Basavanna & Vir Shaivism Lingayat Movement

Rebel and Reformer     

B’s revolutionary thoughts had their deep roots in the accumulated discontentment in the social and religious conditions. It was welcomed by the poor but opposed by followers of established religion. The popular conception of religion as a set of rigid and classified rituals exclusively for the privileged was exploded by B. Its essence consisted in living a life of goodness and sincerity. He made external religious symbols occupy a second place. He said that good life was the sure way to reach God.

It was not only the poor that adopted Virashaivism but a large number adopted it out of conviction. It included the tribals also. B said that liquor, meat, hemp and friendship with a bhavi were to be given up. Now Pashupati Shaivism was competing with Virshaivism for attracting people into its fold. However hard B tried to do away with the evils of the caste system, some upper caste followers of the new religion continued to look down upon the lower caste ones.

B denounced meaningless rituals and taught simple, sensible practices conducive to a clean and good life. Temples were the strongholds of Pashupati Shaivism. All the activities of the village centered on the temple, monks lived in them or the mathas attached to them. B stated that no Virashaiva should build a temple nor should he enter a temple and worship God there. God in the form of ishta-linga was one one’s own body and he resided in one’s heart in His true form. The temple is sthavara, immovable and hence suggests stagnation and death. The body, which is jangama, the moving temple suggests life and growth. Make your body the temple of God.

B said that Virshaivas need not consult astrologers to fix auspicious days for performing various ceremonies, the day they remembered God was auspicious. B had immense love for the Harijans. One day he entered the house of a harijan and dined with him. The conservative group complained to king Bijjala who summoned B. The story goes that B performed a miracle and proved that it was the Brahmins that were corrupt at heart not the Harijan.

Another concept that was preached was Kayaka. It means every individual should take up the job of his choice, perform it with all sincerity and not be a burden on society. We should realize God through the work we do. Persons must share a part of his earnings with the jangamas and the poor. It also implied that no occupation was inferior or superior to another.

B asked his followers not to be enamoured by wealth, love the poor and serve them. He had contempt for rich people and their vanity. B was convinced that rich people amassed their wealth through unfair means. Money according to B was the root cause of all evil. B prayed to God to bless him with wealth so that he could go on distributing them among the poor. He was a socialist in outlook.

B made the emancipation of women one of the mottoes of his movement. A colleague of his said that women was not maya, she was God herself. Another said that neither gold nor earth nor woman was maya; maya was nothing but a person’s desire to posses and enjoy things. Women were encouraged to work, take up spiritual practices and encouraged to express themselves through song and poetry. As a result, we find amongst the mystic saints of the century, atleast thirty-two women composed vachanas. A proper atmosphere was created for women to realize their potential and participate in social activities.

Another remarkable thing about the movement was the freedom of speech enjoyed by its followers. When devotees gathered at B’s house for singing devotional songs they became seminars where problems relating to religion and the movement were discussed. Everyone took part freely in the discussions. This was a revolution. It made people aware of their rights. Surely when this happened the authority of the Brahmans was questioned. B was accused of instigating people. His life was in danger but he carried on undeterred aware that he had the blessings of Lord Siva and the correctness of his deeds.

In the history of Karnataka it was indeed the first revolution of its kind.

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