This is the translation of a Kannada story I wrote a while ago. This takes the folklore of the story of Purandara Dasa, and tries to give it an alternate-history feel. I have posted footnotes, and a map of places that appear in the story to make it a little easier for those who may not know the geography of Karnataka very well.
In Kannada, the story was titled “Tamboori Meetidava, Bhavaabdi Daatidava..” , and was published in the sovenir published at the AKKA-2008 Kannada Sammelana held in Chicago, IL.
I have translated it primarily for all music lovers and my good friends on http://www.rasikas.org/, who can’t read Kannada.
Your comments and/or opinions are welcome.
Although I intended to post it by the time of Aradhane 2009, it was not to be. But I am glad to post it within a few days after Pushya Amavasye.
It was almost noon by the time Saraswati finished her daily pooje. She observed she was singing aloud when she was doing mangalaarati to the deities. If her husband was home, she would only mumble the song to herself. In reality, she was quite a good singer, but lacked the confidence to sing in front of him because he was indeed very well versed in music. That was the cause for the hesitation to sing before him. He might say a thing or two about her sangatis. Or he might even bring the tamboori, and show how to sing those sangatis to make them sound better. That’s why the walls of their ancestral home heard Saraswati’s singing voice only when Srinivasa was away. She often wondered if he could dedicate himself to music if not for the family business. Saraswati just thought how nice it would have been to listen to his singing all day. It was several months since he had touched his tamboori. His singing was so overpowering and made her emotional that she would feel that Lord Krishna’s brindavana was right here at Kshemapura. The only other person she new who had a comparable voice was that of Vaikuntha Dasa of her hometown.
Saraswati felt very strange at thinking Belooru as her hometown even after being married for almost twenty years and living in Kshemapura! It reminded her that she had not visited her parents for couple of years. She was indeed worried when there was a talk of her marriage, and especially when she knew the suitor was from a hilly, rainy country. Her hometown was a real beauty. Such a peaceful and tranquil town with the three hundred year old Chennakeshava temple as the anchor for all activities. What to do? Once a girl gets married, she has to think her husband’s home as her own. She was indeed very happy when she arrived in Kshemapura for first time. So green! But when the rains arrived she was terrified at the force of the torrential rains that would not stop for four or five months! Now she preferred the rainy season since she heard more of her husband’s singing. As she went into the kitchen, Saraswati started counting how many more months till aashadha arrived.
Srinivasa looked at the pendant Nagachari gave. Yes, it looked good. May be few less emeralds would have made it look even better. He started to write the pattern for the necklace to match this pendant. Then noticing that Nagachari was still waiting, Srinivasa reminded him that the work should be finished soon because it had to get to the Palace before the festivals. As Srinivasa was completing his sketch, he thought of the hours he was spending at his store these days. Hebana was almost eighteen. It was time for him to take more responsibility in the business, Srinivasa thought. May be then he would have some time to pursue his first love, music.
Srinivasa’s father had trained him to be a jeweler right from the days he was a young lad. But among Srinivasa’s children, only little Madhvapati shows interest in coming to the store. Madhwa often watched has father designing the jewels, and also attempted to some of his own. The older two boys were not coming to the store even once in a bluemoon! May be it was time to make sure they come somewhat regularly, or else it might spell problems! But as Srinivasa recollected that he never came to the store regularly as a young boy, he thought all was not lost with Hebana and Abhinava yet.
In fact, Srinivasa’s father was quite lenient. He even had told his wife not to distract Srinivasa with household errands if he was practicing music, or studying all those books related with music and poetry. But Srinivasa still remembered what he had told one day : “Seenappa, I have seen the plight of musicians who depend on the kings and landlords. Thankfully, you have a business to carry on. Practice music as much as you want, but do not leave our family business. Keep your music to please yourself” Srinivasa had indeed followed his advice to the word. With riches that allow him to lend money to kings and chieftains, why should he leave the gold and gem business and stand at the doorsteps of the king? ‘Now, I am the king of my business or my music’, Srinivasa thought but when he remembered that it was amost three weeks since he touched his tamboori, it was not so pleasing. As he was sensing the unpleasantness of this, Madhwapati came in from the inner room to show a pattern he had sketched for an ear ring, and helped Srinivasa’s mind to dwell on something else.
It was the usual time when Abhinava would sit for his music practice. Father was very strict when it with music. Whether he taught any new lesson or not, the kids had to do their practice like a ritual. They had to practice all the varases daily in three speedszZ! Of the three brothers, Abhinava had the best voice. Although Srinivasa never explicitely said anything, Abhinava knew that he was always giving some extra attention to his lessons.
Abhinava suddenly remembered the comment Venkatesha, his friend from across the street had made sometime ago. “Ha! Your dad seems to have a lesson plan no other music teacher in this world has! I wonder how you would manage to sing with a teacher like him !” – he had remarked in front of all his friends when they were playing. Abhinava was felt angry, as well as humiliated.
Next day he had gathered courage to ask his father: “Appa, Is it true that you are teaching us in some new way that no other music teacher follows? Other kids make fun of me for that”
Abhinava remembered that Srinivasa did not even blink at this remark, let alone get angry. He had told calmly: “Yes. No other teacher teaches with the system I am teaching you and your brothers. You know what? I made these excercises myself so that it helps in making you musically aware much faster than you other wise would be. Why shoud you worry? I am sure that this system works well, and that is why I teach this way. Stop worrying, and sing Sri Gananaatha”
Saraswati was sure that Abhinava’s mind was wandering somewhere else. She softly patted his back, and asked him if he forgot what to sing next. Abhinava came back from his thoughts and started to sing the prabhandha in devagaandhara raga that his father had taught a few weeks earlier.
It was getting dark. Srinivasa called out Madhwapati to get a lamp from the back room. But when he did not come in for a few minutes, Srinivasa had to get up from his seat, and see where the lad was. To his surprise, little Madhwapati was not inside. As he walked to the main door, Srinivasa caught Madhwa speak with someone outside. Few days before someone from the Nayaka’s house had asked Srinivasa to make some new jewelery to the deity at Kollooru. May be someone from the palace had come. Srinivasa rushed outside to see who it was.
“No Sir, Today appa is busy. Come tomorrow, he might be making a small donation” Srinivasa heard Madhwa say to the stranger. Wow, he is the right person to run a business. “A grandson, fit for a grandfather like my father” thought Srinivasa. “Follows him to the core!”
Srinivasa recolleced his father’s advice when he was breathing his last. Little Madhwa was also besides Srinivasa that day. Father had given some thorough advice.
“Sheenappa, you never took the trouble of what was happening at the store all these days. But, now I am counting my days. You will have to take care of the business. Never spend a single varaha more than you need to. Never forget that one varaha saved is more than a varaha earned. Don’t spend money unnecessarily on God and Godly men! Haven’t you heard of the saying “Work is worship”? If you do your duty faithfully, the Almighty will be more pleased than you taking trips to temple on a pilgrimage”.
“Father, What’s wrong if we can afford to ..” Srinivasa’s speech was curtly stopped by his father.
“Who do you think will take care of you and your family when you are in trouble? You were very young and so do not remember the hardship I was in when I tried to be helpful to others, and lost lots of our wealth. Anyway I did recover out of that situation with great efforts and hard work. I don’t want you to undergo what I went through. And more importantly, I don’t want my grandchildren come to streets because of your mistake. Stay away from so called the path of daana-dharma, and stay true to this word”.
Srinivasa had no option than to consent. Father had continued on, in spite of his failing voice.
“Look here Sheenappa. You know the subhAshit that goes like- अन्नंदानम् परम् दानम् विद्यादानमतः परम् ॥ अन्नेन क्षणिका तृप्तिः यावज्जीवन्च विद्यया ॥ Instead of giving one varaha as alms to someone needy, if you can teach them how to earn one varaha, that will stay through his life. If you give a varaha, it will be there only till it is spent. You could help needy ones by teaching what you know – be it your music or the art of making jewelry. If they can use it to earn their living, that is great. If not, do not worry. You aren’t the Lord Brahma to change their fate”
Madhwa was speaking outside:
“No Sir. Be it a upanayana or a marriage. My father would exactly say what I am telling you now. Why do you waste your time as well as mine? You can come another day.”
By the time Srinivasa entered the veranda, the old man had left.
But Srinivasa understood that the old man was not one to leave so easily. Next morning, he was there by the time Srinivasa opened his store. Upon seeing Srinivasa, he asked – ” Oh Sir, I am performing upanayana to my grandson. Please help me”. Srinivasa brushed him off saying it was the beginning of the day, and asked him to wait for some time. It was a busy day for Srinivasa. Some officials from Keladi palace had come with their orders. At night, when Srinivasa was closing his store, he saw the old man waiting in the street corner – but he conveniently ignored him and rushed home. These events repeated a couple of times and Srinivasa heard Madwapati sending him away a couple of times too in the next fortnight.
It was the night of the full moon. Srinivasa had locked up all his chests and was ready to leave when this old man entered with folded hands. Just then Srinivasa saw a varaha under the pillow he was sitting, and tossed it to the man’s hands. As the varaha fell into the old man’s palm, Srinivasa noticed the varaha had corroded. But he did not have the patience to open up the locks and give another good coin. Perhaps the old man’s vision was poor, because he did not seem to notice the flaw in the coin and he walked away thanking Srinivasa.
It was early afternoon. Saraswati finished all her chores. Hebana and Abhinava were away, to attend a wedding in a relatives house. Saraswati was quite tired and sat on the swing in the inner hall, when she heard someone at the front door. She went out to see who it was. There was a old man, whom she had not seen before at the door.
“Can I come in Saraswatamma?”
She wondered how he knew her name. With his long nose, and the white turban, she thought he resembled her father.
“Please come in” – she said.
He came in, and asked “Saraswatamma, I am originally from your Belooru country. I want to perform upanayana to my grandson at right time, and send him to Sringeri for studies. Could you please help this old man”?
Saraswati never dealt with money anytime. Everythhing was managed by her husband. “What do I have? Want can a woman give?” She was feeling very sorry for her own plight. Knowing what her husband was, she knew there was no hope of convincing him to give something to this old man, too.
“If you have something that has come down from your parents’ could you please give me? I am an old man, and can’t really go and ask a lot of people”
Saraswati thought about the ornaments she had. Although their family trade was making jewellery, all she word was a mangalya, her nose ring and the earrings. Everything else was in the chest, safely locked by her husband.
Not getting a reply from Saraswati, the old man repeated his plea:
“If you have some ornaments, or some money from your parents in Belooru, please give me whatever you can “. Just then, she remembered she had another nose which was at the pooja room. She took off the pearl nosering she was wearing, and fell at his feet.
“Sir, Please take this. You remind me of my father. My mother gave this nose ring. Take this and bless me”
He said “Deergha sunangalee bhava” and blessed her and went away with the nose ring. After that, Saraswati fell in the dilemma whether she did the right thing. “I’ll wear the other nose ring. Hopefully, he would not notice” she said to herself. Just then Lakshmi devi came in. Poor girl. Young and newly married. No one to help her here. ” Saraswatamma, you said you’d teach me how to make huDigaDubu the otherday, so I thought of dropping in” she said. Saraswati took her into the kitchen.
Madhwapati was seated in the inner hall sketching a new design for a piece of jewelery. He had a very artistic hand. He always dreamed of making very fanciful jewelery, better than his father or grandfather did. As he was sketching his mind was also following what his father was telling the customers as they came in. “Your necklace would be ready in three days” – Madhwa could not see his father’s face, but he peeped out to see who the customer was. It was Ganapati Hegade from Ikkeri. “Well, we haven’t even started making a sketch for the necklace!” Madwa thought. He knew that being in this business, one has to tell some white lies anyway. Father must be sure that Ganapati Hegade would not come again in three days- That’s whay he must have told so. Madhwapati saw Ganapati Hegade go out from the front door, as the same old man enter! “Hey, I had sent this man away several times alreaday! I should say he has a very high perseverence!” he thought. Since his father was in the store anyway, Madhwa didn’t worry dealing with the old man now.
Madhwa heard the old man say: “Sir, I have this piece of jewellery. Could you please take this and give me whatever it worth?”.
“Just be here for about half hour. I shall be back soon, and pay you for the nosering” – Madhwa heard his father say. He thought his father would come in and ask him to take care of the store till he was back. But before he realized, Srinivasa had locked the front door and gone!
Madhwapati realized his father did not even know he was here in the back of the store – because Madha had entered the store from the back door, courtesy Nagachari! Now Madhwa was very curious to see this nosering. Would it be so valuable that father does not have enough cash, and has to get money from home?”. He had heard about the nose ring of devi in a temple in the south, where it was so bright that it lit up the sanctum? He could not contain his curiosity and went to the front of the store. The key to the draws were under the pillows, as usual. He opened the chest, and saw the pearl ear ring, right in the top drawer. It was nothing special, Madhwa thought. One bigger pearl, and three smaller pearls hanging down from there. He took a lens and examined it too. The pearls were of good quality, but nothing extra-ordinary. Then what made father to go out? And as he was looking at the nose ring, Madhwa started feeling that the jewel was very familiar. He held it his hand again. Yes. He knew where it came from.
After showing Lakshmi the recipe for huDigaDubu, Saraswati went to the front door to send her off, and was quite surprised to see her husband come home at this time! Also, his face bore a strange expression. As Saraswati got some water for him to wash, he asked pointedly.
“What happened to your pearl nose ring?”
Saraswati was shocked. She had totally forgotten to wear the other nose ring, since Lakshmi devi had come as soon as the old man had left. She gathered hear words to say ” I had taken it off when I was taking an oil bath – to save it from gathering oil, and forgot to wear it later”. But hear heart was thumping as the words came out of her mouth.
“Is that right? Fine. Why don’t you go and wear it now?”
Saraswati felt she had become a prisoner of her own words. But what to do? Words once uttered, can’t be taken back. She went in to the inner hallway, and sat in front of the Gods she worshiped everyday.
Her husband was there outside, on the porch, waiting for her to return.
In that very moment, all the twenty and more years of her married life zoomed past her. A loving husband, albeit a bit strict with money matters. Should she confess what she did?
Her mind went on a swing ride.
She took a jasmine flower from the tray that lay there, and placed it on the statue of Vithala she worshipped everyday. She was now ready to face the outcome. If it fell on the rightm she would go and tell everything. If it was on the left, she would keep her honor. But the price for that would be her life.
She was determined. She made three pradadhinas and opened her eyes.
The jasmine flower had fallen on the left side.
She knew what her Lord Vithala had chosen for her.
Little Madhwa was running. Briskly. Very briskly.
It took about twenty minutes to reach home if he walked. But there was no time to lose.
What would happen if father went home and scolded mother? What if amma cried? He did not like that a bit. He remembered the chaos that had followed once amma had given a sack of paddy to somone. He wanted to go home quickly, and give this off to his mother, unnoticed by his father.
Even Madwa did not liked giving away stuff! But he did not want to see his mother in sorrow.
When he was near home, he saw his father sitting on the porch. So he went around the house to the window near the kitchen. He called out softly – “amma, amma”. The window was a little too high for him to climb.
Finally, he made it by holding on to the metal railings, and looked in.
Amma was doing her pooje. Madhwa thought. She had a cup in her hand. What was in there?
Just then he heard his father calling from outside – “Saraswati, How long does it take to wear a nose ring?”
Madhwa was scared. Dead scared. He knew something was definitely going wrong. He threw the small box he was clasping in his small handa towards his mother. But then, he lost his balance, and fell down on the ground.
Saraswati could not beleive her own eyes. As she was about to dring the poison in the cup, a small box fell on her. And to see her nose ring in that she was greatly surprised. She wore that and went out, and could not help notice the look of astonishment in his eyes! So wonderstuck she was, that the cup was still in her hands.
Srinivasa was a jeweller. How could he not notice that one of the diamonds in her ear rings was missing? He knew at once what was there in the cup. He threw the contents out and ran to his store.
The front door was locked. The old man was nowhere to be seen. The nose ring was gone.
His mind was in a frenzy. He knew his wife had chosen death, not being able to face him, because she gave away a small jewel without his permission. Would she come back to life, even if he poured all his wealth?
His mind was made up. He locked to door and left.
The whole town was surprised to hear Srinivasa Nayaka, famed as Navakoti Narayana was giving away all his wealth and becoming a haridasa.
After returning from home from the store, he had told his wife all that happened with the old man. He told her: “He must have been a great man indeed. I was definitely in the wrong. I might have lost you and become an orphan. Now let’s go to Vijaya Nagara. I will find a teacher there. I will continue where I had left of. Instead of composing songs, and teaching kids, I will sing those songs for the Almighty, asking for alms in the streets. Enough of Kshemapura. Today is the last day in Srinivasa Nayaka’s life. Are you ready to come with me?”
Saraswati was very surprised at what had ensued. She remembered Vaikuntha Dasa. How sweet his songs were in the streets of Belooru! Now, her dear husband is also thinking of following those footsteps.
Saraswati got his tamboori, and gave it to Srinivasa.
When the crowds were lining up outside to take in whatever Srinivasa was giving away, Madhwa told his mother all that had happned.
She said : “It is all an offering to Krishna”
Who was that old man? Even if it was Madhwa who got the nose ring, who gave that idea to him? It was none other than the Chenniga of Belooru, Vitthala of Purandara. Wasn’t it?
Saraswati’s mind told her: “All that happened, has happened for the good. The wealth indeed became the way to being in the service of Vitthala”***
She told Madhwa – ” All that happened has happend as per the wish of Vitthala. He will do as he pleases. Go and tell eveything to his father”.
When Madhwa narrated what happend, all Srinivasa said was “KrishnarpaNamastu”. His mind had chosen it’s goal.
The next morning, their house was empty. Srinivasa’s family was walking onthe road to Vijaya Nagara.
Srinivasa had his tALa, and tamboori in his hand and his pleasant singing was heard by others taking the same road.
“He who strums the tamboori,
Is the one who crosses the ocean of life,
One who keeps the tALa,
Is the one who becomes one with the Gods.
He who sings
Is the one who could see Vithala,
Is the one who would reach Vaikuntha”@@@
Yes. They were destined towards their target.
Their final target.
Folklore tells that Srinivasa Nayaka was the name of Purandara Dasa before he became a Haridasa, and that he was a jeweller by profession. His wife’s name is traditionally given as Saraswati. There are couple of records (from Vijayanagara times) that give the names of three of Purandara Dasa’s sons – Hebana (called Lakshma in another record) , Madhwapati and Abhinava. Each of these sons have also composed, with their own signatures. Scholars like R Satyanarayana believe that the Pillari geete – paduma naabha paramapurusha – traditionally thought to be Purandara Dasa’s is a composition of his son Abhinava Purandara Dasa.
The story of Srinivasa Nayaka becoming Purandara Dasa is very well known. But I would like to make it clear the variations in the details, as they appear in this story, are from my imagination. I have tried to place the family in the sorroudings of Kshemapura.
This is the translation of a story I wrote last year in Kannada. There is a little twist in the end in this translated version. Thanks to a friend who suggested this change.
Kshemapura (or Purandarapura): Scholars have identified this place mentioned in ancient records to be the same as (or very near ) Gerusoppa, in current day Shivamogga district in Karnataka – close to the famed Jog falls. This was a busy trading post during those times due because it was on the route between Vijaya Nagara and the ports on Karnataka’s west coast.
Ikkeri: One of the capitals of the Nayakas (chieftains) of Keladi-Bidanooru. Now this is a village near to Sagara town in current day Shivamogga district
Bidanooru : Another capital of the Nayakas who ruled this area in the 15-16-17 th centuries. Located near Hosanagara, in current day Shivamogga district.
Belooru : An ancient town in current day Hassan district. This place was also called Velaapuri. Hoysala kings have built an extremely beautiful temple of Channakeshava here (1117 AD)
Kollooru: A temple town in the Udupi district of Karnataka. Famous for the deity – Mookambike.
Sringeri : A temple town in the ChikkamagaLooru district of Karnataka. Shankaracarya established one of his four
mathas here in the 9th century. This has been a center of learning since then.
Vidyaranya, the pontiff of Shringeri in mid 14th century was the key man who stood behind Harihara and Bukka to establish the Vijaya Nagara empire
Vijaya Nagara : Current day Hampe, in Hosapete district of Karnataka, was the capital of the Vijaya Nagara empire.
varaha : a coin, a denomination of money, in ancient and medieval India
Kanyakumari: Referred to as ‘the place in the South, famed for a diamond nose ring of the deity’
Vaikunta Dasa: One of the Dasas in Haridasa Parampare. He is said to have lived in Belooru.
*** -> approximately the translation of the pallavi of a pada of Purandara Dasa – “Adaddella oLitE Ayitu, namma Sridharana sEvege sAdhana sampattAyitu”
Location map of places that are mentioned in the story :