Purandara Dasa was the only son of a wealthy merchant Varadappa Naik. He was given the name Srinivasa by his father, after the Lord of Tirumala. He received a good education in accordance with family traditions and acquired proficiency in Kannada, Sanskrit, sacred lore, and in music.
When he was sixteen years old he married Saraswati. He lost his parents when he was 20. He inherited his father’s business (in precious stones and pawn-broking), rapidly expanding it and amassing immense wealth. This earned him the appellation ‘Navakoti Narayana’ (a millionaire in early 1500 C.E.)
The Divine Call:
At that time Srinivas Nayak showed no signs of the spiritual giant that he would eventually become. Legend has it that, Lord Narayana 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 man(brahmin) and approached Srinivasa Nayak for money in order to perform the thread ceremony of his son.
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.
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 behavior. 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 poor man 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-ring that her parents had given her.
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.
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.
He realized 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, and became a Haridasa, a devotee and Lord Hari and started singing the glories of Lord Hari.
Meeting with his Guru Vyaasaraja
After Srinivasa Nayaka became the saint-singer celebrating Sri Krishna, he sought a teacher for guidance and was received as a disciple by Sri Vyaasaraja. Sri Vyaasaraja who had been accepted as a great saint had composed verses both in Sanskrit and Kannada. He bestowed the name of ‘Purandara Vittala’ on the unattached Srinivasa Nayaka and blessed him heartily.
In course of time Purandaradasa came to Hampi and settled down with his wife and children. He had four sons-Varadappa, Gururaya, Abhinavappa and Gurmadhvapathi. Every morning Purandaradasa went into the town wearing bells on his ankles and tulasi mala around his neck. He carried a tamboori in the hand and sang his Hari-keertanas sounding the tamboori with his fingers. The verses he sang were his own compositions. They were on a variety of themes. He sang innumerable songs in praise of the Lord, which numbered about 4,75,000 of which about unfortunately only 800 survive. He was rightly called “Father of Carnatic music.”
Some of them described Sri Krishna’s adventures in this world. Some others sang about God’s kindness to man. A few more verses were simple compositions expounding the philosophy contained in the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad-Gita in simple words. In yet other verses Purandaradasa praises Lord Krishna affectionately. In some verses Purandaradasa has even made fun of the Lord. He sang these songs to the accompaniment of an instrument called tamboori and the bells tied to his ankles and went about the streets of the town. The people admired the listened to his songs. Purandaradasa accepted alms given to him during the wandering and led a life of renunciation. He who had been called Navakoti Narayana now had willingly accepted the life of a mendicant.
Each stage of Purandaradasa’s growth and development as a pious man moving towards the higher stages of God realization is significant. Purandaradasa went on singing and praying for God’s grace and finally he realized God’s grace. He often felt the ecstasy of God realization.
The Miracle :
Purandara Dasa taught music to a lady at Pandharpur- this provoked the people to gossip about him. Bhagavan Krishna(Vittala) did not approve of their behavior & decided to show the greatness of His bhakta(devotee).
One day, Lord Vittala decides to go the lady’s house as Purandara Dasa & gave her a Navratna (9 gems studded) necklace. In the temple they notice that Vittala’s necklace was missing. It was traced to the lady’s house who confessed that she got it from Purandara Dasa.
A devotee who had given up all his wealth ‘Navakoti’ , is now accused of stealing Navaratna necklace. The king had Purandara Dasa tied to a pillar in the temple. Purandara Dasa was silent and would not accept the allegation. He only prayed to Vittala silently. The king was angry and drew out his whip. As the whip was about to strike Purandara Dasa, it disappeared! To their wonder, it was seen in Vittala’s hand at the temple! Everyone fell at Purandara Dasa’s feet and begged forgiveness.
This was Purandara Dasa, who became from ‘Navakoti Narayana’ to a great ‘Narayana Bhakta’ (Lord’s devotee); 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 sacred 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 Purandara dasa, loved and revered even centuries later. Just as the philosopher’s stone turns everything it touches to gold, the Lord took a wretched miser and made him a crown of all Hari dasas (Lord’s devotees).. Such was the magical transformation, possible only by the golden touch of the Lord!