Purandara Dasa

The first notes, that we are taught as students of Carnatic Music, are the Sarale Swaras – or the easy swaras. These were composed by Sri Purandaradasa to help people of even average ability take beginning strokes into the vast ocean of Carnatic music.

From sarale swaras to beginners’  githe to advanced kirthane, Purandaradasa’s compositions take a student and devotee all the way into Carnatic Music. His work usually contains the phrase “Purandara Vitala” and not his borth name of Srinivasa Nayak.

This great composer and Sri Krishna bhaktha was a student of VyasaRaya (not to be confused with Veda Vyasa).

Source : “Sri Purandara Dasa decided that “Malava gowla” of the South was most suited for beginners. The corresponding Raga in the North is called “Bhairav”. In “Malavagowla” subsequently named as “Maya Malavagowla”, the difference of pitch between ‘Ri’ and ‘ga’ and ‘da’ and ‘ni’ are the same and the notes sa-ri-ga-ma and pa-da-ni-sa are perfect concordant notes. That is why Purandara Dasa found Maya Malavagowla the best Raga to begin lessons in classical music. This system of music is called “Karnataka Music” as he belongs to that region and the music is very pleasing to the ears. He created several phrases of notes called “Sarali” “Janta”, Hetchu-sthayi, “Thaggu sthayi” and “Datu” Swaras. He also simplified “Thala” system and moulded it into “Pancha-Thrimsathi” Thala system and composed “Alankaras” to be sung in those Thalas

All these initial notes or Swaras are to be sung in Maya Malavagowla. The next phase of learning of a beginner is “Geethe” for which Purandaradasa created “Pillari Geete” in Raga-Malahari” a derivative of Maya-Malava-Gowla. Gradually the Ragas and their notes are to be changed to acquaint the student with different notes step by step. Purandara Dasa was therefore, rightly called Karnataka Sangeeta Pithamaha.”

Source :Mundige’ (allegory). In mundige the wordings are such that we cannot understand the meaning easily. The songs are full of abstract imagery and one has to ponder over and make out one’s own comprehension of the real theme of the song.

The song (translation) goes like this:

  • “Three ponds were dug in the sharp point of a thorn, out of which two ponds were dry and the third never got filled,
  • “Three simpletons came to the unfilled ponds, two of them were lame and the third had no legs at all,
  • “Three buffalos were sold to the legless simpletons, two of the buffalos were sterile and the third didn’t have any calf at all,
  • “Three sovereigns were paid for the buffalos, two of which were counterfeit and the third was not acceptable,
  • “ Three inspectors came to check the sovereigns, two of them were blind and the third did not have eyes at all,
  • “Three villages were given as grants to the blind inspectors, two villages were in ruins and the third was deserted,
  • “Three potters came to live in the villages, two of them were disabled and the third didn’t have hands at all,
  • “Three pots were made by the potters, two of which had holes and the third was bottomless,
  • “Three rice grains were cooked in the pots, two of which were spoiled rice and the third didn’t cook at all,
  • “Three guests arrived to eat the rice, two of them were on fast and the third was not hungry at all…”

Purandara Dasa himself concludes this song saying, “Only Purandara Vittala knows the meaning of this and no one else”. (Courtesy: Sri MVK Narayan)

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