Karnatik for Kids

For kids to enjoy and appreciate Karnatic music : a South-Indian Art Music Form

Dear Budding Musicians,

In this article we will be talking about the great dAsAs or haridAsAs of bhakti movement and their contributions towards Karnatic music.

The haridAsa movement as it is known, spanned over six centuries during the early rule of Vijayanagara empire with the main objective of propagating Dvaita philosophy of MadhvAchAryA using dAsa sAhitya or dAsa philosophy. Some of the notable dAsAs from the time are NaraharithIrtha, JayathIrtha, SripAdarAya, VyAsathIrtha, PurandaradAsa, KanakadAsa, VijayadAsa, JagannAthadAsa, GOpAladAsa and VAdirAjathIrtha.


SripAdarAya was the guru of VyAsathIrtha who in turn tutored PurandaradAsa and KanakadAsa. JayathIrtha and VyAsathIrtha were contemporaries who progressed the haridAsa tradition started by NaraharithIrtha and SripAdarAya.

Contributions Overview

They hail mostly from present day Karnataka and their devotional compositions called DevarnAmAs are in simple Kannada. DevarnAmA literally means the names of Lord (Hari’s) and were written with the purpose of initiating the common man into the Hari bhakti. It is also called as Padagalu or KeerthanaE. Other categories include Krithi, UgahabhOga(elaborates rAgA characteristics in free style), SUlAdi(literally meaning an easy route to invoke the blessings),VruttanAmA, DandakA(musical text), Nindastuti, Kolu hAdu, Jogula/LAli hAdu(lullaby), MundigaE(puzzles), KAvya(poetic compositions), Tripadi(three line poetry), Pattadi, Sangathya and RagalaE (lyrical verses in blank verse).

Apart from the contributions to karnatik music’s sahithyam base, the haridAsAs are highly commended for having formed basic classifications of Ragams on a 32-raga(Battisa) scale. They also devised a very simple, comprehensive, logical and organic system, and systematised and reorganised the conceptual and empirical paraphernalia of the tala. They created deshyAdi and madhyAdi talas. Their sulAdhis based on sulAdhi talas in their modern form are dhruva, mathya, rupaka, jhampa, triputa, atta and eka talas. The modern Krithi is derived from DevarnAmAs and VruttanAmAs that they originally composed.


The first and foremost of these dAsAs is PurandaradAsa whom we all know as sangItha pitAmaha or the great grandfather of Karnatic music. His contributions in shaping not only Karnatic Music learning but also the bhakti movement in general are highly regarded and would continue for generations to come. There is no much evidence of the saint’s life. However, 150 years later, Vijayadasar composed a lot of songs on his mAnasIka guru PurandaradAsar’s story. PurandaradAsar (SrinivAsa NAyakA by birth), was a rich diamond merchant who was miserly by nature. His wife SaraswatibAi was a simple, God-fearing woman. Once, it is said that the Lord Vishnu disguised himself and went to PurandaradAsar’s house asking for help to conduct his son’s upanayana and SaraswatibAi gave away her diamond nose stud(nathni). It so happens that the poor man sells the stud to SrinivAsa who gets a doubt that the stud might belong to his wife. He rushes home to check with his wife who fears her husband’s wrath and confesses to SrinivAsa that she gave away her stud without his permission. However, with the Lord’s grace, she finds the same stud near the Tulasi plant at home and when SrinivAsa looks at the stud, he sees an apparition of MahAvishnu, remembers his eternal bonding with the Lord and renounces the life of a householder. He feels ashamed of his greed and laments his indulgence.

PurandaradAsar was instrumental for systematising the learning of Karnatic Music learning and his introduction of MAyAmAlavagowlai rAgam as the first rAgam for beginners on a pedagogic model having incremental difficulty lessons such as swarAvali/sarali varisAs, janta varisAs, alankArAs, geEtham(lakshya and lakshana), padams and krithis is revolutionary. His compositions contain the ankitha or mudra(pen name) – ‘Purandara Vitthala‘ and he is considered the foremost HaridAsa. In his lakshana geethams , a raga’s aspects such as the key swara patterns, the right tempo, gamakas and the time of the day the raga can be sung etc. are explained in the lyric. In the lakshya geethams, the aim or lakshya is to simply praise the Lord. His main teaching through musical compositions are that one should constantly remember(hari smarana) and sing/chant the name of Hari (sankirtanam or namajapam) with bhakti.


The other majorly noted haridAsa of the bhakti movement is KanakadAsar. He was a disciple of VyAsathirtha and renounced his life as a warrior to travel and gain worldly wisdom. He was highly educated and stunned his gurus and  greats of the time with his extremely simple yet profound thoughts. His words nanu hodare hodenu literally meant that “if anyone could go to heaven, it would be me” but philosophically meant that no matter how learned a person is, if he doesn’t lose his ego, he can’t attain salvation. His writing started showing his innovativeness in using day-to-day activities of common man. For e.g. RAmadhanya Charithe is a poetic expression of conflicts between rich and poor classes where he uses RAmadhanya rAgi or millet (staple food of poor and high in nutrients) and rice (main food of rich but not as rich in nutrients) to synonymously represent poor and rich where the rAgi emerges victorious. Besides many devotional songs including “MundigaE” (puzzles/allegories) he wrote the Mohanatarangini, HaribhakthasAra and Nala Charite.His ankitha is ‘Kagineleyadhi Keshava‘.


VijayadAsa was born in a poor brahmin family. His wedding was troubled by poverty, so he went to Varanasi to become a saint. One night, he had a dream in which the 16th century Karnatic composer PurandaradAsar initiated him into the HaridAsa tradition and gave him the ankitha ‘Vijaya Vitthala’. From that day he was called VijayadAsa and dedicated his life to spreading Hari bhakti through music. He has written about 25,000 padya sulAdi i.e. ugahabhOgas, which have made him immortal with the title dAsa shreshtA. In Kannada sahitya his literary works are regarded as second only to those of Sri PurandaradAsa.


Born as Bhaganna, GOpAladAsar once visited VijayadAsar and wanted to be initiated into the dAsa order. VijayadAsar happily initiated him and gave him the ankitha – ‘Gopala Vitthala‘. From that day onwards Bhaganna became GOpAladAsar. Legend has it that Lord Panduranga himself appeared before the saint and complained of him not visiting Pandharpur. Following this, GOpAladAsar visited Pandharpur and Udupi. He also gave 40 years of his life to his disciple JagannAthadAsar for him to complete the harikathAmrithasAra, such was his greatness!


Born as SrinivAsAchArya, JagannAthadAsa was once invited by VijayadAsa to attend a religious ceremony. SrinivAsAchArya excused himself from attending the ceremony on the pretext of suffering from severe stomach ache. Unfortunately, SrinivAsAchArya actually fell ill and developed severe stomach pains. Unable to find relief, SrinivAsAchArya sought the help of VijayadAsa who was cured by GopaladAsa(VijayadAsa’s prime disciple). Repentant for his attitude, SrinivAsAchArya became a disciple of GopAladAsa and took to the HaridAsa fold. His poems are written with the ankitha ‘Jagannatha Vitthala’. His magnum opus – harikathAmrithasArA is a treatise on dVaitha philosophy.

In essence, these great HaridAsAs not only propagated bhakti, but also contributed tremendously to the school of Karnatic music with their compositions. We hope it would benefit the children to learn the history and evolution of Karnatic music so they can fully appreciate the art form. Happy reading and happy learning!



sources: wiki , varied