There have been a lot of focus and innumerable articles on Haridasas of Karnataka and their invaluable contribution to the growth and development of Bhakti movement in Karnataka.
The Haridasas were essentially Vaishnavas and all of them, irrespective of the region they came from and their
social and economic status, adhered to the tenets of Madhwacharya, the saint-philosopher, and propounded his Dwaitha or theory of dualism.
The Haridasas had an enormous impact on the life and times of society and people like Purandara Dasa, Kanaka Dasa, Vijaya Dasa and Jagannatha Dasa held the mirror of literature to society so that it could rectify its failings.
While there are hundreds of Haridasas and they are practically from every region in the State from Achalananda Dasa of the eighth century in Bangalore to Purandara Dasa in Hampi, Vijaya Dasa in Raichur and Mahipati Dasa in Bijapur, the role of women poets or Haridasis has not received the attention that these remarkable women deserve.
The composition of these poet-composers is simple, touching and musical. Yet, and this is really intriguing, they are the product of those whose world revolved around domesticity of homes, and more specifically, to the kitchen.
These women poets rose above the mundane and stitched a high place in the literary field. Many of them had to face problems of a typical Brahmin household such as superstition, tradition, rigidity and in cases domestic strife. But these women overcame all odds and today they are a force to reckon with and a shining example of what women can do in times of adversity.
A shining example of resilience and strength of will power is Galgali Avva. Born in 1670, she was just 12 when she was married off to a 95-year-old man. Her marriage lasted exactly eight days and she was widowed on the ninth.
As was the practice in those days, Avva had to tonsure her hair and observe the stringent practice of widowhood. However, her five grown up step-sons, all of them scholars, taught her to read and write, and Avva who soon gave expression to her literary talent, became a composer, writing under the ankita Rama.
Today we are fortunate in possessing 261 of her songs and some of them like “Bheegara Haadu,” describes a ritual in a typical Brahmin wedding. In “Sringara Tara Tamya”, she gives a vivid and evocative description of various ornaments worn by a woman. She then becomes philosophical and says of all the ornaments, the only two worth possessing and which are ever lasting are bhakti and gnana.
In “Muyyada Haadu”, she writes about the exchange of gifts during Gowri puja. Ironically, she would not have been allowed for the pooje as she was a widow. She died in 1760.
Harapanahalli Bheemava (1823-1902) was eleven years of age when she was married off to 45-year-old Muniappa. Widowed young, she spent all her time writing devaranamas and songs. In Krishna’s Rasa Leela, she speaks of more than 70 types of saris.
Halavanakatte Giriyamma, who lived in the early 18th century, was another poet-composer who wanted out of marriage. She was bold enough to ask her husband to release her from marriage.
She was given the ankita Bheemesha Krishna by Purandara Dasa in her dream.
Yadugiriamma (1828-1908) is another notable woman poet. She was a polyglot and she knew Telugu, Sanskrit, Tamil and Kannada.
She has composed kritis under the pen name Venkata about the temples at Melkote, Tirupati and Srirangam.
Nanjangud Thirumalamba, married at the age of 10, was widowed at 14 and she learnt to read and write Kannada, Telugu and Tamil all by herself.
This doughty lady started a journal in 1916 and even published 28 books. In one of her stories, a woman reforms her philandering husband, who then apologises to her. She died in 1982.
Nidaguraki Jeevu Bai and Oravayi Lakshmi Devi were also well-known poet-composers as were Kalasada Sundaramma, Gandamma, Radha Bai, Nadigara Santhi Bai, Amba Bai, Saraswathi Bai.
Purandara Dasa’s wife, Saraswathi, and Raghavendra Swamy’s mother, Gopikamba, were also composers of repute, but their compositions are lost forever. However, the first woman of note to write about Hari was Madhwacharya’s sister known as Kalyani Devi.
The Acharya’s sister was known to have authored three works in Snaskrit- Krishna Stotra, Anu Vayustuti and Laghu Taratamya Stotra.
All the three books an important part of the Sanksrit writing during the Hoysala period.
Her Laghu Taratamya Stotra is about the Taratamya of gods and here she faithfully follows her brother in placing Vishnu above all other gods. The rest of the Gods come later.
Both Anu Vayu Stuti and Laghu Taratamya Stotra deal with the gradation of gods and they place Hari at the top, with the rest of the gods following him.
The third work-Krishna Stotra- as the name itself suggests, is a work on Krishna. Kalyani Devi composed it after seeing the Krishna idol her brother consecrated in Udupi-the Sri Krishna Temple.
The Krishna Stotra comprises eight verses and it was first printed from Kumbakonam. It is out of print now. However, apart from these three works, nothing else is known about her.
Another Kalyani Devi that we come across almost during the same period is the sister of Trivikrama Panditacharya.
She too wrote a short composition on Vayu, extolling his virtues and referring to the three incarnations of Hanuman, Bheema and Madhwa. This work too is called Laghu Vayu Stuti. It is in six verses. It is a short composition of 22 lines with five paragraphs of four lines each and the last paragraph has just two lines.
The Stuti is a short work. Here, Kalyani Devi praises Vayu and his incarnation. She uses a constant refrain in the second line of each verse- “Anandatheertha mahamunirajam govinda bhakta shikhamanimide”
Researchers says there are more than 250 women poet-composers. Some of them include Bhagamma ( Her ankita was Prayagavva), Turadagi Timmamma, Tulasabai (ankita-Sundarabai), Nadigara Shantibai, Radhabai (ankita-Venkatavitala Raghavendra), Sarasabai, Namagiriyamma, Rangamma, Gundamma ( Rukmaneeshavittala), Ambabai (Gopalakrishna Vittala), Venkatasubbamma (Venkatasubbi), Muliya Mukaambikaamma, Chechamma (Sheshakka), Kamalabai (Gurujayesha Vittala), Saraswati Bai (Sri Srinivasa) and others.
Researchers and scholars have been able to identify more than 250 Haridasis. Yet, their contribution remains largely unknown except for a few like Harapanahalli Bheemavva, Helevanakate Giriamma, Yadugiriamma and Nanjangud Tirulamba. It is time that women composers too were given their due and their contributions recognised.