‘Keertanegalu’ (kIrtanegLu) (ಕೀರ್ತನೆಗಳು) (Songs in praise of God) belong to the genre of the musical outpourings of a poetic mind that sprang to light all over the country as a consequence of the ‘Bhakti movement’. The literal meaning of the word ‘Keertane’ is praising. They came to the fore ground in Karnataka after a powerful movement initiated by the ‘Shiva Sharanas’ in the twelfth century. (Even Shivasharanas have written songs that resemble Keertanas. They are called ‘Had’(hADu) and ‘Geethe’ (gIte) The vaidic religion which was gradually loosing its sway over the people due to the threats posed by Jaina and Veerashaiva upsurge had to find ways and means of reaching the masses and thus expand its base. An unflinching loyalty to Sanskrit would have been counter productive. This situation resulted in the composition of many songs sung in the praise of the lord as also propagating the philosophical and ethical precepts of ‘Hinduism’. Some degree of liberalism is an essential part of these movements and ‘Haridasa Sahitya’ was no exception. However this movement was more of a reformist strain in the iron clad caste system rather than an out and out rebellion. The more important proponents of this credo such as Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa faced stiff resistance from within the system. The fact that Kanakadasa belonged to the lower hierarchy of the caste system did not assuage the situation.

The seeds of the movement were sown by saints such as Achalanandadasa, Narahariteertha and Sripadaraja. However it gained genuine momentum with the advent of Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa. This tradition has survived for almost six centuries. Haridasas laid an emphasis on the emotional and moral aspects of religious aspects of Bhakti rather than the ritualistic practices imposed by the hegemony of the caste system. They did not really break new grounds in terms of philosophy because they were unflinching votaries of dualism. (Dwaita)

‘Keertanegalu’, the songs composed by these two seers and their successors were written in simple Kannada with genuine literary merits. A ‘Keertane’ begins with a ‘pallavi’, (a refrain that occurs at the end of every stanza) anu pallavi and a particular number of stanzas. Like the ‘Vachanas’ of the twelfth century keertanas also did not have a story line. They were short lyrical compositions with ethical thoughts delineated with the help of literary devices such as simile, metaphor and imagery. The figures of speech were taken from every day life and retained their sensual beauty. More importantly they could slip in to the tradition oral literature of Kannada with great facility. The songs are as much amenable to the demands of the classical music as to the limited ability of a street singer. These songs were set to classical music much later even though Purandaradasa is deemed as the founder of Karnataka Sangita.

The term ‘Keertana’s usually apply to the songs composed by the ‘Haridasaru’ and they are exclusive of categories such as suladi, (suLAdi) ugabhoga (ugABOga) and mundige. (munDige) Their literary fame rests on the poetic usage of mythology and epics, appropriate use of the spectrum of human emotions, a poetic language that captures the very core of Kannada and a diction which combines the standard language and the spoken variety with great success. The songs of Purandaradasa that are built around the life of Krishna have a degree of continuity and they have created a universe of their own. They have transcended the narrow sectarian boundaries where ever they deal with the spectrum of human experiences and emotions.

Of course Keertanas were composed even after this incandescent period and names such as Vijayadasa and Jagannathadasa spring to the mind immediately. They represent a period when the movement was appropriated by the fanatic hegemony and the compositions fail to inspire the community in spite of the poetic merit hear and there. But the keertanas of the main protagonists have an appeal even to the modern secular mind and they have become an inseparable part of Kannada literary tradition.



1.      The Pathway to God in Indian Literature, R.D.Ranade

2.      Hymns for the Drowning, A.K.Ramanujan

3.      Sharma, B.N.K (1981,2000) [1961]. History of Dvaita school of Vedanta and its Literature. Bombay: Motilal Banarasidass. ISBN 81-208-1575-0. 

Home / Literature