Karnatik for Kids

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

Dear Budding Musicians,

In our previous articles, we have talked about the greats in Dakshina Bhajana Sampradaya and also about Haridasa tradition and mentioned about great saints like Purandaradasa whose contributions to the modern Karnatik music are timeless treasures.

Let us know look at how Namasankeerthan Sampradaya or Paddhati evolved in the Northern and Western parts of India – particularly in Maharashtra where some very great saints incarnated around 13th century and later.

Abhangas are part of many modern concerts in recent times and are popularly sung at the end as a “tukkada”. Abhang or is a form of devotional poetry sung in praise of the Hindu god Vitthala, also known as Vithoba. It literally means a flowing, uninterrupted (non-bhang) poem and is structured based on the Marathi ovi metre.


Let us see how the Abhangas came to be.

Sant Dhyaneshwar(Jnaneshwar)

In early 13th century, saint Dhyaneshwar (Jnaneshwar) was born in a Varkari family in Apegaon village near the banks of Godavari. The Yadava kings ruled the place and Maharashtra was a hub for scholars from various parts of the country. He had three siblings, viz. – Nivruttinath, Sopan and Muktabai – all of whom went on to become saints in their later life. It’s said that Dhyaneshwar and his brothers were denied the rights to wear the sacred thread and not permitted to learn vedas as their father had returned to them after having been to Varanasi on a spiritual quest renouncing family life.

Years later, after their parents gave up their lives for their sake, the four of them were accepted by the Pandits of Paithana and their intelligence was recognized. They lived in Alandi where Sant Dhyaneshwar composed his magnum opus – “Dhyaneshwari”: a commentary on Bhagavad Gita. The whole of Dhyaneshwari is in ovi metre, where first three or the first and third lines rhyme and the fourth line has a sharp and short ending.
Having experienced the rigidity of the caste system and the dogmatism of scriptural learning, Dnyaneshwar was sympathetic towards issues of the common people. So he chose Marathi (instead of Sanskrit) to help the common man in his spiritual learning. He was also initiated into the Nath Yogi tradition.

Sant Namdev

It is said that Sant Dhyaneshwar, after having composed Dhyaneshwari and Amruthanubhav, went to Pandharpur with his siblings where they met Namdev. Dhyaneshwar and Namdev both became very close friends. They are said to have started composing Abhangas while doing religious pilgrimage together. They initiated people into spirituality, regardless their caste.

Namdev’s work comprises both Nirguna and Saguna philosophies. Namdev’s legacy is remembered by masses of people walking together in biannual pilgrimages to Pandharpur in south Maharashtra.

He was born on the banks of the Bhima river near Pandharpur. He is also venerated by Sikhs to be a holy man (bhagat) and by Hindus and Muslims alike.

The literary works of Namdev were influenced by Vaishnava philosophy and a belief in Vithoba. Namdev’s style was to compose simply worded praise for Vithoba and to use a melodic device called sankeertana, both of which were accessible to common people.

Namdev’s bhajans deployed particular species of Raag, used Bhanita (or Chhap, a stamp of the composer’s name inside the poem, in his case Nama), applied a Tek (or dhruva, repeated refrain) and a meter that helps harmonise the wording with the musical instrument. He viewed Rama as the “real teacher” and used Vishnu-Krishna as Govind-Hari or Hari in place of Vithoba. To date, 600-700 of his Abhangas (authentic and written by him) have survived several generations of learning based on memory. In 1970, Sri Namdev Gatha (Namdev’s abhangas) was compiled by Maharashtrian Govt based on manuscripts and various sources.

Sant Tukaram

Born in the 17th century, Tukaram is known for his Abhangas and spiritual songs known as kirtans. It is said that his wife Rakhama bai and son Santu, both died in a famine after which he delved into his spiritual quest, meditating on the hills of Sahyadri range (Western Ghats). Though he married a second time, he spent his later life in singing bhajans, kirtans and composing Abhanga poetry.

Tukaram’s work is known for informal verses of in folk style, composed in vernacular language, in contrast to his predecessors such as Dnyandeva or Namdev who had a grace of style. In one of his poems, Tukaram modestly describes himself as a “fool, confused, lost, liking solitude because I am tired of the world – worshipping Vitthal (Vishnu) just like my ancestors were doing but I lack their faith and devotion, and there is nothing holy about me”.

The compilation of his works are known as Tukaram Gatha.

Tukaram considered kirtan not just a means to learn about Bhakti, but Bhakti itself. It is said that he accepted disciples and devotees without discriminating gender. It is also believed that his work, along with the work of the other Marathi saints, united the Marathas as a cultural group.

Sant Eknath

Eknath is seen as a bridge between his predecessors—Dnyaneshwar and Namdev—and the later Tukaram and Ramdas. His guru is said to have been a Sufi, named Janardhan Swami. It is said that hiis Guru never made much efforts to teach him anything and he was more than happy to serve him in all possible ways and take very good care of him. One day it so happened that Eknath was struggling past midnight to reconcile the accounts for the Guru’s ashram and the Guru was moved to see his sincerity. The next morning, by his Yogic powers, the Guru requested Lord Dattatreya to give a darshan to Eknath. After having had the darshan of the supreme Lord of learning, Eknath went back to the usual chores in the ashram and the Guru was surprised what had happened. When he asked Eknath if he got a darshan, he said yes, but to him his Guru’s darshan was the happiest thing in the world. The Guru was really moved and asked Eknath to go back to his parents and get married.

Vedas and all the knowledge were at Eknath’s disposal but he was a picture of humility. It is said that Lord Vitthal Himself served Eknath as a disciple under the name of Kandiya Krishnan. A leper was cured of his illness after drinking Enkath’s pada teertha – such was his greatness!

He wrote a variation of Bhagavatha Purana known as Eknathi Bhagavatha and a variation of Ramayana known as Bhavartha Ramayana – both of which are ripe with Eknath’s natural vidwath and widely read by the common man even today. He has also composed several abhangas. He also sang about saints like Namdev, Dhyaneshwar and Janabai.

Samarth Ramdas

Ramdas was a noted 17th-century Brahmin saint and spiritual poet of Maharashtra. He is most remembered for his Advaitic text, the Dasbodha. Ramdas was a devotee of Hanuman and Rama. He was born as Narayan Suryaji Thosar on Ramanavami day on the banks of river Godavari. At 11, he attained enlightenment from none other than Lord Rama and started new sector on the banks of the river Krishna. At 12, he is said to have fled from his wedding ceremony, hearing the word “Savadhan” (beware).

He had a great compassion for the common people. From his childhood he was thinking about how to relieve the masses. Marriage and family were not his priorities, preferring the life of a monk. He journeyed for 12 years throughout India, observing the people and wrote many works.

Ramdas’s ways were very peculiar. He appeared to the outside world as a mad man. He had a small bow. He used to have, by his side, a large number of stones with which he pelted every object he saw. To men really interested in his teachings, he gave the Mantra Sri Ram Jaya Ram Jaya Jaya Ram.

He was the guru of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and was the first one to travel to Tanjore(in TamilNadu) among several other cities in India and establish a math. he also built several temples for Lord Hanuman. He abhorred distinctions based on caste and creed, preaching that all human beings were equal. He emphasised many good qualities in youth, like hardwork and physical strength as well as looking after their family’s needs. He had many female disciples and gave them the positions of authority.

Shree Samarth produced volumes of output. These include a condensed version of the Dasbodha, Karunashtakas, Sunderkand and the Yuddhakand of the epic Ramayana, many Abhangas and Ovis, Poorvarambh, Antarbhav, Atmaram, Chaturthman, Panchman, Manpanchak, Janaswabhawgosavi, Panchsamasi, Saptsamasi, Sagundhyan, Nirgundhyan, Junatpurush, Shadripunirupan, Panchikaranyog, Manache Shlok, Shreemat Dasbodha and many unpublished works.

The last instructions of Ramdas to his disciples were: “Do not think much of your bodily wants. Have Satsang with devotees. Keep the image of Lord Rama in your heart. Repeat the name of Lord Rama always. Annihilate lust, greed, anger, hatred and egoism. See Lord Rama in all creatures. Love all. Feel His presence everywhere. Live for Him alone. Serve Him in all beings. Make total and unreserved surrender unto Him. You will always live in Him alone. You will attain immortality and eternal bliss.”

references : wikipedia,other