‘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
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
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
<![if !supportLists]>1. <![endif]>The Pathway to God in Indian Literature, R.D.Ranade
<![if !supportLists]>2. <![endif]>Hymns for the Drowning, A.K.Ramanujan
<![endif]>Sharma, B.N.K (1981,2000) .
History of Dvaita school of Vedanta and its Literature. Bombay: Motilal Banarasidass.