Dasa Sahitya is the literature of bhakti movement composed in any language by devotees irrespective of caste and religion in honor of Lord Vishnu or any of his incarnations. Dasa means a servant in Kannada and Sahitya means literature. Haridasas (“servants of God”) were preachers of bhakti on Lord Vishnu. The bhakti literature of these Haridasas is collectively referred to as Dasa Sahitya. Its language is mainly in Kannada. It is also in Telugu and Marathi etc.
The Haridasas contributed to the rich heritage of Karnataka music. They made an indelible impression on the religious and cultural life of Karnataka. They spread the ethical teachings in a musical form to the hearts of the common man.
Haridasa movement made a significant contribution towards Kannada literature by spawning a whole corpus of devotional literature in the form of verses, hymns and musical compositions, popularizing the Dwaitha philosophy propagated by Saint Madhwacharya. The literature that originated from this devotional movement is called Dasa Sahitya. These various compositions are generally called as Devaranamas (literally meaning names of the Lord) and are sung in the praise of the god Vishnu. These compositions have the concept of Hari Bhakti (devotion to God) at their core. Some Haridasas’ such as Purandara Dasa and Kanaka Dasa also composed several Devaranamas using day-to-day episodes, morals and virtues as the central theme. These compositions were in simple Kannada language since the main objective of this movement was to take the devotional movement to the common man. In doing so, the common people were also educated in the importance of consciousness (knowledge), devotion (bhakti), ethics and Hindu religion. Their hymns (padas) set to various musical tones (ragas) aroused fervor among the masses. As advocates of religious reform, the Haridasas’ propounded the virtues of detachment (vairagya). In addition to devotional songs, Kanaka Dasa authored five literary classical writings in the Kavya style. Jagannata Dasa, Vijaya Dasa and Gopala Dasa etc., are better known among a galaxy of composers who made rich contributions to Kannada literature.
The compositions can be broadly classified under one of the following three types:
Kavya or poetic compositions.
Tatva or philosophic compositions.
The Haridasa Sahitya in Karnataka is started by Acharya Madhwa in 13th Century, where he wrote dwadasha stotras in musical form in praise of Lord Vishnu. Inspired by this Sri Narahari Theertha a direct disciple of Madhwacharya also wrote some songs in Kannada. Later saints in Madhwa parampare have not given much importance to this. In 15th Century, it was Sri Sripadaraja who took great initiative in reviving the dasa Sahitya. Because of his efforts it saw a good growth. His disciple Sri Vyasaraja also continued it. It was Sri Purandara dasa who made this to reach common people, and he is been regarded as “Karnataka Sangeetha Pithamaha”.
The prominent Haridasas in Kannada are Purandara Dasa, Kanaka Dasa, Vijaya Dasa, Gopala Dasa, Jagannata Dasa, Pranesha Dasa etc.
The prominent Haridasas in Telugu are Annamayya, Bhaktha Ramadasu, Kshetrayya, Saint Thyagaraja etc. they spent their entire life in praising Lord Vishnu in the form of Bhakti.
The prominent Haridasas in Marathi include Santa Tukaram, Tulasidas, and Kabirdas etc.