Indian Poets and Composers
Biography of Kanaka Dasa
Kanaka Dasa, who lived between 1509–1609, was a famous saint-composer of Karnataka and an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna. Kanaka Dasa propagated Dwaita philosophy to masses through bhakti movement in Karnataka. He was born in Kaginele, Dharwad district in Karnataka state of India. His songas and poetry was written in simple Kannada and reflects his belief that devotion to God lies beyond all man-made divisions such as caste and creed.
Kanaka Dasa was a great disciple of Vyasarja, who is also the guru of another great saint-composer Purandara Dasa. Kanaka was born to Biregowda and Beechamma, at Bada and hew as a saiva in the beginning, and later on became a close follower of Vaishnavism, and a devoted Bhakta of Venkateshwara of Tirumala Tirupati.
Kanaka Dasa spent most of his youth in the company with Sri Vyasaraja, who spoke in admiration of him as he did of Purandara Dasa. Kanaka Dasa was of the warrior community, perhaps his defeat in the field of battle, directed him to the path of devotion. He was already an author of Narasimha stora, Ramadhyana Mantra, Mohanatarangini before he became a follower of Sri Vyasaraja and followed most of the tenets of Madhva religion.
There is a popular story that Kanaka Dasa, on account of his low-caste, being rejected entrace at the temple at Udipi, went round the Prakaram and burst in tears of song, appealing to the Lord to give darshan when the idol turned round, made a slit in the wall where Kanaka Dasa sat and give darshan to him. He composed hymns in moments of exaltation and when he sang them, he felt himself enveloped with melody and ecstatic lyric poetry.
Most of the compositions of Kanaka have the Mudrika Kagineleyadi Keshava. There is a class of compositions called Kanaka Mundige full of abstract imagery, subtlety of metaphysics and inscrtable implications, challenging the finest in the Bhakta.
Kanaka in many of his Padas, reveals the unity and universality of spiritual experience, and flouts the iniquity of caste distinction and prejudices, born out of race, creed and class divisions. He is perhaps, the only great non-brahmimical saint who by his Aparoksha Jnana and glimpses of the Absolute, neutralised the dissidences of Caste and groups and attempted at the solidarity of all castes by abrogating references to Jati, Kula and other distinctions. Vaidika and Avaidika distinctions are invalid and only Bhakti is valid against the Absolute. Moksha Sadhana Samagram Bhaktireva Gariyasi!. There is no separate regions in the empire of Bhakti, no distinctions of caste, class, creed, sex and servitude; Dharma tapas and Acara, are not correlates of the absolute. Bhakti is the only means by which emancipation from Samsara can be realised. Every one born in this world has the fundamental right to attain the Absolute by Bhakti. The Bhakta transcends the limitations of Varna and Asrama Dharma. Sri Vyasaraja who had this intuition, treated Kanaka though the lower order, on the same footing of equality with the rest. Very often the Guru had to suffer embarrassment and veiled criticsm of his followers for the preferences he showed to Kanaka and Purandara, whi delighted the bhaktas by their heavenly compositions.
Kanaka was totally absorbed in Hari Keshava! and he saw the vision of the Lord in the mountains, in moonlight, in sun-set, in living plants, in the flowing stream, in the lovely face of the child and the wrinkles of the old. He was possessed of Hari's invisible transcendental Beauty. Kanaka disdained servility and service at others feet or wandering for the satisfaction of the belly like a street dog without any sense of self-respect. Like Purandara, Kanaka suffered poverty, privation, degradation, distress, acute misery without a wife or any soul to comfort him. He was humbled and motified in the flesh by the visitations of misfortune. But undaunted, he struggled hard in this Dark night to find a sheet anchor at the feet of the Guru and through his ministrations to gain the glimpse of the divine. He pleads for protection against sensuous temptations, sins of the spirit and aberrations of intellect and will. Vyasaraja nursed this intuitive presentiments in Kanaka and enabled him to blossom out into mystical ectasies in the same manner he had done for Purandara.
Kanaka made supreme effort in reforming the lower castes, weaning them away from ignorance, superstition and barbaric practices, in order to favour the growth of Bhakthi and devotion in them. His love of his own people compelled him to disregard his own life and to shed the blood of martyr for the sake of their transformation into a life of Ahimsa. God does not ask for blood, what he wants of you is only Bhakthi.
The body is sacred; the sense of the sacred is an ultimate category of the human soul. It is of infinite worth and therefore imposes an absolute obligation. Kanaka says "This body is Yours; life within it is yours, the power in the ear, the vision in the eye, the pleasure of fellowship, and participating in the fragrance and ebullition of life and the enjoyment of the senses are all Yours. As the body is to be in tune with the holy spirit, Kanaka prepares himself for the journey to meet his Lord. O! Hari, never do I desire the company of the wicked who are unrighteous quarrelsome, arimonious, enamoured of the plesure of Samsara and of women and wine and who do not know the importance of the Vedas. Oh! Kaginele Adikeshava, remove these affilctions, arising from the association of the wicked'.
Kanaka is conscious that the senses are inexpungable elements of life and their eradication involves considerable penance and self-denial. It was no easy task to keep away from temptation and exempted from their irrestible charm. "What can I do? Just like the mouth fascinated by the luminosity of the flame jumps into it, so too, my eyes dart at beautiful and elegantly ornamented women. I fall down to the ground like the bee that has sucked the fragrance of the Champaka, at the fragrance of the flowers worn by women whose steps resemble the 'mandagamana' of an elephant. I die like the fish that has swallowed the worm at the tip of the angler's stick. When I think of the nectar on the lips of young women, Oh! Adikeshava, Thou art my guide, help me to fix my mind on Your Lotus feet".
Kanaka is deeply conscious of the painful aspects of Samsara and worldly life. The body is like a bubble on the surface of water and all the actions of the body are an illusion,which has no power, no beloning or possessions. It is the intoxication of pride that persuades him to imagine himself to be what he is not in reality, to believe that he is the crown of creation, quite oblivious of the transmigration of his soul through several births, conceived in sin, born in sin, living in sin and ending his life in sin. Man is so engrossed in earning food for his belly, that he steals the property of others, tells falsehoods, seeks ostentation and display, and does a hundred things which bely his fundamental nature.
In the context of allurements of the Senses, he talks of caste, of several distinctions which are man made and not God made. The world talks of caste but what is the caste of righteous? Is not a lotus which grows in the bottom of the pool in mud brought and used in worshipping God? God's bodies are pasted with the musk, obtained from the musk cat. To what caste does Narayana, Lord of the World and Iswara Lord of Parvati belong? What is the caste of the Soul, of Siva and of the principal organs of knowledge? When Adikeshavaraya, the indweller is pleased where does the question of caste remain?
When Kanaka was questioned by the Mahant of the Tirupati temple he replied What is the caste to me who is intoxicated with the love of Adikeshava? In another place, Kanaka condemns hypocracy in the name of sanctity and such other deceits, sins and wickedness practised by the people. What is the use of practising meditation and penance without realising the true meaning of the Vedas and the nature of the Primeval Being?
Kanaka pins his faith in the Lord, in all His unity and Absoluteness with the result he repudiates Taratamya and worship of Yellamma, Mari Durga, Chowdi and other goddesses. 'Oh! Parama Hamsa! Thou art the ocean of mercy. I am a microscopic creature imbued with hunger and thirst and other miseries envelope me and make me helpless, while Thou art a Being, Omniscient and Omnipresent in all the known and unknown worlds'.
Kanaka appeals to the mind to struggle and to forbear for he knows that God will protect without delay. "Who waters the trees that grow on the mountain tops? Who has painted the peacock with variegated colours? Who has painted the parrot green? Who has created food for the frog and for the all sentiment creation? When God has created you and has undertaken that responsibility, he will assuredly protect you, why should there be any doubt about this? Oh! Adikeshava Thou art the bestower of my life, You will protect me, and it is not possible for me to forsake Thy feet". Kanaka was a great mystic and like Purandara, was convinced that every thing moved and had their being at the initiation of Sri Hari; all the animate and inanimate objects of the Universe moved according to His law and fulfilled themselves according to His purpose. God is omnipresent and all-mighty and omniscient. Kanaka asks the question 'Oh God art Thou in maya or is it within thee? IS the eye within the mind or mind within the eye, or both within Thee. Is the flower within the fragrance or the fragrance within the flower or are both these in the nose?
Kanaka was an Aparoksha Jnani with the direct cognition of Sri Adikeshava who was his supreme Preceptor and he was convinced that Adikeshava saved him from the field of battle and picked him up like a pearl dissociated from water to show the way to join His feet. Kanaka was unrivalled for depth and originality of feeling and for piety and sense of the purest attachment of Sri Hari. For rhythmic flow of verse and gracefulness of style he was as great as Purandara. "Adikeshava is my refuge and there is no need for any other ceremonial or meditation". Like a parrot nourished within the cage and taught sweet speech, You teach me true wisdom, and make me recite your name incessantly. So long You are not meditated upon, the mind wanters forth in search of the necket which is over its own neck. There are the oil, the lamp, the wick and the fire, but not till the lam is lighted is there light, nor is darkness destroyed!
Kanaka in many of his keertanas, sings the nature of Paravastu the distinction between Paramayogin and Aviveki and Agnani, and like Purandara recognised the supreme manifestation of Hari and repudicated all distinctions of Kula, caste and creed as the inevitable corollary of worship of the divine. He lived in Belur for a long time and sang the praises of the Lord Keshava in the temples along with Vaikuntadasa, Haribhakti sara in Bhamini Shatpadi was written in Belur and Kanaka who travelled widely all over Karnataka alone unattended and without conveyances, spread the light of Vaishnavism and love of Sri Hari and Paramabhakti for Adikeshava among the millions who came in contact with him on his pregrinations.
Kanaka was strongly denunciatory of caste and class distinctions and all his compositions, his message was one of hope and love towards fellow human beings, and sentiment creation. Aesthetic art, compassion, senstiveness to the beautiful in nature and in the actions of men, marked his outlook on life, as one of the corollaries of a life of divine blessedness.
Kanaka Dasa's Literature
Sri Kanaka Dasa's compositions reveal a perfect mastery of Sanskrit and Kannada literature and show that he was well-versed in contemporary literature. He styles himself "Kanakadasottama" in his Mohana-Tarangini. Kanaka Dasa revels his compositions in a strong, fighting style that delivers the message directly. Unlike Purandara Dasa he was a "free-thinker" or "liberal thinker". Caste and creed in his opinion were no barriers to moksha. Bhakthi alone counted. He was prosecuted for his extreme views by the orthodox followers of Vyasaraja. This fact is alluded to in one of the songs of Purandaradasa which says that the disciples of Sri Vyasaraja found fault with him for the favour shown to Kanakadasa. But Vyasaraja is said to have stood firm by his disciple and revealed the true worth and greatness of Kanaka Dasa to his other followers.
Besides many devotional songs including "Mundiges" (allgories) he wrote the Mohanatarangini, Haribhakthasara, Ramadhyana Carite and Nalacarite. His portrayal of feelings is vivid and penetrating. He can be most homely and sublime as occasions demand and rises to inimitable perfection of art.