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Review of K. H.Prabhu's book

Review of K. H.Prabhu's book

Review of K. H.Prabhu's book “Vision of Purandaradasa” by Rajat Das Gupta (4th March 2018) ISBN-13: 9789386653215 Publisher: (October 18, 2017


  K. H. Prabhu’s book in English “Vision of Purandaradasa” is basically translation of selected 326 sacred songs, out of roughly 1,25,000, of the immortal saint Purandaradasa of Vaishnavite era (1480 A.D. – 1564 A.D.), which were so long for the exclusive eyes of the Kannadigas. This is a laudable attempt to liberate the saint’s lofty spiritual height along with his extra-worldly perceptions, from a narrow linguistic circle for which the readers will surely admire the author for this scholarly treatise. 

  It is beyond my capability to effectively gist up the cream of Prabhu’s 377 page book. So, I’ll simply attempt to nibble here and there of this work whatever I found impressive.

 “No other poet of Karnataka can hold candle to the immortal Bard of Avon than this Kirtankar. Both knew how to use the language and had extra-ordinary insight into human nature. There is something in common between the two in understanding of human weaknesses such as pride, greed for power and glory, betrayal, treachery and hypocrisy.”

  Thus, the author has raised Purandaradasa to the level of the World Poet Shakespeare, while this Kanarese poet achieved the height of Kabir, (aptly reminds Tagore’s book, “100 Poems of Kabir”) and Mirabai in sublimity  and comparable to Tulsidas, composer of Ramayana. The author also mentions Purandaradasa had effectively captured the Platonic love between Radha and Krishna.

  I find a parallel of this Kanarese poet with Wordsworth ~ “Failing to see the husband in the egg of the embryos / Pundits have become the shaven widows..” 

This reminds Wordsworth’s “The child is father of the Man / I could wish my days to be / Bound each by natural piety.”


Aptly reminds Bengali poet Nazrul’s ~ ‘Ghumiye aachchey sishur pita sab shishuder antare..’ = “Dormant is the child’s father in the heart of all children.”                                    

  “God doth not need / Either man’s work, or his own gifts, / Who best bear His mild yoke, they serve him best, / His State is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed /And post o’re land and ocean without rest: /They also serve who only stand and waite.”

                                                         [Milton ~ On his blindness]

How close to Tagore’s ~ “The loads which Thou hast given me / Have been made easy; / Those I’ve piled up have become burden; / Unload those O Lord, / I know not where the windy gale / Is leading me!”

   Surdas’ “Prabhu morey avagun chit na dhare” has been referred in the context of this Kanarese poet.

  “Kith and kin everywhere / But none is willing to serve meal” has been aptly contextualized with Coleridge’s ~ “Water water everywhere, not a drop tom drink.”

  “It is alright whether they give or not, whether one is a ruler or beggar – It matters little whether speaking kindly or harshly with ones devoted to the lotus feet of Nara Hari.” Quite akin to Swami Vivekananda’s similar experience expressed in “The song of the Sannyasin” ~

“Heed them no more how body lives or goes; Its task is done. Let Karma float it down; Let one put garlands on, another kick this fame; say nought. No praise or blame can be; where praiser, praised, and blamer and blamed are one. Thus be thou calm, Sannyasin bold! Say Om tat Sat, Om.”

  Reference to Western interpreters was attractive. Charles E Grover’s book “The Folksongs of Southern India” mentions at length of Purandaradasa based on Rev. A. J. O. Lyle and D. Dazell’s translations from original Canarese songs. Rev. Messars Stephenson and Greenwood, which appeared in Royal Asiatic Society papers, German translation that appeared in the Journal of German Oriental Society etc. are evidence  Purandaradasa crossed the narrow boundaries of Karnataka, to reach the Western world. 

   The author clarifies that Purandaradasa is not a mere folklorist as folklore does not contain the ideas and expressions of the Upanishads, neither Puranic episodes, nor various theories of music which abound in this legendary poet’s works.                                   

  Of the thirty three crore gods, Hindus imagine, Purandaradasa has isolated mainly Shiva in Nataraj and Vishnu, the incarnation of Krishna as source of inspiration. However, mainly the Westerners have tarnished Krishna with vulgarity in play with the Gopis, missing the Platinic love in their relations. Also, they fail to admire the dominant role of Krishna in the Kurukshetra battle.

  “Living with translation is like living with a mistress. If she is beautiful, she is not faithful. If she is faithful, she is not beautiful.”

  At the end of the day, I’m wondering how much beauty I missed in the original Canarese literature of legendary Purandaradasa about which K.H. Prabhu’s erudite work has given us a wake up call.

- Rajat Das Gupta