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Dasa Sahitya or Slave Literature

by Dr. Jyotnsa Kamat

First Online: September 14, 2003
Page Last Updated: May 09, 2017

Dasa Sahitya or Slave (slaves to Lord Vishnu) Literature constitutes an important segment in the development of the Kannada language. Numerous works were written during this period that became popular and the songs/poems composed then are sung even today.

Saints Sripadaraya (c. 1500 A.D.), Purandaradasa ( c 1540 A.D. ) and Kanakadasa form the great trinity of Vaishnava composers from Karnataka. It is difficult to separate literature, music, and devotion from their works. For centuries, they have come down to us orally. Their popularity could be rated by the existence of these songs on the tongues of the illiterate millions of people of Karnataka. The songs of Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa are set to dance. Kolata, various drums, talas and other folk instruments were mainly used for the composition and accompaniment of these songs. Music being a universal language it was used by both saints to raise the morale of the people and to make them aware of the divine existence and also by ordinary people. Purandaradasa is considered the father of Karnatak music. For him God was ganalola (fond of music). His compositions are a storehouse of musicology and poetry.

See Also: Saint Purandaradas and Carnatic Music


Kanakadasa (1509-1600 A.D.) was non-brahmin and it is supposed to have belonged to the warrior (Nayaka) community. He became one of the greatest Haridasas (slaves of Lord Vishnu) of Karnataka. Besides padas and keertans he has written kavya (Mohanatarangini),  Nalacharitre and Ramadhanya charite. The last one may be specially mentioned because of its unique theme. It is the story of a quarrel between two cereals paddy and ragi about who was superior. The verbal duel was fought before Lord Rama who orders their temporary imprisonment. After some time paddy degenerates while ragi emerges strong and sound, establishing his superiority. It is called vyangya-kavya or satire.

See Also: Saint-Poet Kanakadasa -- Saint Kanakadasa who condemned the caste system and ushered a new era of devotional literature in the 16th century.

History of Kannada Literature
Early History | Jaina Works | Medieval Kannada | Ranna | Kumaravyasa | Sarvajna
Vachana LiteratureDasa Sahitya | Epics and Mahakavyas | Modern Kannada


Author Dr. Jyotsna Kamat is the recipient of the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award in 1991.  She lives in Bangalore.

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