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Indian Poets and Composers
Biography of Vijaya Dasa

Vijaya Dasa (1682-1755) was a prominent saint from the Haridasa tradition of Karnataka, India in the 18th century. He is considered one of the most accomplished scholars belonging to the Dvaita philosophical tradition. Along with contemporary haridasa saints such as Gopala Dasa, Helevankatte Giriamma, Jagannath Dasa, Prasanna Venkata Dasa, Venugopala Dasa and Mohana Dasa, he propagated the virtues of the philosophy of Madhwacharya across South India through devotional songs called Devaranama written in simple and lucid Kannada language. An integral part of Kannada Vaishnava devotional literature, these compositions in praise of Vishnu are called dasara padagalu (compositions of the dasas). These compositions can be more specifically categorized as keertanas, suladis, and simply padas. They were easy to sing to the accompaniment of a musical instrument and dealt with bhakti (devotion) and the virtues of a pious life.

Vijaya was born in a poor Brahmin family in Chekalaparvi in Manvi taluk of Raichur district, Karnataka state. His parents were Sri Srinivasappa and Kusamma. He left home at a young age and studied Sanskrit in Varanasi for four years. Later when his marriage was troubled by poverty, he went back to Varanasi where he became a scholar. Legend has it that the great Carnatic music composer and wandering saint of the 16th century, Purandara Dasa appeared in his dream, initiated him into the Haridasa tradition and gave him the nom de plume (ankita nama) Vijaya Vittala. From that day he was called Vijaya Dasa (dasa means slave to God).

Considered second only to Purandara Dasa, his 25,000 compositions earned him the title Dasa Shresta (noble among the dasas). His compositions which comprise of use of many Sanskrit words come under the category of Kalasha and Urasu creations and are considered an important component of Kannada literature (Kannada Sahitya). He died at the age of 79, leaving behind such accomplished disciples as Gopala Dasa and Jagannatha Dasa to carry the message of peace and devotion to Hari. Tradition has it that it was the haridasas who initiated the practice of singing devotional songs while walking up the Tirumala hills in modern Andhra Pradesh. These hills are the abode of the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple, one of the most important pilgrim locations for Vaishnava Hindus. The fundamental values contained in these compositions was the true relationship between people, need for tolerance, a better understanding of the value of a non-materialistc life and true devotion to God. With this objective, Vijaya Dasa and other haridasas tried to purge religion of its hypocrisies and obscurantism, its insularity and exclusiveness.

Legend has it that once when Vijaya Dasa visited Kashi on the banks of the Ganges river, the river was in spate. Unperturbed, Vijaya Dasa sat in penance on the turbulent waves without getting wet. Once he prevented a woman from committing suicide and took care of the woman and her child. The child Gopala who grew up as Vijaya Dasa's student became one of the most important saints of the Haridasa tradition of 18th century, wrote many compositions in Kannada language and went by the name Gopala Dasa and the nom de plume Gopala Vittala




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