Karnataka Haridasas exercised a powerful religious influence on the mass consciousness, and for the average Kannadigas for women, and for people of the lower strata of society, not acquainted with Sanskrit, they did what the great writers on the Vedanta had done for the intelligentsia. Most of the Haridasas has composed songs, short and long, called devaranamas. They composed their songs in easy colloquial language, which captured the heart and imagination of the people. Haridasas moved through the length and breadth of the country, singing praises of Krishna and Vittala, extrolling the merits of 'jnana' and 'bhakthi' and giving wholesome advice to the people in ethics and religion and rousing the indifferent and pusillanimous spirits by the irresistible attraction of their teachings conveyed through melodious songs in diverse ragas (tunes).
Since the sixth century, the language and literature had grown under the patronage of Karnataka Kings and emperors, and had made one of the greatest contributions to Indian art and culture. Even epigraphically and lithic records are an eloquent testimony to the beauty an elegance of Kannada style and reveal the adaptations of Vibhakti, Pratyayas and Hrasvas in consonance with the prevailing practices among the kannada speaking people. Hale Kannada compositions were already masterpieces of Kannada literature and style, by the time a new Kannada style emerged with the growing intelligence and developing culture and civilization of the people.
With the growth of the Empire of Vijayanagara and wide contacts among diversified peoples of peninsular India, old modes of expression were yielding place to new morphological changes in the dialects of the Empire. There was considerable freedom in the use of Sandhi, Vibhakti, Pratyyas and Arisamasa Padas in conformity with popular tongue. The Haridasas employed various modes of speech popular among the people and among the different classes in the Social hierarchy and thus have enriched Kannada literature. The greatness of literature cannot be determined solely by literary standards, for great literature 'rises from the heart of the seer and from the distant home of truth; and the greatest poetry gives expression to the realization of the Divine in the world and in Man'.
The Haridasa Movement has contributed a great deal to Kannada language and literature. It has preached the tenets of Dvaita Philosophy (tattvavada) quite exhaustively, but in a very simple and clear style through the medium of sweet songs. They, therefore make a direct appeal and reach the hearts of the masses to satisfy and give solace to them. It is this quality of the Haridasa literature that has made it great and ever green.
Most of the Haridasas were highly proficient in Sanskrit and in philosophical and the most learned doctrines have been simplified and put in easily intelligible verse in their works. They were ardent followers of Madhva and naturally tried to show how much more satisfying their own philosophical system was compared to other ways of thought.
Most Haridasas criticized pseudo-religiosity and exhorted their followers to be truthful in thought word and deed. They directed their reforming eyes to the dark problems of society and offered wholesome solutions by way of self-discipline based on a very high standard of ethics.
The Literature of Dasas falls into the three groups- general, special and sectarian. The earliest and most distinguished Dasas like Sri Sripadaraja, Sri Purandara Dasa and Sri Kanaka Dasa produced a literature that was meant for all classes and communities. The second group is represented by stirring songs of Sri Vyaasaraja Tiirtha, Sri Gopala Dasa and others, who wrote for the Brahmanical World in particular. The third group is represented by the stirring songs of Sri Vijaya Dasa Sri Jagannatha Dasa and others, which were meant for the followers of Madhva and which dwelt exclusively upon theological matters. The Haridasa movement strove to place a complete scheme of religion and morality before the people. It condemned formalism and ritualism in religion and immoderate hedonism in life. It preached the philosophy of naiskarmya, as interpreted by Madhva, that is enlightened action in the spirit of devotion and dedication to God.
The history of the Dasa literature is generally traced from the days of Sri Narahari Tiirtha, one of the direct disciples of Sri Madhva. This literature is very voluminous and many interpolations and corruption's have crept in, owing to its wide diffusion and the lack of proper historico-literary traditions. It is thus difficult determine the authentic contributions of individual authors. But the songs of particular saints may be distinguished by their style and mudrikas/ankithas (pen-names). The bulk of the literature has been published from Udupi, Belgaum, Lingasugur, Mysore (University of Mysore) and Bangalore. The songs of earlier saints like Sri Padaraja, Sri Purandara Dasa and Sri Kanaka Dasa deserve to be translated into English and other languages.
Dasas (servents, slaves of Gods) all over the world sing the praise of God. Many Dasas have composed songs in simple language to enable common people to understand God's greatness, his merciful nature, and his omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. Devotion, total surrender to the Lord, would attract his blessings.
The Dasas mirrored in their compositions the grim realities of social life and by their critical examination prepared the individual for an escape from it, to realize the divine, through Bhakti. Many of the compositions of the Dasas speak in derision of pedantry, ostentation, display and the superficialities and artificiality's of social life. In their inimitable, simple and charming style, they ridiculed the anchorite, the bigot, the snob, the dishonest and the learned without love.
The literature of dasas expounded the main principles of the Dvaita system in a popular and attractive form in the language of the people. Such an attempt is in itself a proof of the fact that the Madhva thought was a living force in the country and had a permanent message to give for the betterment of humanity, and that message was not so much a cold philosophical doctrine as a dynamic way of life. The dasa literature deals with the mystic and spiritual experiences of enlightened life. Its appeal is to the religious emotions, and, as such, there is very little of the subtle arguments of pure philosophy in it. There is however a robust faith of underlying theism in these songs. The central idea of their philosophy is the existence of the independent, transcendent principle called God. Behind the veil of Maya, He is the redeemer of human souls struggling from time immemorial to free themselves from the meshes of Prakriti. The songs draw frequently upon the teachings and legends of the epics and Puranas to inculcate the spirit of devotion.
The songs try to rouse the spirit of man from a life of worldly attachment and turn it God ward. They deal with all aspects of spiritual discipline taught by the scriptures and take us along the path of self-realization. Their philosophical system is just the same as that presented by the great writers of the Dvaita Vedata in their original works in Sanskrit.
Like the other redoubtable order of the Virasaiva Vacanakaras in
Karnataka the Haridasas have produced, in Kannada a remarkable racy
religious and devotional literature covering diverse aspects of the
mystic life, ranging from the various stages of self-search like
spiritual quest and yearning the sense of sin, penitence the dark
night of the soul and the vigil and initiation and discipline, to intuition
and the state of beatitude. All these are depicted by these saints
in their inimitable songs of realized wisdom. This fact makes the
works of these saints part and parcel of the genre of literature
relating to the religious mysticism of the Hindus; they have the
same claim to universal recognition as have the works of the
famous saints in other parts of India, who have left their mark on the
spiritual history of the country.
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