose-ring was hers, he was bewildered seeing her wear the same one! She narrated the story, and he was converted, believing in the virtue of his wife and the virtue of a charitable life.
He renounced his riches and became disciple of Vyasa Raya who titled him “Purandara Vittala,” which became his signature. Then he is said to have composed 475,000 songs in both Kannada and Sanskrit.
He sang many rare ragas with the most beautiful lyrics. Tyagaraja‘s praise in “Prahalada Bhakti Vijayam” is for him.
Purandara Dasa is believed to have systematized the early music lessons – Sarale Varase, Janti Varase, Geete, etc. and also chose Mayamalavagowla as the Raga to be used for these. He composed many devotional songs in Kannada known as Devaranama.
Purandara Dasa set the highest value on good conduct. The strength and greatness of Sri Hari’s name have been beautifully enshrined and sung in this world. People who do not know Sanskrit find it hard to understand the Vedas and Upanishads. But Purandara Dasa has explained the whole essence of these scriptures in simple Kannada and show the way that one should live.
He practiced in his life what he preached. It is important to note this aspect of his life. He gifted away all his wealth and lived the life of renunciation which he preached to others. Although he took to the life of renunciation and asceticism he did not desert his wife and children. He lived with them.
He made it clear to others by his conduct how it was possible to achieve purity of thought, word and deed regardless of caste, religion or creed. He did not believe that man could understand God by mere external purity unless it was accompanies by purity of mind.
Whatever Purandara Dasa says, the way he introduces it and explains it is very pleasant. His similes are very simple and telling. He compares wicked men to the knotted tree of thorns. He warns the non believers that life is being wasted at every stroke of the bell. When he saw a post man he sang ‘Kaagada bandide, namma Padumanabhanadu…” (a letter has arrived from Padmanabha.) He preached several moral precepts making use of familiar incidents like the postman delivering letters.
It was God’s gift that Purandara Dasa was able to preach, in simple Kannada, what is difficult even for philosophers to put across in a way which the ordinary people can understand. He left Ihaloka in 1564 at the age of 70.
Today is Sri Purandara Dasa Aradhane.