Harapanahalli Bheemavva – The legendary Haridasi from the Kannada country

Acknowledgements: The author is indebted to Dr. Giridhar Kadakol, himself a devotee of Harapanahalli Bheemavva, for his valuable inputs on the Haridasi tradition of Karnataka in general, and Harapanahalli Bheemavva’s life in particular. 

In this article we intend to introduce, Harapanahalli Bheemavva, a staunch devotee of Sri Krishna, belonging to the Yajurveda branch of the Madhava sect. She was an important figure of the Haridasa movement of the Kannada country in the 19th century. Her devotional songs, couched in simple words, in the praise of Krishna carry a certain import of mystic devotion. No man with spiritual ambitions in life can fail to appreciate the force and appeal of these litanies. Bheemavva came from a very small town at Harapanahalli, which now belongs to Bellary District, Karnataka, India. She was born in the year 1823 to Brahmin parents Sri. Raghunath Acharya and Rangamma who belonged to the Sri. Raghavendra Swamy Matha Sampradaya.

From her childhood, she was very religious; songs or group singing (Bhajans) were very common during that time, therefore it is likely that early exposure to group singing would have encouraged her to compose devotional literature later in her life. Many legends relate to her childhood, like a serpent visiting her cradle, a scorpion hiding in her head ornament, which she herself pointed out to her shocked guardians, and her kidnapping by a soldier. The latter became blind suddenly and restored the child back to her parents after which he regained his sight

She was married at a very young age of 11 to Sri. Muniyappa and later was renamed as “Krishna Bai” post her marriage. She was just 36 when her husband died. After the demise of her husband her creativity came to fore where she composed numerous devotional songs (about 150). It is said that with the blessings of Deva Rishi Sri Narada, she started composing bhakti songs. These songs are sung even today with religious fervor by people across Karnataka.

Bheemavva produced a great range of songs including arati songs, welfare songs, chore-songs, marriage songs, and songs pretty much suited to all occasions. Her songs occasion vignettes of social life of the period under question. Songs pertaining to नैवेद्य /Ritual offering mention good number of prevalent sweets and savories. While describing bridal attire of deities, her litanies enlist contemporary ornaments worn from head to toe, which brings to mind a well-dressed female of Mysore school tradition of Painting.

She chose “Bheemesha Krishna” as logo for all songs testifying her devotion to both the deities, Shiva and Krishna. The employment of the popular theme of robe stealing by boy Krishna (gopikavastrapaharana) in her songs gives her occasion to do justice to the colorful saris of her times. More than 70 different types of saris with equally multifarious designs have been spoken of. Bheemavva also mentions places like Uppadi, Silari, Ladlapur, Konrad which were famous sari weaving centers. Almost all others have disappeared today with exception of those of Banaras, Chanderi and Paithani.

She has shown ingenuity in recreating characters like Draupadi, Satyabhama etc., written in simple spoken North-Karnataka Kannada, she had adopted meters, which could help her songs, small and big, render musically and with ease.

Some of the songs include:

  • Rathi Kalyana,
  • Subhadra Kalyana
  • Muyyada Song,
  • Sudhama Charithre
  • Nala Charithre,
  • Stuthimane Malike, etc.

She has composed songs on Sri Krishna, Sri Venkateshwara, Ganesh, Eshwar, Laxmi Devi, Anjaneya, Vadiraja, Raghavendraswami, etc.

Bhemavva breathed her last in the year 1902.

A book entitled “Harapanhalli Bheemavva Haduglu” in Kannada was published by the University of Mysore in the year 1984. The manuscripts were handed over to University of Mysore in 1971 by Sri Kadakol Vijaya Rao and Smt. Kadakol Radha Bai  who were the parents of Dr. Giridhar Kadakol.