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ISSN: 0974-892X


January, 2018



A Leader par Excellence: Kanakadasa as an Administrative and Spiritual Leader in
Dr Basavaraj Naikar’s Kanakadasa, the Golden Servant

Dr. Sumathi Shivakumar, M.A., M. Sc., M.Phil., Ph. D., Asst Professor of English, A.M. Jain College, Chennai



Human evolution several millennia ago progressed in a direction that rendered them capable of accomplishing their desires. This was further accentuated by the fact that human beings were endowed with a wide range of, traits, attributes, characteristics, skills, attitudes, aptitude and behaviour embodying different needs, environment, ambitions, desires and value systems. Such an amalgam coupled with a sure-fire desire to be great achievers, could transform an average human being into a great leader. Therefore, the concept of leadership existed from very ancient times. In India, the value systems influenced greatly by the ancient civilization has produced a number of renowned scholars who donned the role of leaders in several fronts. It therefore gives little scope for dispute that India has always been the Knowledge and Leadership capital of the world.

That said, very little research has actually gone into the study of such great men’s lives to trace the path of glory that they undertook. Hidden underneath the long and prosperous life of Kanakadasa, lies several characteristic features that are a prerequisite for effective leadership.  Kanakadasa, is a well-known poet philosopher, musician, composer who lived in the 16th century. However, his journey of life reveals his courage to take his adversaries head on, steadfast in his convictions, impersonal and detached towards material prosperity, creative abilities and  many other  leadership skills, that are overshadowed by his aesthetic and spiritual glory. These ideas are well revealed in Dr Basavaraj Naikar’s Novella, Kanakadasa, the Golden Servant. In order to recognize Kanakadasa’s leadership qualities we need to identify some of the most characteristic features of Leadership that propels it to be the most sought after skill today.

Several theories of Leadership have emerged over the years after analysing leadership features of some of the great leaders of the world. Great Man Theory, Behavioural Theory that focuses on the role of a leader, Participative Leadership Theory where, the leader involves all the stakeholders in decision making, Situational Leadership, where factors other than individual abilities are studied to identify their role in decision making, Contingency Theories that considers styles of the leader that are replicable in multiple contexts, Transactional Theory where rewards and punishment drives one to succeed, Transformational Leadership, where the leader with vision and passion inspires his followers  and are motivated to achieve their goals, and Trait Theory which believes that Leaders are born and not made.

A brief analysis of a few theories are taken up here.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational Leaders strive to transform the context they are in. According Northouse, “transformational  leadership is a process which changes and transforms people. It is concerned with emotions, values, ethics standards and long term goals.”. (Northouse, 186) Such leaders implant an implicit assurance to the followers that they also will be transformed in the process. They develop the vision, specify and translate it to actions, Express confidence, decisiveness and optimism about the vision and its implementation, realize the vision through small planned steps and small successes in the path for its full implementation. Consequently, the followers turn out to be more of a product of the transformation.

Another feature about Transformational Leaders is that they generally are charismatic, who succeed through self-belief rather than depending on others. Transformational Leaders, by definition, aim to transform. When the context they are in needs little or no transformation with  people leading contented lives, such leaders will be exasperated as their skills are not required. They expect their presence to make a difference to the situation.

Situational leadership

As the name suggest, Situational Leadership centres around situations that demands leadership . It proclaims that there is not one standard style of leadership as “different situations demand different styles of leadership”. (Northouse , 99). Therefore in order to be effective a leader must be equipped with endless list of traits that are humanly impossible to be identified in a single human being. Most leaders will be effective in perhaps only in one or perhaps two fields, though there can be many situations. A cricket captain shows leadership acumen in cricket, though (s)he may play many matches. Nevertheless, beyond cricket there may not be many fields where they can show leadership of equal calibre. Besides,  the Situational approach claims that the “Situation influences leadership” (Northouse 31) In short such leaders are products of the situation. “ It is upto the leader to assess what action, if any, is needed and then intervene with the specific leadership function to meet the demands of the situation. (Northouse, 296). This advocates that leadership is spontaneous rather than a cultivated skill. This exactly is the claim of the Trait theory. 

The Trait Theory

The Trait theory is one of the earliest attempts at “identifying innate qualities and characteristics possessed by great social, political and military leaders” (Northouse, 19). The Trait Theory assumes that people are born with certain inherited traits that make them take to leadership role as fish takes to water. Some of these traits are highly conducive for effective leadership. Very often it is the combination of such traits that bring out the best in a leader.

Stogdill on studying several leaders in 1948 and later in 1974, identified the following traits that were associated with Leadership. . He asserts that they are critical to effective leadership. These include – the leader’s “drive for responsibility and task completion, vigour and persistence in pursuit of goals, risk-taking and originality in problem solving, self-confidence and sense of personal identity ability to influence other people’s behaviour” etc.  (Northouse, 21). Several other researches in this field show that these leaders possess many critical traits like intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity and sociability. (Northouse, 23).

A very clearly emerged idea from these studies is that the average individual in the leadership roles is different from an average group member with regard to the following eight traits: intelligence, alertness, insight, responsibility, initiative, persistence, selfconfidence and sociability.” (Northouse, 20). This implies that leaders in one situation may not necessarily be leaders in another situation. Despite their efforts at maintaining emotional stability and composure especially under stress, admitting error and owning up to mistakes or trying to defend/ play the victim card, their success is not always due to their traits. (Northouse 31).  It is for this reason that for a long time, inherited traits were ignored while situational factors were considered to be realistic to ascertain leadership skills in an individual. However, new approaches in psychology have endorsed that Behavioural Genetics’ claim that inherited traits do play a crucial role in the success of a leader than was previously assumed.

The Transformational theory and the situational approach are not suitable for adoption in the present study as they do not accommodate the width of Kanakadasa’s personality. Unlike the assumptions of Transformational theory where a leader would get frustrated in the absence of leadership needs, Kanakadasa moved seamlessly towards achieving his next goal. His abilities to adapt to situation and act according to the situation makes it seem more viable to take up situational leadership approach. However, the width of his personality contains far too many traits to make him a situational leader, When Kanakadasa was seven, he showed immaculate maturity and confidence to compete in the drumming contest. It was the confidence from within that spurred him to action and not the contest per se.  This should suffice to show the unsuitability of the situational theory for analysis of Kanakadasa’s leadership. The traits approach too is limited in its scope as it does not accommodate the possibility of acquiring leadership skills as one grows. Traits are inherited while attributes are acquired or learned. Hence, attributes that Kanakadasa acquired as he evolved may aid in the analysis of his leadership qualities.

Attributes of good Leadership

Some of the most significant attributes of good Leadership as envisaged by the Behavioural and Cultural Leadership are Focus, Confidence, Transparency, Integrity, Inspiration, Passion, Innovation, Patience, Stoicism, Meticulous, Authenticity. Open-mindedness, Decisiveness, Interpersonal Relationship, Empowerment, Positivity, Generosity, Persistence, Insightfulness, Communication, Accountability , Time Management and Simplicity. It is well-nigh impossible to find all these qualities in a single person. However a good majority of the most effective leaders would show at least five or six attributes dominant in them, while the presence of a few others can be traced in their personalities.(Northouse, 404)

In this context it is necessary to look at the fundamental tools of leadership (Landsberg) that provide them with the necessary accoutrements of leadership that is at once spontaneous.

Fundamental Tools of Leadership

According to Landsberg, the essence of Leadership is the ability to create Vision, Inspiration and Momentum in a group of people. He proclaims that Leadership is the product of the three. Leadership = Vision x Inspiration x Momentum. (Landsberg, 4).A vision that inspires the people to up the momentum of growth and sustained development in any sphere of activity is the cornerstone of effective leadership.  Leadership always involves initiating and driving change. This stems from a very highly creative mind that consistently involves in highly creative activity. Such a mind is constantly in search of newness as it soon gets satiated with the activity on hand. Another dimension to a creative mind is that its pursuits are intrinsically interpersonal in nature. Anyone endowed with this selfless attitude, strives for the betterment and well-being of all. (S)he always gets the relevant people to subscribe  to their proposals. The newness in their ideas attracts especially the young minds of the times. It is in this context that one also has to consider the fact that timing is important in developing a career as a leader. It may even be said that a leader is to a great extent a product of the times.

A conglomerate of Max Landsberg’s Tools of Leadership and some of the attributes mentioned above can transform a good leader into a great leader. For the present study, several of these attributes are identified in Kanakadasa’s personality as revealed in the novella, and analysed to unravel his leadership skills as an administrator and spiritual leader.

Life History of Kanakadasa as revealed in the novella

Kanakadasa  is better known as a poet, philosopher, musician and composer than as an able administrator, trained in martial arts and a natural percussionist. His life history is captured in a nutshell here.

Born as Thimmappa, he belonged to a chieftain family of Kaginalli in Haveri district. At the age of seven his bravery was well showcased when he accepted to face a seasoned drummer, He not only faced him, but defeated him as well and was crowned as the winner. Kanaka underwent early training in languages and ancient literature, which he mastered very quickly. His academic mastery was followed by martial arts training, which gave him “a healthy body to complement his sound mind” (Naikar,80)  His ever thirsty quest for knowledge now turned towards philosophy. Abundantly blessed with musicality, he sang ‘Bhajans’ on Lord Adikesava – his first compositions.  Shortly after, he lost his father, Biregowda. Biregowda’s arch rival abused his position of being an administrator of Bada, comprising nearly seventy eight villages, and tormented Thimmappa’s family to shift to the neighouring Kaginelli. However, he kept his promised service to the Lord Adikesava, by visiting the deity in disguise. Kaginelli gave him opportunity to unravel his theatre skills as he took roles in dramatic presentations of Ramayana, Mahabharatha and other popular tales of the times. One fine day, he started digging the earth, with no specific aim. Lucky as it would seem, he hit upon several copper pitchers full of gold coins, which he selflessly spent on the welfare of the people. Thimmappa thus came to be known as Kanakappa, the man of gold. His sudden wealth kindled his father’s arch enemy,  Mallanayaka who renewed his envious anger  and attacked him. Seriously injured, he recovered  very slowly. However, the ever active man that he was, he used the time to compose many devotional songs on Lord Hari. His poetic and musical prowess attracted the attention of the Raja Krishnadevaraya, the emperor of Vijayanagara. He was instantly appointed as the administrator of Bada and Bankapura, and came to be known as Kanakanayaka, further escalating Mallanayaka’s wrath. However, he refrained from disturbing Kanakanayaka, lest he come under the direct scanner of the king. This period is perhaps the Golden period in Kanakanayaka’s life, until he was stabbed again by Mallanayaka’s men. This time when he recovered he decided to devote his time on spirituality and forfeit his administrative responsibilities. The musician philosopher eventually transformed into a spiritual leader. He completed his spiritual learning under the Guru. His marriage was very brief and short lived. The loss of his wife made him even more resolute to take to spirituality. From this time on, a total transformation of his image led many to believe that he is little known common man. Despite his popularity, he was never recognised by the public. In fact on many occasions he was even mistaken to be a beggar and mercilessly ignored. His devotion was best recognised finally when at Udupi, the Lord, Sri Krishna turned towards west to give him a special darshan, when he was denied entry due to his slovenly appearance. . His voluminous compositions have indeed immortalised him in the annals of India cultural leaders.

Leadership attributes in Kanakadasa

Kanakadasa’s personality presents almost all the required attributes of Leadership. It is possible to notice two crucial facets as a leader – Administrator and Spiritualist. Though both these roles intermingle, it is as a spiritual leader that he spent most of his years, while as an administrator, though short, he earned immense respect from his citizens.  As a natural leader he was led by instinct. His passion for arts enabled him to be creative in his administration as well. It is precisely this natural flair for leadership that makes one look at his life as a guideline for Leadership.

Kanakadasa as an Administrator.

Kanakappa, as he was then known became an administrator not by choice but by chance. His devotional compositions like Mohantarangini attracted the attention of King Krishnadevaraya who appointed him the administrator of Bada and Bankapura. He was since then, known as Kanakanayaka. This was a golden period both in his life and the lives of the people of this region. A corruption free administration showed that his dealings were transparent, and is bestowed with an impeccable integrity. He always felt he was accountable not only to the king and his people but even more to his own conscience. Hence would never indulge in any wrongdoings. All his welfare schemes were majestic products of innovation. Bada and Bankapura got one of its greatest administrators in him. A brief outline of what he accomplished for his people illustrates his Leadership as an administrator

“As an Administrator, Kankanayaka had to shoulder great responsibility in planning and executing the welfare activities.” (Naikar, 88) His welfare measures included construction of a barrage across the Dharma river and a canal from it to irrigate the land, He commenced a Car festival and a Fair of Lord Sangameshwara at the confluence of Dharma and Varada Rivers. He constructed a Resthouse (ViharaGriha) at Kaginelli and developed a village around the Resthouse ‘Dasanakoppa’. This enhanced the livelihood of farmers in neighbouring villages, Life in these villages took a very happy turn. He also constructed a Temple for Goddess Shakti at Kunduru. Apart from these people centred administration, he appointed night guards in the village thus eliminating thievery completely in his jurisdiction. “The people enjoyed peace and happiness during his administration.” (Naikar, 89).

These and more show him as one of the ablest administrators India has ever produced.

A few other aspects of his personality reflect his other leadership attributes.

There are several instances that evince his supreme confidence in his thoughts and actions His acceptance of the challenge against a seasoned drummer not only oozed confidence but courage as well. His taking his father’s arch rival, Mallanayaka head on; standing up to the students at his Guru’s ashrama and not giving in to their taunts; his answers to the Guru’s questions and many other instances display his fullest sense of confidence both in his choices of action and the actions themselves. It is this confidence and fearlessness that prompts him to take decisions at will.

A perfectionist, he aims at nothing short of perfection in all his work. Both his administrative skills, learning of martial arts or his musical exuberance reveal his meticulous thinking. He was Open-minded enough to even talk to Mallanayaka’s daughter who was madly in love with him. His decision making and problem solving skills show remarkable judgement. His decision to leave his hometown and move to Kaginelli, his removal of the idol of Swami Adikesava despite Mallanayaka’s threat, his decision to construct a new temple were aimed at social well-being without any strings of personal gains attached to them. As a well- mannered man, he maintained very strong interpersonal relationship with all his people, who prospered very well under his governance

His fearlessness in defending his land against Mallanayaka, his theatrical skills,  his musical and spiritual knowledge  served as an  inspiration to many, though on a few occasions they were stimulants to evoke jealousy in some. Despite being taunted or ignored as the case would be, he exercised remarkable restraint. He would remain calm and be patient. His response would always be in the form of a successful action that would make his attackers bow down their heads in shame. He had never indulged in an angry retaliation. The fact that he visited the Adikesava Temple in disguise to avoid being noticed by Mallanayaka’s men is a classic testimony to his intelligent reactions. The manner in which he bore all his difficulties both physical (when he was attacked by Mallanayaka’s men) and emotional (the loss of his mother and wife) he displayed extreme stoicism. However, this period was short lived as the relentlessly envious Mallanayaka stabbed him again, this time far more heinously than before.

Kanakadasa as a Spiritual Leader

Kanakadasa’s spiritual quest happened in two phases –pre administrator phase and post administrator phase. The pre – phase was more religious, when the focus was on music as a divine art. The post- phase was drenched in the quest for truth where he wandered around the country singing his compositions.

Thimmappa as he was known from birth, came to be known as Kanakappa, the man of gold, after his aimless digging fetched him several pots of Gold. His generosity was displayed in huge measure when he shared the wealth with everyone in the neighbourhood. Mallanayaka’s attack  rested him, though he used the time to engage in his passion – musical compositions on Lord Hari. This is perhaps the finest testimony to his positive attitude and time management.  Two personal lossesthat of his wife first and later his mother eased and hastened his pursuit of the spiritual path. His first attempt at exhibiting his affinity for the divine was in the form of religious compositions. They present the highest levels of devotion and passion for the art and hence reflected authenticity of thoughts and ideas.

His voluminous compositions have indeed immortalised him in the annals of India Spiritual Leaders. Nalacharitre , Haribhaktisara  , Nrisimhastava ,Ramadhanyacharitre, a rare work on class struggle and the most renowned  Mohanatarangini.  Besides, he wrote about two hundred forty Carnatic Music compositions (Kirtane, Ugabhogas, padas and mundiges or philosophical songs. These form a part of essential music training even today. His poetic compositions exuberated with passion and devotion. His compositions endeared him closely to the people. 

The post phase was the result of Mallanayaka’s second attack on him. It should also be noted that some of his greatest compositions happened when he was recuperating from this ruthless attack. Soon after he recovered he decided to give up administration and devote his time on spirituality. It was then that the musician philosopher eventually transformed into a spiritual leader. Under the guidance of the great Guru Vyasaraya Swamiji, he completed his spiritual learning. Many instances during this period prove his spiritual efficacy.  His inability to eat the banana where no one can see him, since could never escape the “Divine Eye” (Naikar,98), his intuitive understanding of the “Saligrama” in his Guru’s hands (Naikar, 99) stand testimony to his spiritual excellence.  One popular instance was when his Guru posed a question “Who among you will go to Vaikuntha” (Naikar,100). Everyone in his class maintained an embarrassed silence. Kanakadasa, when asked, merely replied, “Nanu Hodare Hodenu” (ನಾನುಹೋದರೆಹೋದೇನು). This literally means “I may go if I can go”, highly suggestive of one’s ego.  Conversely, the philosophical meaning – ‘Give up ego to get goingwas lost in the preconceived hatred the other orthodox Brahmin disciples of Swamiji entertained on him. He also demonstrated his spiritual prowess when his promise to show God came true. However, again the spiritual poverty in the disciples was best manifest, when they missed experiencing   divinity first in a “terrible dog with a lolling tongue” (Naikar, 102) and then in a “cobra hissing menacingly” (Naikar,103). They rushed out in fear, little conscious of the fact that God can visit them in any form. On an earlier occasion, while under the tutelage of Swamy Srinivasacharya, young Thimmappa remained unmoved when a snake slithered over him, while the others frenzied in fear. However, the other disciples were unwilling to accept his spiritual superiority simply because he hailed from a lower economic class – something  that Kanakanayaka could never comprehend. His simple words with profound implications, “Gentlemen, please know that my home is the whole cosmos; my master is Lord Narayana Himself and a foolish servant me has no caste at all” (Naikar,96) should suffice to endorse his spiritual brilliance.

His Guru relieved him from his ashrama on his attaining deep spiritual knowledge. From this time on, a total transformation of his image led many to believe he is a little known common man. He travelled far and wide across the land singing intensely on the glory of the Lord, Land and Love for humanity. Known since then, as Kanakadasa, despite his popularity, he was never recognised by the public. In fact on many occasions he was even mistaken to be a beggar and mercilessly ignored. His interaction with two ardent devotees at Tirupathi is a case in point. This reflects the natural simplicity that he always embraced.

His devotion was best recognised when at Udupi, the Lord Sri Krishna turned towards west to give him a special darshan, when he was denied entry. The Swamiji of Udupi profusely apologised and deeply regretted his act. Devotees prostrated at Kanakadasa’s feet and he was instantly glorified as a Great Saint of the Land.


Kanakadasa’s life is perhaps best described as reference manual for leadership. As an administrator, he undertook several welfare schemes and remained focussed on the job on hand. His innovative skills revealed in the many infrastructural developments initiated by his administration. His transparent dealings especially with the treasure pot of Gold that he discovered accidentally reflect the path of righteousness he always chose to tread. He was generous too. His impeccable integrity was both an inspiration to his people and rekindled the wrath of his adversaries. He was stoic in times of difficulty, was open to suggestions by people, especially his mother Bacchamma, paying heed to her command when in need. Highly independent in his thoughts, actions and words, he always listened to his inner voice for guidance.

As a Spiritual leader, his intelligence never made him haughty. He therefore treated even his intellectually less endowed fellow students with respect. His devotion to the almighty was always supreme. He never fought against the system for personal benefits. However he was against many superstitions and asked people to change their ways and beliefs. His spiritual height is best exemplified by the fact that his followers evolved and were not coerced into following him.

The values of leadership portrayed by Kanakadasa’s character are revered even today. Kanakadasa exemplifies a leader who is passionate and at once eloquent, plus a leader of action, and one who is proud and confident in his abilities and experience. All these were brilliantly ensconced in the character of Kanakadasa, when leadership as a skill or behaviour or a trait was not even born. That marks Kanakadasa super special and is precisely what the world in general and this nation in particular needs today. His life is a user manual on Leadership.


Works Cited

Landsberg, Max. The Tools of Leadership: Vision, Inspiration, Momentum. Profile Books Ltd. 2003.

Maxwell, John.C. Brainy Quote.

Naikar, Basavaraj. “Kanakadasa, the Golden Servant”. Rayanna, the Patriot and Other Novellas, Gnosis, 2011. pp 72-119.

Northouse, Peter.G. Leadership Theory and Practice.Sixth Edition. Sage Publications Inc.
Stogdill, R. M. “Personal factors associated with leadership: A survey of the Literature”. Journal of Psychology, 25, 35–71.1948.

Stogdill, R.M.  Handbook of leadership: A survey of the literature, Free Press. 1974.