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Sri Purandara Dasa

3:21 PM Posted by Vijayasri


Purandara Dasa is famous among the Haridasas of Karnataka; foremost among the talented Karnatic composers. He earned much money and lived only to earn it, but eventually gave away all his wealth because of a strange incident and became a devotee of Sri Hari.

Srinivasa Nayaka becomes a Saint

Our knowledge of Purandaradasa's life stems mainly from the compositions of Vijaya dasa who lived a hundred and fifty years after the passing away of Purandaradasa.


Vijayadasa had great faith in and devotion for Purandaradasa. It is believed that Purandaradasa himself appeared in Vijayadasa's dream and bestowed on him the ankitha 'Vijaya Vittala'. This is how the story of Purandaradasa runs:

Worn-out Coin given as Alms

Purandaradasa lived in Purandaragadha, a small town in present-day Maharashtra (India), but belonging to the then Vijayanagar dynasty. His earlier name was Srinivasa Nayaka. He was engaged in the family business - dealing in precious stones. He was very rich and popularly known as navakOti nArAyaNA. He was a miser by nature, and cared for nothing except money.

Lord Vishnu decided that it was time for Srinivasa Nayaka to give up his love of money, and take his rightful role among saints. So, He took the form of a poor brahmin and approached Srinivasa Nayaka for money in order to perform the thread ceremony of his son. Even though days rolled by, Nayaka did not give anything, but the brahmin too did not relent. He visited Srinivasa Nayaka's shop again and again. Six months passed by in this fashion. Finally, Nayaka decided that he had to do something to get rid of the brahmin. He had a collection of worn-out coins that were more or less worthless. He poured this in front of the brahmin and asked him to take one and never come back. The brahmin went away, seemingly crestfallen.

Gift of a Nose-stud

Saraswathi, Nayaka's wife, was a kind hearted soul who in her own way, tried to make amends for her husband's miserliness. The brahmin, who knew this, went directly from Nayaka's shop to his residence. He told her his story and how her husband had sent him away with nothing.

Saraswathi was appalled by her husband's behaviour. She wanted to help the poor brahmin, but felt helpless since she could not give anything without her husband's permission. When she explained her helplessness, the brahmin asked if she had something given by her parents (which, presumably, she could give without asking for her husband's permission). She agreed and gave him the diamond nose-stud that her parents had given her.

The vanishing ornament

The brahmin took the ornament straight to Srinivasa Nayaka's shop. When Nayaka became angry with the brahmin for coming back, despite his instructions to the contrary, the brahmin clarified that he was there not to beg, but to pledge an ornament and take a loan. Nayaka was skeptical and asked the brahmin to show him the ornament. When he saw the ornament, he was perplexed because he immediately recognized it as the one belonging to his wife. When questioned about the ornament's antecedents, the brahmin told him that it was a gift from a benefactor.

Asking the brahmin to come back the next day, Nayaka safely locked away the ornament in a box and went home. When he saw his wife without her ornament he questioned her about it. She tried to stall him with non-committal answers, but he insisted on seeing it immediately. He was angry because he thought she had given away a valuable ornament to a beggarly brahmin.

Saraswathi felt the ground giving way under her feet. She knew that her husband would punish her if she told him the truth. Unable to think of an alternative, she decided to commit suicide. She poured poison into a cup and lifted it to her lips. Just as she was about to drink the poison, she heard a metallic sound. Lo behold, wonder of wonders, the ornament was right there in the cup. She could not believe her eyes. Her heart filled with gratitude, she prostrated before the idol of Krishna and took the ornament to her husband. Nayaka was astounded as it was the very same ornament that he had safely locked away in his shop. He quickly excused himself and ran back to the shop to check. The box in which he had safely locked away the ornament was empty! He was now completely and totally dumbfounded.

The renunciation

He want back to his house, and pressed his wife to tell him the truth. She told him everything that had transpired. This put his mind into a turmoil.

After deep thought, he came to the conclusion that the brahmin was none other than God Himself. He recalled all the incidents that had transpired in the previous six months. He was disgusted with himself, and his miserliness. He felt that his wife had conducted herself far more decently and generously than himself. Since it was his love of money that had made him ill-treat the Lord, he gave away all of his wealth with the Lord's name on his lips.

From that day onwards he became a devotee of Sri Hari. navkOti nArAyANa became a nArAyANa Bhakta; the hands which sported gold and diamond rings now played the tamboora, the neck which used to be resplendent with golden chains now housed the tulasi mAla. The man who had turned away countless people away, now himself went around collecting alms and living the life of a mendicant. The Nayaka who would have lived and died an inconsequential life became PurandaradAsa, loved and revered even centuries after his death. Just as the philosopher's stone turns everything it touches to gold, the Lord took a wretched miser and made him into the doyen of all haridAsas. Such was the magic wrought by the Lord!

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