We live in a world of Carnatic music built by the genius and inventiveness of great composers. Learning Carnatic music composers’ biographies allow you to see the music world in new ways. It will give you a new perspective.
It is apt to start this section with the Biography of Purandara Dasa, “Sangeeta Pitamaha” (grandfather) of Carnatic music.
Purandara dasa is one of the most prominent composers. He is said to be the incarnation of the sage Narada. who incarnated on this earth in order to make the mankind happy and drive the common man towards the ultimate goal of human life.
Purandaradas was born at Purandargarh near Pune in Maharashtra. 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 young 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; owner of nine crores).
The Transformation of Man into Saint
Do you know that this great saint was a stinking rich money lender??Though he was very rich, he was extremely stingy. He would not donate a pie to any poor.
According to popular belief, he was led to devote himself to the 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.
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). Purandaradasa is credited with creation of 75,000 compositions, although only a few hundred survive till today
He took sanyasa towards the close of his life. He died in 1564 at the age of 80.
“Sangeeta Pitamaha” (grandfather) of Carnatic music.
Purandara Dasa was a performer, a 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.
He systematized the method of learning Carnatic music which is followed to the present day. He introduced the raga Mayamalavagowla as the basic scale for music instruction and fashioned series of graded lessons such as swaravalis, janta swaras, alankaras, lakshana geetas, prabandhas, ugabhogas, daatu varase, geeta, 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 geetams, many of which are sung to this day.
Purandara Dasa had great influence on Hindustani music. The foremost Hindustani musician Tansen’s teacher, Swami Haridas also a Saraswat Brahmin was Purandara Dasa’s disciple.
“Purandara gurum vande Dasa-sreshtham dayanidhim
Salutations to you, Purandaragur, Greatest of the saints and the kindliest”
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