Basavanna & Vir Shaivism Lingayat Movement

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Comments from Ravi    

Comments from Ravi, a Lingayat on the current thoughts and life of the Lingayat community. Since he is from Karnataka, I thought it would be useful for him to share with us his views.
1. Devegowda belongs to Gowda or Okkaliga (Farmers) community the second largest one in the state. Basically the northern Karnataka (and I think quite a few districts of southern Maharashtra) is dominated by number and politics by Lingayats and the southern Karnataka is dominated by number and politics by Okkaligas.  Whereas Okkaligas are still scheduled under backward class for the reservations, Lingayats along with Brahmins are only in the General class.
2. B D Jatti, the VP and acting President during the emergency days, Nijalingappa, the President of Congress during its first break-away, Veerendra Patil who fought Indira Gandhi in Chikmaglur election, Pandiths Kumar Gandharva and Mallikarjun Mansoor are some of the Lingayat figures of national prominence.

As regards your request about the lives lead by Lingayats today, the following are a result of my experience and observations:

1. Excepting those ‘modernized’ families, they are still pure vegetarians and most of them abstain from drinking. Once a Lingayat, they are treated equally.  The women still enjoy the liberty of worshipping; education, etc. just like men, even in villages.
2. The doors of conversion are wide open and it is a regular practice to convert to Lingayat when there is a cross marriage.  Conversion can take place without marriage also and the new converts are also treated equally.  The earlier untouchable becomes touchable and even marriable if other criteria are satisfying.
3. Once in a while there is hue and cry about Lingayatism to be made a separate religion (like the Sikh did) but it is too late now and feeble and the majority of them do not even wink their eyes to such calls.  I mean to say that Lingayatism today is just a caste tag more than a living style different to that of other Hindus, which Basavanna wanted it to be.  They build temples (identity crisis?), they visit other’s temples, and they even visit non-Shaivite temples.
4. Although Basavanna established it as a self-sustained, full-fledged constitutional religion, the Lingayat did not transform much into a monolithic society even, leave alone a religion.  It is very heterogeneous.  More homogeneous in culture, custom, food habits, dress code, language etc., by regional factor than caste factor.  It is, in short, a main stream segment.
5. Yet, you cannot say that Basavanna just created another caste, because of the continuing effects and spreads such as said in (2) above.  What the Christian missionaries started doing in the past century for whatsoever reasons; Basavanna’s Lingayatism did 800 years ago with genuine aim of equality and upliftment.  The result is today the largest segment of the state population regarded as a forward community! 
6. As far as I know, Basava’s movement has been the single most significant and long lasting social and/or religious revolution ever to have taken place in the southern half of India. The north having experienced many such up heave against the main stream Hinduism giving birth to Buddhism, Jainsim, Sikhism, etc.  Bijapur truly being the epicenter of the revolution, there are original both Marathi and Kannada speaking Lingayats in many southern districts of Maharastra, many Telugu speaking Veerashaivas in border Andhra and some segments in Kerala and Tamil Nadu also.
7. The Dravidian movement of Tamil Nadu could bring into some minds as some sort of social revolution and draw vague lines with the Veerashaiva movement.  But this last century’s movement was purely out of Brahmin hatred and got limited to the state level and language politics.
8. Last month I read on Kannada web news that Basavanna’s statue is being made by a sculpture in Mumbai for installation in the parliament house.
9. The Basava Samitis or Veerashaiva Samajas in Australia, NewYork and other places outside are very active.   But Lingayats are by nature aloof and not that aggressive to have their own strong identity to make their presence felt.
10. Vachanas are famous but not popular as household books in the Veerashaiva homes.  It is discussed only in literary circles and Vachanas are created even today in the same simple and amusing styles that Basava and his contemporaries had adopted.
11. Girish Karnad’s recent play ‘Tale Danda’ (Death Penalty) in Kannada is about the Basava and Bijjala relationship and happenings during the revolution.  The series of religious movement, power politics, inter-cast marriages, bloody coup, have all been portrayed with perfect blend of stimulating and yet humorous dialogues!  All of Karnad’s plays like Tugalaq, Hayavadana, Naagamandala are available in Hindi, Marathi and English. But I doubt about Tale Danda.