As women today are trying to gain entry into two temples in India where their entry is restricted, one is reminded of the problem of temple entry over the ages. Dalits now have the official right to enter temples, though customs and traditions sometimes still bar their way. Some of the stories of the past of those such as Nandanar, Kanakadasa, and others who wanted to enter temples and could not do so are very moving.
Regarding Kanakadasa, a sixteenth century saint, I had visited the Krishna temple at Udupi in Karnataka some years ago and seen the miracle said to have been created by him. Kanakadasa was a great singer and composed beautiful songs and verses in Kannada. According to the story, as he was not allowed within the temple because of his caste, he stood outside its western wall, and sang to the deity that he was unable to see. And one day, the wall cracked, a chunk fell out of it, and the image of the deity turned his face to the west, so that Kanaka could see him. Even today, the image remains in that position, and is viewed through a grilled window on the western wall.
Kannaka is said to have been a Kuruba by birth, though later sources, probably to elevate him to a higher status, said he was originally a Beda or Nayaka, and was once a warrior. His devotional songs in Kannada include Haribhaktisara, Mohanatarangani and Ramadhanya-charite, among others. This last is based on a folk tale and compares ragi (a form of millet) and rice, ending in praise of ragi. The god Rama sees that ragi has more strength, and names it Raghava-dhanya, later abbreviated to ragi.
Kanakadasa’s devotional compositions are still popular today. In one of his songs, he says:
‘This body is Yours, so is the life within it;
Yours too are the sorrows and joys of our daily life.
Whatever sweet word or Veda or story of law that we hear,
The power to hear them is Yours.
The eye that gazes on the beauty of form,
That vision too is Yours.’
Kanakadasa saw god in every living being. When a dog entered his house, and stole a roti [unleavened bread], Kanakadasa, saw the dog too as the Lord, and ran after him with ghi [clarified butter] and gur[unrefined sugar], calling ‘Lord, do not eat dry bread, have this on your bread too’.