The Indian art forms are deep containers of Indian aesthetics, philosophy and spirituality. Music, especially, has been a window for foreigners to peep into her ancient soul. One particular form, the songs of the Haridasas can serve as a beacon to the world on how simple living and high thinking has always served this ancient civilization well and could serve others too.
Sri Purandara Dasa Punyadina was observed on February 1, as it is observed on Amavasya in Pousha Masa. For those interested in Indian classical music, the story of his gurus and lineage is both imperative, as well as uplifting.
Krishnadevaraya, one of the greatest statesmen of Medieval South India, took the Vijayanagara Empire to great heights during his reign. Madhava saint-composer Vyasathirtha was a Rajguru in Krishnadevaraya’s court. Once when the superstitious king was undergoing ‘Kuhu Yoga’ he made Vyasathirtha sit on the throne for three days to protect him during that period.
While Vyasathirtha held sway over the greatest of kings, Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa appealed to the masses because of their universal message. All three are Haridasas. Their work is a passion for modern day Carnatic musician and former Peethadhipathi of Kukke Subramanya Matha - Sri Vidyabhushana. In an interview with this author a few years ago, he explained the music of the Haridasas.
Who were the Haridasas?
From around Madhvacharya’s time, the Haridasa andolana started in a small way. The people who brought it into prominence were Shripadaraja, Vadiraja and Vyasathirtha, the guru of Krishnadevaraya. Vyasathirtha’s students were Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa. The profound effect of the Haridasas on Karnatic music can be seen from the fact that Purandaradasa is called the Pitamaha of Carnatic Music. Everywhere in the remotest of places we can see students still being taught sarali varisai, janti varisai, suladi sapta tala in the same way he set it down centuries ago.
Similarly vaggeyakaras created keerthanas along the same lines. And to such an extent that when you listen to them, you realise that the keerthana model comes from Shripadaraja and Vadiraja. This is astounding. Purandaradasa and Vyasaraja gave a specific form to Carnatic music.
Today people talk about taking classical music to the masses, but it was the Haridasas who did it in the true spirit.
What is the contribution of Haridasatva to Carnatic music?
About 700 years ago the Bhakti movement took place all over India. There was a movement to write the krithis in the language of the people. This was required so that the message of the shastras could reach the people so that they could experience Bhakti Marga. So Haridasas, took the message of the Upanishads which were written in Sanskrit and could not be easily understood by all and rewrote them in simple Kannada. This was done so that people could sing them, use them in their upasana or worship and understand them and integrate those values in their lives and worship with bhakti.
Also, they did not create keerthanas only for the sake of sangeeta. Rather, they imbibed sangeeta for the keertana so that they could reach the people through this medium. Without their realising it, a new form of music developed. So they contributed to the sandesha or the message and they contributed to the Sangeeta – that is the naada and the Veda. It is telling that Thyagaraja considered Purandaradasa to be his guru.
What is the message of the Haridasas that they wish to convey through their songs?
The message was devotion or Bhakti. To achieve such devotion you must hear about the greatness of the Lord, try to understand more about Him, live your life as a devotee and alongside imbibe values. Purandaradasa sings ‘Madhukara Vritti’ comparing how the bee draws nectar from the flowers without harming them, not taking more than necessary and also being the medium of Srishti. For the Dasakutas, as it was with Thyagaraja, collecting food in exchange for singing was a most valued principle.
Haridasas also guide people on how to live their lives, what qualities they must have, how they must live with their families, wife, children, parents, brothers etc.
To reach different people, they used folk music style, kolaata, even shobane style. Once Sri Vadiraja visited Andhra, and heard a folk song called ‘gubellu’ in which people sing and clap in a circle. He decided to adapt that and created the song “Gubbiyalo gubbiyalo gubbiyalo Govinda,” which includes the 24 names of the Lord and how to worship Him. He even used the shobane songs sung at weddings like the Lakshmi Swayamvara song. Another song “Kolu Kolenna Kole” for instance spoke about the Dashavataras.
What is the structure of the compositions of the Haridasas?
In Ugabhogas, there is no Pallavi, anupallavi, charanas. They are just vachanas (literally meaning that which is said). Those you can sing either with tala or without tala. You can use ragas or sing without them.
You can sing in any way you want. Everyone may not be able to sing them. But it was important that the message was conveyed. It is neither in the framework of raga, tala etc, and is based on the short musical mystic feeling about certain incidences or occurrences.
Then you have the suladhis. One of their greatest contributions is the ‘Sapta Talas’. There were 108 talas. But not all were necessary. In just seven talas (Dhruva tala, Matya tala, Rupaka Tala, KJampa tala, Triputa Tala, Ata Tala, Eka Tala), the others can be merged. They felt it was enough if there was lakshana, lakshya was not compulsory.
In Suladis, the theme is the same as in keertanas either historical, devotional or psychological, there is usually an elaborate sahitya. There were seven or eight divisions each of which was set to one of the sapta talas. The entire composition, though in one raga has different parts of it set to difficult talas, in such a way that the composition though sung in the tala with which it commences changes according to different talas adapted to each of the various parts. In some Suladis, different ragas are given to different divisions and in some others, there is one raga for all the divisions. They are very difficult to render.
What was the style of rendering?
Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa sang in the Carnatic style. Later, nearly a century or so in North Karnataka under the influence of Muslim rulers Hindustani music influenced Haridasa music. Even now there are many musicians who sing Haridasa songs in the Hindustani style. Bhimsen Joshi has sung many krithis this way and more recently Venkatesh Kumar from Karnataka sings Haridasa songs in Hindustani style.
Haridasa songs are dominated by Sahitya. The main purpose was communicating the message. Janapadas (folk songs) were another style adopted to which people could relate to easily. So an attempt was made to sing these songs, with ragas and talas, but in proportion after a lot of thought (viveka). How much alankara was needed they would use with discrimination (vivechana).
Indian classical music is beholden to Purandaradasa and the other Haridasas for not just the form they gave to music, but also for showing how music can become a vehicle for spiritual growth and societal harmony.
(This interview was first published in Saamagaana The First Melody)