Like other part of India, Karnataka too has played its part in shaping the history of India and contributing to her development in the fields of religion and philosophy, art and literature. The distinction achieved by the Karnataka kingdoms of Kadamba, Rastrakuta, Calukya and Vijayanagar in the history of South India is well known. In the field of philosophy it has given birth to some of the most distinguished builders of Indian thought like Madhvacharya (Ananda Tiirtha), Sri Vidyaranya and Sri Vyaasa Raja.
Haridasa movement owes much to the Vachanakaras of Veerasaivism and to Alwars of Tamil Nadu not only for philosophic treatment of God but also for the mode of analysing intuitive experiences of the Divine. Hari for Haridasa is a reality and all the common acts of life are sacraments. Though the beliefs of the Haridasas and of the Vachnakaras cannot be completely defined in any one credal form, the movement bred a common outlook on life, a certain common temper of mind which can be felt more easily than ana lyzed.
The Haridasa movement has presented to the world a galaxy of pure and pious souls who struggled and strove for the love of Hari. Its representatives were of the Brahmin caste, but, as it was a devotional movement based on mystical experience, it spread to all classes and touched all hearts, both men and women of different communities. Haridasas mystical experience was of various kinds-Svanubhava, Anubhava, Atmanubhava, Brhasakshtkara and Aparoksha Gnana. While the Vachanakaras called mystic experience as Anubhava, Haridasas called it Aparokshgnana.
Christian and Muslim as well Vaishnava and Saiva mystics have certified to mystic experience Adhyatma Anubhava, as the ultimate criterion of truth, and the constituents of this experience being the acceptance of only one God who is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent; and the final spiritual aim and of spiritual yearning, being absorption in this Satva and attainment of Paramananda.
The name of the Haridasa sect is a contraction of the compound word formed by two words Hari and Dasa meaning servants of God or Hari. The dasa even if read transverse means Sad or Sada-always a servant of God. It has got some special associations in Kannada and generally designates pilgrimage made to the temple of Vittalanatha at Pandarpur on the bank of the river Bhima, or to the Vittala Swami temples at Hampi or to Srinivasa Temple on Tirumala Hills. The presiding deities of these temples attract on Dwadashi and other festive days, a large concourse of people from all parts of the Kannada country. Haridasas are the Vishnava sect devoted to the worship of Vittala and other manifestations of Lord Krishna.
The date of the origin of the Haridasa sect is steeped in deep mystery since the evidences available, do not lead us to any settled date. Bhagavatha Dharma began with the science of one God and all sentient creation, deriving their life and movement from him. Long before the formulation of Advaitic, Visistadvaitic and Dvaithic doctrines, Bhagavatha Dharma was in vogue and was practiced by servants of God in several part of India. The devotees sang verses of love and praise of God, and these were handed down from one generation to another generation, all though the centuries, broadened, deepened and enriched by more experiences of the truly devout.
It was a Dharma that was not taught or instituted, but which inspired the pious and the devout to pour his soul out in spontaneous melody in supplication to the Divine. No definite date accordingly can be fixed for the emergence of this mode of life, for it is co-eval with the birth of distinction in the mind of man between himself and his creator and absolute surrender to him for sustenance and continuation of life. Valmiki and Vyasa may be regarded as followers of this tradition for their Epics are a profound prayer in praise of Rama and Krishna as manifestations of Vishnu. There is reference to this tradition in the Padmapurana descriptive of the concert in the Court of Indra, wherein Arjuna, Prahlada and Uddhava entertained the court by melody of music as an offering to the Divine. Kirtana mode of singing must have been popular at the time of the Mahabharatha and the composition of the Bhagavadgita. Heliodorus pillar at Udayagiri founded in the early years of the first century BC is a great monument in support of this tradition having influenced even Yavanas and foreigners who came to India and were converted to this way of life.
The history of this Dharma during the early years of the Christian era is not clear, though Vaisnavism, and Bhagavatha tradition along with it, spread in the Deccan and South India, as borne out of references to Ganga Vishnu Gopa as Narayanacharanamudhyata and to manifestations of Vishnu in Kadamba and Ganga records. Bhaktavijya mentions of an Achalananda Dasa devoted to Narasimha manifestation of Vishnu and having undertaken long tours all over India during the hegemony of the Deccan under the Rastrakutas. The text records the Dasa as being a native of Hygunapura Bangalore Taluk but as having lived in Turvekere most of his life practicing the cult of Bhakti and founding centers for the propa gation of the Bhagavata Dharma. The Dasa is reported to have lived in the ninth century in this part of Karnataka, but there are no historical evidences to substantiate this tradition. Inscriptions earlier in date than 1275 AD have been discovered in the temple of Vittalanatha at Pandarapura and at Alandi, bearing out to the importance of this center of worship, attracting pilgrims from all over Karnataka and Maharashtra.
The latest inscription is of the date 1275 AD from the temple itself which records that in that year the temple of Vittala was rebuilt and during that period from 1273 to 1277 AD funds were collected to erect a suitable temple there. It also mentions the names of those persons who contributed towards the building funds, the most prominent being the names of king Rama Deva and of his celebrated Minister Hemadri Pand, the famous writer of the Encyclopedic digests or Dharma Sastra.
Earlier chronology to this inscription is the inscription of 1237 AD where we read, that a certain king called Someshwara had conquered the kings round about this territory and had encamped during that year in a town called Pandavige on the banks of Bhimawathi where Pundalika was remembered by the people as a great sage. The Padmapurana relates the account of the manifestation of Panduranga on the banks of the Bhima near Pandavige. Traditions are at one in closely associating the name of Vittala with that of his greatest devotee, Pundalika a genuine saint of great purity. It is said that Bhagawan Krishna became mightily pleased with the severe penances of Pundalika. The lord presented himself before his true devotee, and Pundalika having nothing at hand to offer presented him with a mere brick for his asana and the Lord true to his promise made to his devotee stood on it and still stands on the same piece of brick on the sandy banks of the Bhimawathi. But, as to when and where the saint Pundalika actually lived, we have not any records to determine.
There is a tradition that Achalananda Dasa of the 9th century, once visited Pandarapura and offered holy water to Viithal and was overjoyed at the manifestation of Panduranga, and then, in a state of ecstasy changed his appellation from Narasimhadasa, his original name, to Achala nanda Vitthala. Though the dates of Pundalika and of Achalananda have not been precisely determined so far, still, we can positively assert that the Haridasa sect which was dedicated to Vitthala originates sometime before the beginning of the 15th century and that its salient features were already in evidence in the last quarter of the same century when Sripadaraja and Vyasaraja were born.
The great movement of Vaishnava religious devotionalism, which began to spread and regenerate the masses during the middle ages, had its origin in what is called the Dasa Kuta or the order of Vaishnava psalmists and saints, inaugurated in the Karnataka country as a result of the spread of the realistic philosophy of Vedanta propounded in South India in the thirteenth century by Madhvacharya. The philosophy of Vedantic realism spread over upper and lower Karnataka in the next two centuries and, in the course of time, began to inspire kindred waves and movements of religious devotionalism beyond the confines of Karnataka.
The Haridasas of Karnataka were preachers of devotion to God and made distinctive contribution to the religious life of Karnataka. They conveyed great and sacred truths in Kannada in a very simple and clear style so as to be understood by the common people.
The followers of the great Madvacharya preached his doctrine of a knowledgeful devotion to God, through the medium of melodious songs called 'devaranama'.
Though initial inspiration of the Dasas was derived from Madhva himself who has given stirring devotional lyrics in such sanskrit works as dvadasa-stotra, Sri Narahari Tiirtha (1300 AD) the direct disciple of Madhvacharya may be regarded as the founder of the Haridasa movement, though very few songs are available of him in Kannada. Sri Padaraja Tiirtha is well-known as the grandfather of Haridasas (Haridasa Pitamaha). He made a bold attempt to compose songs in simple kannada, expounding the difficult and highly philosophical teachings of Madva in simple and clear language. Sri Padaraja's disciple Sri Vyasaraja gave great impetus to the Haridasa movement and made it very popular by his disciples who are chief among Haridasas - Sri Purandaradasa and Sri Kanakadasa. The center of activity of the Haridasas in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was Vijaynagar (Hampi) and near by places, and Sri Purandara Dasa and Sri Kanaka Dasa were the chief architects.
The great Sri Vadiraja Tiirtha the contemporary of Sri Vyaasa Tiirtha and also his disciple is considered to be another pillar of Dasa movement. He is renowned as a great leader of both the Vyasakuta and Dasakuta. Sri Padaraja, Sri Vyaasaraja and Sri Vadiraja are called 'yathi trayaru' three great saints in Dasa movement. Sri Padaraja is the beginner and grandfather of Dasa's, Sri Vadiraja promoter of dasa sahitya by his scholarly contribution and Sri Vyaasaraja has made dasa movement more popular by his esteemed disciples.
The next stage was set in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and this time the centre was Raichur and surrounding places. The famous names of this age were Sri Vijaya Dasa, Sri Gopala Dasa, Sri Jagannatha Dasa, Sri Prasanna Venkata Dasa, Sri Pranesha Dasa, Sri Mohana Dasa and others.
To conclude R.S.Panchamukhi has divided the History of Haridasa moment into
four steps according to the lineage of Haridasas and generations.
The history of the sect from the 14th century to the present day, is a history of continual growth, characterized by a genuine vitality of its doctrines and by an all round success of its great mission as those of the Vachanakaras. Both these movements pervade the length and breadth of Karnataka and exert ennobling influences upon the neighboring provinces of Andhra and Tamilnadu.
The Haridasa movement was a religious movement for the popularization and
Propagation of the doctrines of the Vaidika Dharma among the masses. To
achieve this end, the followers of the sect have produced a rich literature
in Kannada and have thus been able to reach the hearts of the man in the
street. It is perfectly 'Vaidika' in tone, and in its
tenets and has been perhaps the greatest interpreter of the abstract
metaphysics and sublimity of sentiment of Vedic and Upanishadic teaching
in simple and intelligible language to the masses.
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