With the passing away of Sant Bhadragiri Achutdas on 22 October 2013 in Bangalore, a glorious era in the annals of Gowda Saraswatha Brahmins in particular and of Sanathana Hindu Dharma in general, has come to an end. Born in 1931 to Venkataramana Pai and Rukmini Bai in a large family in the small village of Bhadragiri near Udupi, Achut Pai learnt the rudiments of Bhajans from his mother. Though his formal schooling stopped at the 3rd Standard, he was able to absorb knowledge from the surroundings in the village particularly in Yakshagana, Thalamaddale, Bhajans, Keerthans etc. The world around became his school and he started practising the art of Harikatha, which is a unique form of mass communication in the area of Puranas, incorporating the arts of singing, acting and elocution. He also took part in the performances of Yakshgana both as an actor and as Arthadhari(Narrator).
He had his first opportunity to perform Harikatha before a large gathering as a standin substitute for the famous Malpe Shankara Narayana Samaga on Shivarathri day in 1951, when the latter could not keep the appointment. There was no looking back since then.
In 1953 Srimad Sudhindra Theertha Swamiji of Kashi Math was observing Chathurmasya Vratha at Koteshwar. During these four months, Achut Das had opportunity to closely observe and learn from Swamiji about our scriptures and Anushtana. Swamiji used to grace the daily Harikathas by Achut Das by His presence almost daily. It was during this close interaction between the Guru and disciple that the best in Achut das came out to the fore. In 1956 Swamiji observed Chathurmasya Vratha in Udupi and during this period Achut das performed daily Harikathas on Mahabharatha. It was at the end of the period that Swamiji blessed Achut Das and formally conferred on him the title of Moola Narayana.
Achut Das has composed Bhajans in Konkani, Kannada and Tulu totally numbering over 50000. These represent the distilled wisdom of our Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharatha, Bhagavatha as well as the Tattva Vada of Sri Madhwacharya. He also composed Bhajans on Kashi Math and the Swamijis of Kashi Math.
Besides Bhajans, he also authored several works in Kannada such as Harikathamrutha Sindhu, Geethartha Chinthane etc.., and in Konkani such as Amgele Kula Dev Ani Amgele Dharma Guru. His Gurucharithamrutha in Konkani is a unique magnum opus of Konkani poetry in ovi form, chronicling the history of Sri Kashi Math Samsthan.
He established in 1980 Akhila Karnataka Keerthana Parisad with the objective of imparting training and skills in Keerthana to budding artists. During the last five decades Achut Das has travelled the length and breadth of Karnataka and other places in Maharashtra and Kerala to deliver his Harikathas. For this purpose he used to travel along with accompanying artists in a well appointed mobile vehicle donated by his well wishers. In the rural areas especially, he used to keep spell bound audience of thousands in the evening late into night with his thrilling performance Bhajans and tales delivered in his inimitable voice to the accompaniment of Harmonium and Tabla. No wonder some of his lyrics such as Vedavyasa Vishnu Vyapaka (sung by none other than Bhimsen Joshi) have become house hold legends.
Pejawara Swamiji Sri Vishvesha Thirta once described Achut Das as one man university. This is patently true. Not only has Achut Das singlehandedly propagated the art of Harikatha over the last half century, but made them available to the public at large through audio and video recordings.
Achut Das was stickler for correct facts to be put in writing and would undertake painstaking journeys to check the facts. I remember his travelling to remote places in Goa. North Kanara and South Kanara to check on places, vegetation and persons before putting it in writing. He was also a hard working person continuing writing late into nights after the evening Harikatha. Even serious illness was not a deterrent in this regard. I recall that he completed some episodes of his Bhagavatha in Kannada in Mallya Hospital where he was a admitted for heart ailment, after his surgery during recuperation.
Achut Das lived the life of a Bhagavathothama, fully and perennially absorbed in writing, taking about, reading and recounting the glory of the Supreme Lord, showing due respect to elders, affection to all his acquaintances, speaking ill of none and always encouraging others through words of praise. He did not like to hear his own praise by others since he said this would contribute to Abhimana. His wife having passed away early, he lived a life of detachment though with his large family. In an age noted for its thirst for material acquisitions, it may come as a surprise to many that Achut Das lived till the end in rented accommodation. However he has left behind a large wealth through his countless recordings and books written by him. He has also left behind a large collection of rare books- over fifty thousands – on Hari Keerthana, Puranas etc… He has also left behind a band of dedicated disciples trained by him who will carry forward his tradition.
It is pertinent to note that recognition came to Achut Das unasked from time to time. Some of these are titles such as Keerthanaagresara in 1956 from Kashi Math Swamiji, Keerthanacharya in 1963 from Gokarn Math Swamiji, Sri Krishnanugraha Prashasti in 1985 from Pejavar Math Swamiji, Haridas Kula bhushana in 1987 from Admar Math Swamiji, Rajyothsava Prashasti by Karnataka Government in 1985, Kanaka Purandara Prashasti by Karnataka Government in 2000, Nadoja Prashasti from Hampi Kannada University in 2000, Konkani Prashsti from Vishwa Konkani Kendra etc…
It would be appropriate if Manipal University or Mangalore University were to institute a chair for Harikeerthana in his name and also acquire and preserve his private collection of books CDs etc.. so that future generation of interested students could be benefited.
I pay my humble tributes to the great soul of Santa Bhadragiri Achut Dasji on this occasion when Moola Narayana has rejoined his Moola or root. It was our privilege to have lived at the same time as Achut Dasji who rightly belonged to the long Haridasa lineage of Karnataka such as Purandara Dasa, Vijaya Dasa and Kanaka Dasa.