There are more than a thousand Haridasas from Karnataka alone and all of hem have contributed their mite to the development of Haridasa or Vaishnava literature.
Unfortunately, many of these Haridasas are only heard of and their compositions have either disappeared or lost forever. Though the first ever recorded Haridasa would be Naraharti Theertha, one of the four disciples of Madhwacharya (1238-1317), the Haridasa tradition is believed to have started sometime around 880 When Achalananda, who lived near
began composing songs. Bangalore
However, Achalananda’s songs and the compositions of others, which Prof. B.N.K. Sharma calls as Adyas, has not survived.
Prof. Sharma surmises that these Adyas could be Smarthas and that they could have lived and composed songs in the period between Narahari Theertha and Sripadaraja of Mulabagal.
Whatever be the context and setting, there is not much Haridasa literature till the advent of Madhacharya and his disciples.
Narahari Theertha, therefore, must be regarded as the first Madhwa saint to have written several Devara Namas and he can therefore be rightfully considered to be the first Haridasa.
However, Haridasa experts say the Dasa tradition goes back several centuries earlier to Narahari Theertha. They agree that the Haridasa tradition got a huge boost during the life and time of Madhwacharya.
Though Madhwacharya composed several works and many of them are still existing, all of them are in Sanskrit. Since he lived in and around Udupi, and since his parents belonged to the same area, there is no doubt that he knew and spoke Kannada and Tulu. Yet, there are no composition and works of his in Kannada though he is believed to have written a few.
By the way, only three songs of Narahari Theertha has been discovered so far. They are “yanthu marulade nanenthu”. Narahari here is saying that he has so far been deluded and it is only now that he has become enlightened. His second composition is “hariye idu sariye”. This could perhaps be the first ever composition on Hari and here Narahari is asking Hari himself whether this is proper. The third composition is “tiliko ninnologe neene” meaning knowing within thyself. He had his Ankita as “Narahari” or “Narahari Raghupathi’’.
Before Narahari, it was the turn of Padmanabha Theertha to inspire people to take to the Dwaitha way of life. An ardent disciple of Madhwacharya, he was the first to write commentaries on works of Madhwacharya. Though he is credited with having written 16 works, he appears not have written any Devara Namas. Yet, his influence over other Madhwa seers such as Jayatheertha, Sripadaraja, Vyasaraja cannot be underestimated and the last two are among the foremost among Haridasa composers.
Similarly, while many hundred compositions of Purandara Dasa out of his supposed 4,75,000 are available, that of his wife who too was a composer and their sons, including Madhwapathi, are lost. However, only a few compositions of Madhwapathi are available though he was as prolific a composer as his father. Very few compositions of Purandara’s other two sons-Hebbana Dasa and Lakshmana Dasa- are available.
Even before Purandara turned to god, his wife Saraswati Bai, was a highly religious person and it was she who had brought up her sons and a daughter in a highly religious and orthodox manner. Except for this fact, very little is known of her literary achievements.
He had his formal initiation at the hands of Vyasaraja in 1525 when he was about 40 years old.
Purandara then writes his first song. This is Ana Le Kara in Shudha Savaeri raga and set to Triputa tala, where he laments how he wasted so many years of his life in going after materialistic things.
We also have no information about the literary career of Gopikambe, mother of Raghavendra Swamy. Even she is supposed to have composed several Devara Namas and she sang them even as her husband, Thimanna Bhat, played the Veene. No wonder, our Rayaru too was proficient in both-playing the Veene and composing.
Another prolific composer is Mahipati Dasa (1715-1790). He hailed from Kakandhiki in Bijapur district. His son too was a well-known Haridasa of the times but Krishna Dasa’s compositions are very few. While we have a fairly large body of literature belonging to Mahipati, the same cannot be said of Krishna Dasa.
There is also little information on the life and times and of course compositions of Vittala Dasa, Vijata Dasa, Venkata Dasa and Krishna Dasa. The last three dasas belonged to Udupi. Nekkar Krishna Dasa or Krishna Dasa was also called Varaha Thimmappa. He was a scholarly person of the Dasa Parampara. Many of his poems are reported to have been plagiarised by singers.
Varaha Thimmappa Dasa lived during the time of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. When Sagar in Shimoga district fell into the hands of Hyder, he fled to Tirupathi. He was a contemporary of Madhwa Dasa of Udupi.So, we see that not all Dasas have got their rightful due. There are several other Dasas whose compositions are not well known or have disappeared, but that is for another post to report.