Basavanna & Vir Shaivism Lingayat Movement

Last Days    

Let us look at Basava and his movement from the point of view of King Bijjala. The king was an ambitious man who had usurped the throne. As a ruler of the country he did not want one of his subordinates to become a leader of the masses. At the same B’s reformists, revolutionary movement with its disdain of the caste system made B’s enemies warn Bijjala on the evil effects of the Virashaiva movement. All this made Bijjala disapprove of Bijala and his revolution. B’s contempt for kings and their riches have found expression in a number of vachanas. Bijjala always tried to be one up on B but ended up becoming a fool himself. This made the followers of B angry; they felt that the king was an impediment in the progress of their religion and movement.

When an untouchable and a Brahman, followers of B decided to marry their children, the king in a fit of rage had their eyes plucked out. This upset the virshaivas no end. Jagadeva and his aides killed Bijjala sometime in 1167 as an act of revenge. B had in the meantime reached Kudalasangama. He was disturbed, wanted piece, knew his end was near. He dies in 1167-68 a.d.

B had left behind a band of dedicated workers and many drew inspiration from the movement. The revolutionary poets of the 13th century Harihara and Raghavanka derived inspiration from B and others. But is unfortunate that Virashaivism became an organized religion like others. It was a social movement but! B had forbidden his followers from going to temples, encouraged women to come forward. These and many teachings were ignored by his successors.

B is perhaps the greatest writers of vachanas in Kannada. The number of vachanas composed by him is about 1400 with more being discovered each year. It was B and his colleagues who for the first time brought lyricism into Kannada literature. B was a keen observer of life and nature. Many images which he employed are fresh and original. He believed in the reality of this world. To him, the world of God was also a reality, perhaps a greater reality.

Though it happened over 800 years ago, his memory is still fresh in the minds of his followers. Most of the palm-leaf manuscripts copied by Virashaiva scribes begin with the phrase Shri basavalingaya namah. The villagers say Basava Basava whenever there is a danger with the hope that it will be averted.

Every day during the month of June, a day is set apart for celebrating the Basava Jayanti festival. Followers clean up their homes, take a purifying bath, wear new clothes, go to Shiva temples and offer worship on that day. Lectures and purana recitations are arranged in memory of B and the movement.

In the course of time it became an organized religion. There were great mystics, scholars who did their best to popularize the religion but none of them could be called a social reformer. There was a poet by the name Sarvajna (1600 AD) who was a true religious revolutionary. But he could not raise a band of organized workers.

The vachana tradition which was so well developed by B and his followers was discontinued by his followers. Prior to B, poets used to chose only mythological themes but after him they chose human themes.

B was a prophet. Like all prophets, he too had some weaknesses. The very fact that his whole life was an attempt and a struggle towards self-perfection shows clearly that he was not a born siddha, a perfect being. The present day Virashaiva may not be the one of his dreams. Still a careful of his teachings shows their relevance today. His message of love, truthfulness, kindness and equality of man, his insistence on kayaka and binding on all the members of society, his socialistic outlook, his love for the poor and depressed can never be ignored as a teaching of the past.

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