Purandaradasa is a household name in Karnataka. He is considered to be the grandsire of the southern Indian style of music. He has composed 4,75,000 Kirtans (divine songs). In one of his Kirtans, the saint says, “Visiting Kedar to Rameshwara, the holy pilgrimage centres, I have composed 4,75,000 Kirtans, which contain the glories of Lord Vasudeva and His incarnations and the glory of Vyasaraya, my spiritual preceptor.” Purandaradasa is also credited with the invention of some of the Ragas (melodies) and notations.
It is well known that his songs have inspired the famous musician-saint Tyagaraja. Every South Indian musician begins his recital with the compositions of Purandaradasa. Apart from music, the literature, which he produced, was so rich and sublime that it will be remembered and cherished, read and practised for all time to come. Blessed indeed is the country, which gave birth Ito such great saints.
It was in 1484 A.D. that this saint was born, eighteen miles away from Poona, in a place called Purandardasa. Varadappa Nayaka and Kamala Devi were the couple, who were blessed with this son after worshipping Lord Venkateshwara (Vishnu) of Tirupati, the sacred Seven Hills. They named him after the great God, Srinivasa.
The boy had his education. He learned music and Sanskrit, and he was married to a noble lady, called Saraswatibai. It so happened that he was so much engrossed in accumulating wealth that he forgot every divine quality. The more he accumulated, the more greedy he became. He forgot God and worshipped gold. He never parted with a coin or gave anything to anybody. His wife also was not allowed to give away anything. He accumulated wealth to the tune of Rs.9 crores (90 million) and was called Navakoti Narayana.
However, a great change was to come soon in the life of Srinivasa Nayaka. God visited him in the guise of an old man at his shop. He prayed to him to give some coins to perform the sacred thread ceremony of his son. The greedy jeweller sent the old man away without giving him anything, by telling him that he could come the next day. Every day, the old man would appear at the gate of the shop and be sent back. This happened for nearly six months. Now, the old man thought of another device, through which he could convert the heart of Srinivasa Nayaka.
The old man visited the house, when Saraswatibai was alone in the house and requested her to help. When the old man appealed to her to give away her diamond nose-ring, she could not help gifting away the nose-ring to him for a worthy cause. The good old man blessed her and disappeared.
Arriving at the door of the shop of Nayaka, the old man handed over the diamond nose-ring and requested him to pay him 400 coins. And Nayaka was hesitating to part with the coins. The old man left the place without taking anything back. Nayaka placed the nose-ring safely in his safe-box and locked the shop. He came running home and demanded his wife to show him the diamond nose-ring instantly. Running to the worship room, she prayed to God to protect her.
Seeing no response from the Lord, she lifted a cup of poison to her lips and was about to drink it and lo! for her wonder, she saw the diamond nose-ring dropped in the cup of poison by the unseen finger of Lord Vithala. She could not believe her eyes. Hurrying to the spot where her husband was waiting, she handed over the diamond nose-ring to him. She removed all the jewels and ornaments from her person and said, “How long can you continue with this greediness for gold and wealth? We have to go with empty hands, when death snatches us away. I do not want anything except God’s grace.” Saying thus, she threw on the ground all her jewels.
Nayaka could not wait to hear anything. He rushed the shop, unlocked the door, entered inside, and opened the safe-box. To his utter amazement, he could not find the diamond nose-ring.
This miracle changed the course of his life. He returned home with unshakeable agony and fell at the feet of his wife. He sobbed and said, “Saraswati, I am the wretched one, who has wronged God Almighty. My wrongs are inexcusable. My head is reeling; my heart is squeezed like a wet towel. You are really blessed to have such a renunciation. Please tell me how you got the diamond nose-ring, which I kept in box in the shop? Did you give that ring to that old man? Please tell me all that has happened.”
Saraswati told him how she gave the diamond nose-ring and how the old man disappeared. She said, “The old man was none other than Lord Panduranga.” Hearing this, Nayaka burst into tears and wept bitterly, beating his forehead. “Oh, when can I see Him again? How sinful am I to insult the great God, Who visited my shop untiringly – for six months. What shall I do? How can I obtain His Darshan?” He almost fainted.
He sat at the spot, where Saraswati gave her diamond nose-ring to God, Who came as an old man. Both he and his wife fasted and prayed for three days with deep devotion. The great God appeared to Saraswati and said that her husband should renounce everything and become a Haridasa (initiated servant of the Lord Sri Hari) and then alone he would have God vision.
Nayaka, who could hear the voice of God but was not blessed with the vision of God, decided then and there to distribute his wealth to the poor and renounce everything. The real dispassion possessed his heart and he renounced everything and started with his wife and four children in search of truth. God as the old man appeared before him and advised him to take initiation from the great Guru Vyasaraya. God promised him a divine vision at Pandarpura after the initiation.
Nayaka arrived at Hampi, bathed in the sacred waters of Chakratirtha, and entered the monastery of the great Guru, Swami Vyasaraya. Making obeisance to the preceptor, he begged for initiation. He was taken into the order of the Dasa with the vow not to borrow from anybody, to be contented with whatever God sends, not to hoard for the morrow.
The Guru blessed him with a rosary of Tulasi beads, a pair of ankle bells, a pair of cymbals, and a stringed instrument. The Guru also gave him the nom de plume, Purandara Vithala, and asked him to dedicate his songs to the Lord. He conferred on him the initiated name ‘Purandaradasa’.
Purandaradasa visited great pilgrimage centres. The vivid descriptions of his mystical visions and experiences show the goal to humanity. The necessary dispassion and devotion for the attainment of salvation, the futility of an egocentric life – all these and more are described in his songs, making him a shining luminary in the annals of religious history. The lucidity of expression, sublimity of thought, grandeur of his illustrations are all simply wonderful and some of his songs are incomparable in the world’s mystical literature.
“Renunciation, purity, and sincerity lead one toward the supreme love for God. That love leads to Mukti.” This is the essence of his teachings.
Purandaradasa is known as an incarnation of Sage Narada.
Let Panduranga Vithala bless us, one and all.
- 1. To which state does Purandaradas belong? What was his original name?
- 2. What kind of a man was he?
- 3. What did the old man ask of Saraswatibai?
- 4. What incident changed the life of Srinivasa Nayaka?
- 5. How did he become a great composer and singer?