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Kanaka Dâsa

When we enter the Car Street from Padupet and proceed to the East, the ancient gopura tower in front of the Krishna Mutt attracts our attention. Below the tower is a window known as Kanaka Dâsa KiNDi. In front of this window, and to the right, is located Kanaka MaNTapa, which enshrines an icon of Kanaka Dâsa. This MaNTapa is constructed in the place where the saint Kanaka Dâsa stayed in the sixteenth century A.D. during his visit to Udupi.

It is believed that when the saint Kanaka Dâsa came to Udupi on pilgrimage, he camped close to Sri Krishna Mutt, not far from the tower. Later on a small room was constructed in that place to commemorate his visit. It became known as the Kanaka Dâsa shrine and was used for recitations and discourses. In 1965, a large statue of Kanaka Dâsa was installed there and a tower was built.

Saints Purandara Dâsa, Vijaya Dâsa, and other great saints of the Hari-Dâsa tradition were all devotees of Lord Krishna and all of them came to visit Udupi, but Kanaka Dâsa's association with Udupi is more intimate and strong. The history of Udupi is vitally associated with the name of Kanaka Dâsa.

There are many popular legends regarding Lord Krishna's revelation to saint Kanaka Dâsa. We can unravel the mystery of this episode on the basis of the available historical documents as follows. Kanaka Dâsa came to Udupi as a pilgrim. Sri Vâdirâja Tîrtha knew about this pious devotee of the Lord, and made arrangements for his stay in a hut in the roadside in front of the temple. Kanaka Dâsa used to play on his tambuura and sing in the hut, but the wall of the temple was there between the icon and himself. Being of a lower class, by tradition he was forbidden to enter the temple and have darshana of Sri Krishna. The wall of the shrine was, of course, a barrier to the physical eyes, but who could prevent the vision of his inner eyes? They were fully open and the Sri Krishna was visible to Kanaka Dâsa.

Some time passed and then one night there was an earthquake and a small crack appeared in the wall of the shrine. Through this crack Kanaka Dâsa was able to have darshana of the icon of Krishna. Sri Vâdirâja Tîrtha became aware of this crack and of the fact that Kanaka Dâsa was using it to have darshana of Sri Krishna. Instead of having the crack plastered over, Sri Vâdirâja enlarged it and turned it into a window. To commemorate Lord Krishna's darshana to Kanaka Dâsa, the window has been designated as 'Kanaka's window.'

From that time onward, Kanaka Dâsa could have the darshana of Sri Krishna with his physical eyes as well as his inner eye. To perpetuate this sacred memory, the tradition of looking at the icon of Sri Krishna through this window before entering the shrine was started.

Not only pilgrims, but even the piiThaadhipati-s of the eight Mutts who go to take charge of the temple at the time of paryaaya come in procession to this window. It is only after looking at the icon through this window that they enter the shrine. This tradition has been going on since the time of Sri Vâdirâja.

The story that is current now is quite different. According to this story the icon of Sri Krishna was formerly facing East. Since Kanaka Dâsa was singing on the Western side of the temple, the icon turned to the West when Krishna was pleased with Kanaka Dâsa's devotion. This popular story, however, does not agree with the evidence available.

The architectural plan of the temple has been the way it is since the time of Sri Madhva. A portico for the distribution of sacred water and prasaada, a tuLasii plant, and discourse-hall -- all face the West. Hence it is quite unlikely that the icon alone was facing the East. The Eastern door, which is now closed and barred by Chenna Keshava, must have been the one used by the Swamijis to go out for ablution. Swamijis used to bathe in the sacred tank and enter the sanctum sanctorum through this door. Sri Madhva installed the icon of Krishna facing Westwards and that is why all the shrines of the eight Mutts have their icons facing West. More than anything else there is a reference in the commentary known as sanyaasa paddhati Tiike written by a piiThaadhipati of Bhandarakeri Mutt, Sri Surottama Tîrtha, who was a puurvaashrama brother of Sri Vâdirâja. It states that Sriman Madhvaachaarya had established the icon facing the West. For these reasons, the story of Krishna's icon turning towards the West must be a later invention.

Rice gruel and cake for Krishna

Kanaka Dâsa's window is quite famous. But there is another incident connected with him which is not known to many people. But for Sri Vâdirâja Tîrtha, it would have been forgotten a long time ago. That interesting episode can be stated thus: It was noon and Kanaka Dâsa had baked rice cake for his lunch. Suddenly, his attention was drawn towards a small hole on the Northern side of the discourse hall. From the kitchen inside, some rice gruel was flowing out through the hole. Kanaka Dâsa took the shell of a coconut and filled it with some gruel. He then took the cake and the gruel to the front of the temple and prayed for Krishna to accept the offerings, and then ate it.

Sri Vâdirâja Tîrtha came to know of this due to his divine vision, summoned his attendants and said, 'Kanaka is a great devotee. Krishna is more pleased with his gruel water than with our costly dishes. He may be a shepherd by caste, but he does not lag behind in his devotion and enlightenment. He is like pure gold (`kanaka' means "gold"). From this day onwards we will also offer rice gruel and cake to Sri Krishna to perpetuate the memory of Kanaka's great devotion.'

This tradition continues even today. Rice gruel and cake are offered, along with other dishes, except that the coconut shell has been replaced by a silver goblet. Sri Vâdirâja Tîrtha has thus immortalized this episode in the history of Udupi.

This story is recorded in Sri Vâdirâja Guruvara charitaamR^ita (5.16-19)

     kadaachit.h bahiraayaatamannamaNDaM pragR^ihya saH  |
     kanakaH pishhTabhakshyaM cha kR^itvaa kR^ishhNaarpitaM vyadhaat.h ||

Once, Kanaka Dâsa collected the rice gruel coming from the drain of the kitchen and offered it to Krishna along with the cake.

     vaadiraajarpayaNaannaM tadarpitamamanyatA  |
     punaH paakaM kaarayitvaa kR^ishhNapuujaaM samaapayat.h  ||

Through his divine eyes Sri Vâdirâja came to know that Kanaka had offered his naivedya first. Hence he got the food cooked again and offered it to Krishna.

     tat.h kathaa smaraNaarthaM sa pishhTabhakshyaM samaNDakam.h  |
     kR^ishhNapriityai samarpyaM tanniyuyocha muniishvaraH  ||

To retain the memory of this incident in the history of Udupi, the peerless saint (Sri Vâdirâja Tîrtha) ordered that rice gruel and cake must henceforth be offered to Krishna every day.

This section is due to Raymond Crawford. Much of the material comes from a book published for the 1984 paryaaya of H.H. Sri Vishwesha Tîrtha Swamiji, by Bannanje Govindacharya, U.P. Upadhyaya, and Muralidhar Upadhyaya.

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Created April 29, 1996; last updated August 10, 2001.