The Vira Saiva Religion
N. C. SARGANT
CHRISTIN IUSTITUTB FOR
TRE SMTUD OF RELIGION AND SOCIETY
19, iMtRLn O, ~Aa. UWALOR
Introduction .. ....
The History and Geography of the Movement ..
The Religion, Customs and Id.at of the
Movement .. .. .... 5
The Literature and Life of the Movemeut .. 15
Matters for Further Enqviry .... 24
The Vira-Saiva Religion
The word LlUgayat comes from an equivalent of lin1ga-
vanta, a Kannada word meaning 'one who wears the linga'.
The term Lingayat does not properly mean a caste, but
a classless society combining several castes. Lingayat
is a popular designation in English, but in Kannada the
Lingayats call themselves 'Sivabhakta, Sivacharya or Vira-
Saiva. Vir.Saiva may be translated 'a staunch Saivite'
a comparable use of the word 'staunch' being found in a
phrase like 'a staunch Anglican' used in connection with
a person who does not wish to associate himself with any
other form of Christianity than that represented by the
Church of England. Vira literally means a hero or cham-
pion, and is here used to express the idea of warrior zeal
in the cause of Siva and Siva only.
The Vfra-Saivas or Lingayats are more numerous than
any community in the new or enlarged State of Mysore.
Mysore Backward Classes Committee Final Report (1961)
estimated their population in 1959 as 3.,93,ooo or 1.57%
of the total. The General Elections of 1957 and 1962 show-
ed them to be politically the most powerful. They were
included in the list of Backward Classes in 1961. But the
controversy concerning this died down in ig96 when the
Supreme Court of India overruled the State Government's-
Order which gave (what The Hindu called) a lion's share
of the available seats in the professional colleges to the
castes or communities on this list. The Lingayat commune.
Ity took a leading part in the agitation for the political
unification and for the educational and cultural uplift of
the scattered parts of Karnataka. It has given to the State
the present Chief Minister, Mr. S. Nijalingappa, and several
members of his Cabinet; it may have exerted an important
Influence on the religion and culture of the people whose
mother tongue is Kannada. Lingayats are also found
among the people of Maharashtra, Andhra, Madras and
Kerala. Indeed only few of the many original monastic found
dations (called a matha) are found in the Mysore State.
These include Balehonnur (Cbickmagalur District) and
Ujjini (Chitradurga District). Some more establishments
are at Kedarnath (Himachala Pradesh), where the mahant
is a Mysorean, at Varanasi (Benares) and at Srisaila
(Andhra Pradesh) where two well known Vira-Saiva saints,
Allama Prabhu and Mahadeviyakks, spent their last days.
The Vir-Saiva movement Is like a. river which, at the be-
ginning had to run counter to and break through a line
of hills. Sometimes its course was violent, sometimes out
of sight. It now runs In a broader and smoother channel,
itself seeking and well deserving the public view. The
birthday of its founder, Basava (jeth cent. A.D.) is cele-
brated each year in May and has become the occasion to
make his teaching more widely known.
THE ItIToaY AND GEOGRAPHY OF THE MOVEMENT
The Vira-Saiva movement took a definite shape at
Kalyana c. A.D. i 6o. The present Kalyana is in the Bidar
District of the Mysore State, previously part of Hyderabad.
SIt is in fact only ll6 miles from Hyderabad City, about
three miles from the National Highway to Sholapur and
Bombay. It has recently been named Basava Kalyana, to
Utitlngutsh it from the Kalyan near Bombay, and is most
easily approached from Gulbarga, about 55 miles further
Kalyana became the capital of the Western Chalukyas
circa A.D. 105g, after Taila II regained control of the
Kannada districts and established a new dynasty (A.D.
973-997) .. The rediscovery of the Saiva faith and the influ-
ence of the Pasupata, Lakulisa and Kalamukha all
Saivite sects reached a critical point in the reign of Vikra-
maditya VI (A.D. 1076-11il7), when a boy was born to a
Saivite Brahmin family at Bagevadi (Bijapura District)
circa A.D. 11o6. His name was Basava. At the age of eight,
when he was to be invested with the sacred thread, he
refused, saying that he was a worshipper oi Siva and Siva
only, and the thread ceremony involved him in the wor-
ship of surya or the sun and other traditional customs.
This youthful piety and firmness of purpose was accepted
by his parents. It may be regarded as evidence of the
activities of another Saivite sect which taught this extreme
form of the Siva cult. While others might have prepared the
ground for such a movement, Basava took it to the king's
palace. His uncle* was the Chief Minister at Kalyana at a
time when the throne of Taila III (A.D. 115o-63) was
being usurped by one of his generals or provincial gover-
nors named Byjala. Basava succeeded his uncle, Baladeva,
circa A.D. 4162 and became Bijjala's Chief Minister, hop-
ing that his high position would enable him to propagate
his faith in Siva. This important event led to the emer-
gence of Vira-Saivism as a separate faith slowly absorbing
all other Saivite sects in the northern part of Karnataka.
Up to the twelfth century South India had been the
centre of a long struggle between the Buddhists, Jainas
*And liatr his father-in-law.
and Hindus. In the eighth century Sankata dealt a mortal
blow to Buddhism. But his form of Saivism was later chal-
lenged by the Jainas, who were themselves subdued in the
southern part of Karnataka by the Valehnava reformer,
Ramanuja, who arrived in the adjoining Hoysala Kingdom
circa A.D. 1113. In the northern part of Karnataka, Basava
made popular the renewed Saiva faith, not only by his
high position in the palace, but by a series of miracles
such as the feeding of the multitude, healing the sick and
restoring the dead to life. He appointed laymen and
priests as his special disciples. But in the end Basava
left Kalyatia with his own plans to inaugurate a new. reli-
gion. He met his death at the sangama of the Krishna
and Malaprabha rivers. Basava's nephew, Channabasava,
escaped to Ulavi (North Kanara District) where be too
lost his life, Allama Prabhu and Mlahadevlyakka had retired
to Srisaila (Kurnool District) and increased the fame of the
Mallikarjuna Temple there. I i i
The movement suffered a set-back after the loss of its
leaders. Destruction and chaos overtook Kalyana, for alr
though the Chalukyas were restored circa A.D. 1180, they
disappeared as a ruling dynasty circa 120o. The successive
Hindu States were not strong enough to resist the repeated
invasions of Muharmmadan armies. The Bahmani Kings
made Gulbarga, then Bidar, their capitals between A.D.
1347-1526. The palaces and temples of Kalyana were
either destroyed or incorporated In the fortress, mosques
and tombs of the later nawabs or local governors. Although
a united and militant Hinduism stood firm at Vijayanagar
on the river Tungabhadra (A.D. 300oo-1565), it was never
able to reconquer and retain the birth-land of the Vira-
Saiva movement. The fertile country between the Tunga-
bhadra, the KrMshna and the Bhima rivers became the
battle-ground between theHindu andMuhammadan armies
and constantly changed hands. Kalyana came under the
Adil Shahl Jiags of Bijapura. It was captured by Aurang-
zeb in A.D. 1656 and, after his death, became a part of the
Nizanm's Dominions or Hyderabad.
In fact the Vira-.Sva religion's impact on the massive
establishment of igb Vijayanagar Empire was halted when
the Empire broke after the Battle of Talikota (A.D.
1565). But the religion gained power in the successor
states. The Odeya family, the ruling chiefs of Mysore, were
Lingayats until the eighteenth century. Vira-Saivism ,ws
the state religion of the Keladi or Ikkeri chiefs, of whom
Sivappa Nayak of Bedaur (A.D. 1645-60) was the most
renowned. A number of paleyagar chiefs and the rulers of
Coorg were also Lingayats. All such independent kingdoms
were gradually extinguished and the territories incorporat-
ed into the growing empire of Hyder Ali and his son Tipu
Sultan, until n A.D. 1799 Tipu was challenged and hAnlly
overthrown. But the settlement, which followed the fall of
Srirangapatna, divided and made separate some parts of
Karnataka, especially those parts where the Lingayats were
numerous. For many years they took the lead in labouring
to secure educational, cultural and political benefits for the
Kannada-speaking people in the old Bombay, Hyderabad
and Madras States (where the Kannada people were
linguistic minorities). Finally the unification of Karnataka
(through the enlarged Mysore State) in 1956 gave to the
Lingayat community an opportunity to enjoy the rewards
of its long struggle.
THE RF.GIO= CUSTOMS AND IDEAS OF THE MOVEMENT
The 'Siva and Siva only' attitude of the movement
marked a departure from traditional Hinduism and makes
'"1 ** '/
VlraSaivism more akin to Judaism, Christianity or Islam.
Lingayats must not worship any other goa than Siva, and
the means of worship must be the jangama, guru or ishta
linga which he wears iu a silver box or tied around his
neck in a scarf. He need not visit the place where a linga
is installed (sthavara linga). Indeed temples do not form
a necessary par in the organisation of this faith.
Basava received a mandate from Siva to establish the
true religion. This he did by sending out the fangama
preachers, who established monasteries called matha,
Every math is affiliated to one of the five original monas-
teries and has a guru. The guru is held in great reverence.
When he visits the home, a ceremony, the washing oS his
feet, is performed. The water used for this purpose is called
padodaka. The guru may pour it in small quantities over
his linga and sip it, the disciple doing likewise. The food
offered to the guru is handed back to the disciple, thus
making it holy. This Is called prasada which originally
meant graciousness or favour.
When a child is born, the father sends for his guru and
the eightfold ceremony, which makes the child a Lingayat,
is performed. When the child reaches the age of eight or
ten, the ceremony may be repeated with slight modifica-
tigns. These ceremonies have been compared to the rites of
Baptism and Confirmation. Just as all Christians are not
confirmed, all ingayab do not undergo the full or double
ceremony of initiation. The most important of the eight
ceremonies, the binding on of the linga, makes one a Linga-
yat but does not in actual practice confer an equality of
standing, either social or religious.
The Ungayats contain representatives of many castes
converted to this religion. Some claim descent iEQ ie
of five Acharyas, who were Ekoramaradhya, Pandita-
radbya, Revanaradhya, Marularadhya and Vitvaradhya,
and are regarded as the mythical founders of the five monas-
teries. Those who claim descent from the Panchchahryos,
do not approve of all thatjasava did, and honour the classic
scriptures, observing traditional ceremonies and caste cus-
toms.Another group retains the attributes of thesudracastes
from which they were converted. Thoseof the third group are
converts from the lower castes but are not regarded as much
better than the caste from which they came. Basava intend-
ed to do away with all caste distinctions, but ancient prejo.
dices proved too strong. We are reminded that in a similar
way the Christian Community tends to divide itself into an
aristocracy of the original converts, a middle class perhaps
the famine orphans and the mass movement converts.
Nevertheless Basava proclaimed that all men and wo-
men are equal. To complete the departure from Vedic
rules, the dead are buried, but in a padmasana posture
facing north with the linga in the palm of the band. At the
burial place, which is in the form of a cave, a jangamr calls
out that the deceased person has gone to kailess. A remarka-
ble funeral hymn is sung at the funeral, which contains the
cardinal points of Vira-Saiva philosophy: that the soul
comes from Siva and returns to him after death. While this
is being done, flowers and leaves are thrown over the
body to be buried. The mourners also raise a cry of ughe as
an expression of Joy. The technical word for grave in Vira.
Saivism is samadhi (deep meditation), and for death,
lingaikya (union with the linga).
The performance of sraddha is unknown and the idea of
reincarnation entirely rejected. Salvation is gained by union
with the linga, or gaining oneness with Siva through the
worship of linga. The Lingayats do not perform any yajna.
The burden of reform was directed against the Vedce and
sacerdotal traditions. But it k quite wrong to say that
Basava and his disciples were imbued with an antagonistic
spirit against Brahmins or Jainas. Basava's aim was not to
oppose or propose any religious or philosophical system; but
to show people the existing social and religious evils and,
if possible, to remove these evils from society.
Basava constituted at Kalyana the Anubhava Mantapa
which means 'the hall of religious experience. He gathered
there men and women who desired religious experience.
In a short time its fame spread all over India. A king and
his queen arrived from Kashmir; men of curious names aid
humble occupations came from the surrounding country-
side. An open hal with pillars, in Basava's palace at Kal-
yana, was set aside for this cbtrch of religious experience
where every member considered the others greater than him-
self. Nor were only the theoretical and practical sides of
ViraSaWvism discussed. A throne or staircase of six steps
was erected to illustrate the various stages of the spiritual
life. This shatsthala philosophy, or' the six halting places
of the soul, weakened the roots of and destroyed the belief
in tzansmigration and reincarnation. 'Vira.Saivism lays
more stress on the spiritual and ethical than on thbi philo-
sophical aspect of religion. It believes that proper obser-
vation of prescribed duties purifies the soul and elevates it
step by step during the course of which the soul, gaining
knowledge, is automatically freed from maya or avidya, on
the complete removal of which it becomes united to Siva'
(S. C. Nandimatb, A Handbook of Virajaivism, p 93),
In the Anubhagva Afantapa each stage or step was re.
presented by a person recognized by the assembly to have
attained eminence in that particular one of the six stages
of the spiritual life, which were bhakta, mahesvara, pravada,
pranalingi, osarana and aiky7a. 'Before reaching the first stage,
called bhakta sthala, the stage of a devotee or layman, God
is viewed as personal... The conception of the personality
of God vanishes when the individual soul mounts the first
step ... At this stage an attempt is first made by the
individual to realize the Supreme Reality... and continues
in succeeding stages... The distinctness apparent in the
first step, goes on decreasing as the individual soul rises
higher and higher and completely vanishes in the fifth step,
which is called the sarana sthala, the stage where the indi-
vidual soul is completely surrendered to God,.. The con-
firmation of its oneness with God gains ground slowly, and
reaches its climax Ln the fifth step. In the sixth step, called
the aikya sthala, there is complete union and identification
of the individual soul with Siva' (S. C. Niandimath, ibid,
Prabhu Deva, otherwise known as Allama Prabhu, was
elected to occupy the aiky4 sthala, the last stage of spirit-
ual experience. The mystic level from which he spoke
was called the sunya simhasana and the nature of the de.
bates, over which he presided, is described in Chamarasa's
Prabhu-linga-lile and the Sunya Sampadane, now being
translated into English by Kawnada scholars at DIhar-
war. Kannada scholarship and research owe a great debt
to Chanrappa D. Uttarngi, a Basel Miss'on pastor, who
established the hlstoricity of the Anubhava Mantapa at
Kalyan. While Uttangi never wrote anything to suggest
that Lingayatism was influenced by Christianity, he point-
ed out that the message of the Sunya Sampadane was some-
what akin to St. Paul's spiritual experience, described in
the familiar words: .'It is no longer I that live, but Christ
liveth in me.'
The eight coverings (ashtavarana) which separate the
Vira-Saiva from other people are guru, Unga, jangama,
padodaka, prasada, mantra, vibhuti and rudraksha. He
worships guru, linga and jangama; he partakes of padoda-
ka and prasada; and through mantra, vibhuti and rudrak-
sha he gains inner purity. These 'eight aids to faith' en-
able him to climb the six steps of his spiritual life. When
Siva for man's salvation became man, the name guru was
given to him. Through lingadikshh the guru makes his
disciples a new creation. Because the guru is understood
to be Siva in human form, Lingayats give to him the wor-
ship due to Siva. The guru is the embodiment of all wis-
dom, and his functions are three-fold: he is the diksiha guru
or initiator, the siksha guru or the trainer, and the moksha
guru or the one who leads his disciples to the final goal.
Because Siva is without form, the linga has been bestowed
to be worshipped. Meditation on it bringIforth its divine
qualities. Its worship is an aid to perform one's duties.
The linga is believed to be a fire which burns up all im-
purities. This is the meaning of the teaching which the
guru gives to his disciples when he bestows the linga;'Wear
this on your body carefully without parting from it even
for a moment and attend to it steadfastly. Worship this
thrice regularly every day. Do not eat anything without
offering it to this linga, your life's essence in reality' (S. C.
Nandimath, ibid, pp. 72-7).
The jangama is tre active partner In proclaiming, by
his deeds, the philosophy of the ling4. He goes from place
to place and is without home. While the guru is the parish
priest of the Lingayat, the iangama is the visiting preacher.
Although guru, jangama and linga are three, they are all
equal and objects of th- same reverence. The padodaka,
the water in which the guru's feet are washed, and the
pranada, the food of which be partakes, indicate in a prac-
tical way the complete absence of any distinction between
the guru and his disciple. The mantra, the five syllable
formula (namas Sivaya), purifies the soul, the vibhtti
(sacred ashes) rubbed on the body portrays the pure mind
of Siva, and the rudraksha, an angular berry serving dht
purpose of beads for counting prayers, represents Siva's eyes,
therefore Siva's gaze, and is believed to remove all sin. A
vachana of Basava runs:
Ohl what is the good of it -
if the holy dust on me
keeps me unholy within? -
If the beads I am bedecked with
leave my heart untouched? -
And if my hundred repetitions
neither melt nor reach
the heart of Kudala Sangama?*
The five rules of conduct (panchachara) are'lingach4ra,
sadachara, sivaehara, ganachara and brutyachara. Linga
chara means that after lingadiksh4 no god other than Siva
The God Siva at coniuece of Krishna and B ma rivers.
should be worshipped. Nothing should be done only for
personal benefit, and even one's daily duties should dis.
play the fruits of a mind devoted to Siva. Sadachara means
not only one's own personal good conduct, but the good
conduct of family and community. Sivachara means to de.
vote one's body and soul to the service of guru, linga and
jangama. To offer wealth, strength and good-will to others,
regardless of caste, is sivachara, which therefore means lov.
ing others as oneself and world brotherhood. Ganachara
means loyalty to caste and not allowing S'va to be spoken
ill of. To protect Siva's honour makes the Lingayat to be
a Vira-Saiva or Siva's warrior. Brutyaahara means the cor-
rect relationship of the servant to his master. Although
the Siva sarana (devotee of Siva) may be a great or impor-
tant person, he must behave like one of the least and rid
himself of all self-importance.
The word means, in its original sense, a sign, or a mark
of gender in grammar. It may be a survival of the Buddhist
and Jaina stupa. Just as the stupa represents the Buddha
in meditation, the linga represents God Siva. It may
be a survival of the sacrificial pillar, altar and fire which
had been condemned by Buddha and Mahavira, or some
other cultic survival from the pre-axial period in the history
of the development of religion on the earth. Scholars call
the period of the great teachers and reformers the ax'al
period which lasted in different parts of the world from
B.C. 800-5oo. Whatever may have been its origin, the linga
has no phallic significance, and is the supreme object of
devotion to the Lingayat. Its loss may mean the loss of
life. The linga must always, be carried on the person, like
the most- eful weapon of a soldier, to defend its wearCI
against the assaults of the six deadly sins. The linga stands
to the Itterior life of the Lngayat in the same place as the
cross stands For the Christian. S. C. Nandimath explains
how the idea of the linga is enveloped in mysticism and
sum~ up as follows: 'The linga is (1) the symbol of the
Paza Bra BPahm the Supreme Lord, (2) the mass of light
or the column of blazing fire, (3) the cosmic principle
wh'r; is the source of the Universe and (4) the visible
symbol of the invisible chaitanya (consciousness, intellt-
gence) existing internally in beings' ibidd p. 125). Quota.
tions from the Vira-Saiva saints in S. C. Nandimath ibidd
pp. 117-a2 ), reveal the ecstasy of their devotion as well
as the firmness of their intellectual comprehension. There
is a correspouding linga. for each of the six steps ]eadiun
to reality. The pilgrim requires guidance and enlighten-
,ment at each of these six stages, which is therefore, provided
with. a linga fn the-following way: the three-fold division
of body, mind and spirit is multiplied by the two-fold us-
pect of sukshma (immaterial) and sthula materiall) to
make six Isngas.
The Conception of God
The Vfra-Saiva is a staunch believer in the existence of
the supreme power above all, which is identified with
Siva, the one without a second, and strongly opposes
polytheism. The Siva of the purana is not the Siva of Vira.
Saivism or the Saiva Siddhanta. Siva is described by the
Siva sarana sometimes as a beautiful and attractive young
man; sometimes as a benevolent and indulgent father
whose kindness knows no bounds. S. C. Nandimath says:
'God has neither form nor no-form, but:has bothkorm and
no-form; he has in reality formless form which is indescrtb-
able, invisible, unimaginable, etc. It re spoken of as the
glorious essence of lustre n all lustres. He is not of this
world, nor of the other world. In his investigations the
Vira-Saiva saint slowly enters into the mystery of the uni-
verse. He attributes that mystery to the Supreme God,
thus expressing the belief In the existence of the Supreme
Being who placed the earth on the ocean without its
being melted, and who fixed the sky without support. Here
Vira-Saivism exactly coincides with the Salva Siddhanta,
ibidd pp. 103-4). Like Saiva Siddhanta, Vira-Saivism
believes 'that all things are not God, although God per-
vades all. In the final stage the Vira-Saiva goes further
and views all objects as God. This final stage is to be
apprehended, not comprehended and described. The Vira-
Saiva saint addresses the Supreme God without a name as
he realizes that no name is appropriate to the Supreme,
only bayalu-void or space where there Is nothing. The
void of Vira-Saivism corresponds to the neti, neti (not
that, not that) of the Upanishads and the Nirguna Brah-
ma of Sankaracharya.
The Philosophical Position
The chapters hi S. C. Nandinmath ibidd pp. 91-181),
on The Philosophleal Background, Sakti or Maya, Appear-
ance and Reality, The Universe and the Soul, The Pil-
grim's Progress and the Quintessence of Vira-Saivism are
packed with well arranged information which support his
Democratic in spirit, puritans infervaor, with service for its
watchword and the shatsthala for its sigaposta, Vira-Saivisny
firmly blends together man's spiritual and social lives and thus
teaches all the art of right living,
The shatsthala philosophy, already described, makes it pos-
sible to classify the system of the Vira-Saiva movement as
vi4eshadvaita, that's monism with its own speciality*; ra-
ther than advaita, the pure monism of the other Saivite
sects, or visishtadvaita, the qualified monism of Vaishna-
vism. Although its ultimate goal is the merging of the soul
with the Supreme, it begins with a belief in the distinct-
ness of the soul from God; it is therefore a synthesis of
Valshnavism and Saivism.
THE LITERATURE AND LIFE OF TE MOVEMENT
During the sixty years from the death of Basava (A.D.
1168-ixs8) Vima Ssivism spread all over Karnataka and
its adjoining districts. The linga was installed in many a
Jaina basti. Basava himself was deified as the reincarnation
of Siva's servant Nandi and called Basavesvara. But the
Basava Vira-Saiyism was fortified by a new theology and
armed by a dynamic literature. The Vita-Satva vachana
sahitya has a peculiar charm. It is composed in simple
language, easily understood even by the ignorant and
illiterate. Although not strictly poetry, it is strongly rhyth-
mic in character. Some of the vachana literature contains
the rhythm of the three-line composition called tripadi.
Its origin has been sought in the Tamil Saivite hymns of
praise, called tevaram, and in certain Sanskrit poetic forms.
But no significant connect-ons have been found. The
authors may have had reason to enrich their own literature
by borrowing from other languages. But it is best to
look for the source in Kannada itself. It was created for
the purpose of religious propaganda; to communicate to
~oSvyq S~impadane calls it Sivadvaita.
ordinary persons, in their own language and in their
own poetic style, difficult matters in which they were deep-
ly interested. The Sanakrit scriptures n longer conveyed
the word of God, so the language of the people became
itself the word of God. Althouh this revolution is regard-
ed as the work of Basava, Allama Prabhut and others, they
all acknowledged their indebtedness to and praised a poet
named Devara Dasimayya who flourished circa A.D. 1040,
or 120 years before their time. Dastzayya's poems have all
the authentic qualities of a vaehana, including the rhythm,
although this is at first hard to detect. It appears that
Dasimayya was trying to retain the three-line composition.
Examples of the tripad? from inscriptions of the 8th-Lith
centuries are given by M. Clidananda Murthy in a Kanna.
da article, The Origin of the Vachana Sahitya (Prabuddha
Karnataka, Mysore, 1901, ii, p. 83). These old Kannada
inscriptiob prove the antiquity and popularity of the
The Origin of the Vathana Sahitya
Basava's own compositions are a free development of
the older models. We find great variety of style both in
rhyme and rhythm; examples will be given later. In the
compositions of Allama Prabhu and Mahadeviyakka we
find many qualities of the original Dasimayya vachana.
Dasimayya did not himself use the word vachana but used
an old Kannada word sulnudi, meaning 'talk by turn' or
artful speech. It has, therefore, been suggested that the
vachana literature arose from the religious conferences and
debates which took place on the practical and theoretical
problems of Vira-Saivism. The vachanakara or author
adapted the popular and easily learned three-line verse
form known as tripadi as the instrument of communica.
tion. These were broadcast by the jangama or travelling
evangelist. The jangama, in course of time, settled down
and established a matha which then became the source of
publication and distribution. Thiz is M. Chidanalda Mur-
thy's suggestion: that the vachana sahitya developed from
the tripadi as a means of putting religious utterances
into mass circulation. The word vachana means exactly this:
a speech, declaration or message.
It is important to notice the change which took place
in Kannada literature. Before Basava, Kannada literature
was ornate and elaborate, full of Sanskrit words mixed
with a minimum number of Kannada words. After
Basava it was mostly Kannada with a few Sanskrit words.
Basava was able to communicate the most subtle thoughts
and delicate matters in pure and simple Kannada. Telugu
religious poetry was affected in the same way by the Vira-
Saiva )movement. The biographies of Basava and Allama
Prabhu by Palkuriki Soma (circa A.D. 1195) are regarded
as the first original work in Telugu not modelled on Sans-
krit. Basava also gave to Kannada the quality of weighing
and adjusting heavy matters in a few words. This is seen
even in the translations (of C. S. Bagi contained in Selected
Sayings of Badava, Belgaum, 1952) which I have used
in connection with a Kannada article by B. C. Javali,
Basava's Attitude to Equality (Prabuddha Karnataaa,
,Mysore, 1961, 'v. p. 71). This article throws much light
on the Vira-Saiva ethic at its source.
Basava's Attitude to Equality
Basava, in order to root out bribery, privilege and inequ-
*The numbers given against the translations so here used refer to
nuabenr given in this book.
allty, took office as Chief Minister and treasurer to the king
at Kalyana. Basava tried to break down the prejudice that,
with a few exceptions, all work was worldly.
Who sweats in a smithy is a smith, who washes
Clothes a washerman, who weaves a weaver, who
Reads and hears the Vedic lore a Brahumn.
If womb determines caste, then why not ear?
'Your occupation itself is heaven', said Basava. Whatever
his birth, a man must do his duty and work out his destiny.
In doing this he must not lose courage and iear that it is
better to die than to be poor. Basava often wrote about
such temptations and conflicts:
The soldier that runs away
but discredit the commanding officer.
Urge me to the battle front for victory
0 Lord Kudala Sangama
Urge me to fight and win,
and devise it thus that I reck not,
for body, mind and all that belongs thereto.
Basava taught various ways to remove inequality. The
vaohana writers considered it a sin to take from others
anything in the form of money or rations unless it was the
wages for their labour; hence they condemned begging and
living on charity, the jangama having his duty and privile-
ges. The removal of inequality will develop the spirit of ser-
vice (brutyachara) and the spirit of service wil free one from
the lust for power and money. 'It is better to be a maid-
servant in the house of a devotee (bhakta) than a queen
in the palace', wrote Basava, and:
Lower than me is none
and higher than all
are the devotees of Kudala Sangama.
Be It my proudest privilege
and Thy grace only can grant it,
O Kudala Sangama
that I cherish the feet
of Thy faithful votaries.
Basava also advocated co-operation. Although the crow
or hen will call other crows or hens to share its food, human
beings have not yet learned to share one with another.
So the devotees of Sive must learn to share their food
and wealth. Meat and Intoxicating drink are condemned.
Simple living and purity help to remove poverty, encourage
moderation and help in family planning. Among the ex-
travagances Baaava condemned was the building of costly
The rich build temples unto Siva.
But poor mel What can I do?
My legs are pillars, my body a temple
And my head its golden pinnacle.
Money may be spent better on the jangama, the God who
moves before your eyes. The jangama is not only a person
but a divine principle; he is Siva come in human form
to preach. He has to eat as well. That is why the jatngama
must be worshipped and fed. Basava was not In favour of
pilgrimages either. He said, 'The fellowship of the saints is
a pilgrimage', and Mahadeviyakka said, 'The earth on
which the saints tread is holy and the city where they dwell
Basava believed that money must be converted into
goods which should not be hoarded but shared with others.
Another means to put money into circulation was the king's
treasury. Basave did not agree that th:s was the king's
private property. He used to give it to those who asked,
maintaining that honest persons had a right to their share
in it. When Basava was accused of misappropriating money,
he is reported to have said to Bijjala:
I did not do it, Sir I
I did not give It, Sir 1
I did not ask it, Sir I
O God, it was all your mercy,
You did it for your own, 0 Kudala Sangama.
This teaching embodies a divine principle because 'Stva is
the Lord of your wealth', and because others belong to
Siva as well, .you can give freely to them and say to Siva:
'Thou hast thine own'. Basava believed that work was wor-
ship and that people should work and earn for others to
receive and enjoy, His teaching on thrift and frugality,
his ideals of equality based on Siva.bhakti, place him
among the great religious preachers and social reformers
pf the world. One is reminded by Basava and his followers
of John Calvin, the Quakers, or the Methodfits of whom
John Wesley was reported to have said: 'If those who gain
all they can, and save all they can, will likewise give all
they can, then the more they gain, the more they will grow
in grace, and the more treasures they will lay up in heaven'.
But they also laid up treasures on earth and became the
small, and later the great, capitalists and finally the pillars
of private enterprise. Is this also true of the Lingayats?
There is a similarity of pattern. The religious .movement
has led to the founding of a faith which has become the
churchh' of the middle class in Karnataka.
The greatest writer of tripadi 'was the sixteenth century
poet who called himself Sarvajna Murthi. Sarvajna gave a
certain polish and splendour to this style. He made the
charcoal spare like a diamond and put the tripadi of the
Common people into the mouths of present-day pandits and
politicians (and provided illustrations for the Christian
preacherl. While Basava and other leaders of the Vira-
Saiva movement criticized caste and other matters in a
veiled manner, Sarvajna boldly said;
We walk n 'the same earth,
We drink the same water and burn the same Afe,
Whence comes this distinction between the caste and
In the low-caste man's house, is the light less bright?
Don't say high caste and low caste.
The man who pleases God alone has castel
It is not easy to do justice to the tripadi by translation. In
the first line there are twenty measures, in the second,
egbhteen and in the thrd, thirteen only. That i ,to say, a
long vowel, or a vowel before'a double consonant, counts as
two measures; other vowels as one measures only. As in
Other Dravldian poetry there is a head.rhyme or assonance,
and prasa falls on the consonant between the first and
second vowel of each line. In the second half of the first line
there is a repetition of th i.
nadevudondg bhimij Judivudonde niruj
suduvagniyowde irutiralu kulag6tra\
naduv 4ttanadu7 sarvainall
jdtihinara moneyal jy6tjta htnavf?
jati, vijStlyenabeda divanoli
datane j4tal sarvajnall*
These are transliterations of the two Kannada verses trans-
lated above. Sarvajua always added his name as a signature
to each verse. The poetic devices of bead-rhyme, internal
rhyme, assonance or alliteration are noticed in the old folk
ballads of other languages such as Old Saxon, Old High
German, Old Norse, Old English, Middle English, Old
Welsh, etc. The fashion of alliterative verse was not main-
tained in the later development of these Western languages.
There is a section of the vachana sahitya which looks
forward to the future, and sometimes concludes with the
prophecy concerning the ideal king, Vira Vasittha or
Basavanta, who will appear in the last days when Kalyana
w!ll be restored to more than its former glory. Examples of
such prophecy may be found in the writings attributed to
Sasava and his nephew, Channabasava. In the complete
edition (g960) of Sarvajna by Channappa Uttangi there
are prophecies concerning the return of Basava and Chan-
nabasava and references to Hampi and Anegundi (Vijaya-
nagara), to the fall of Srirangapatna; to the 'English' with
their red coats, maokey faces and topi; to the railways, tele-
graph and carts without bullocks. This suggests that the
*The author regets that it bas not been possible to us correct
transliteration with diacritic marks throughout this book.
prophetic veses were later compositions, Influenced by
contemporary events. This type of literature had a great
influence upon the early Christian converts in Karnataka.
In 1839 the trst missionaries of the Basel Mission came to
Hubli. These missionaries were approached by the leader
of a kalajnan4 (prophetic) sect. He had a book in which
there were prophecies about a great lord who would come
from the West abolsh idol worship and introduce the
worship of one God. His messengers would also come from
the West and distribute books. The fall of Srirangapatna
in A.D. 1799 was the sign for all this to happen. In A.D.
1851 twelve persons were baptized at Guledgud (Bijapura
Dt.) on account of prophecies obtained from a matha at
Kodekal (GulbLrga Dt.). A visiting inspector of the Basel
Mission came to Guledgud shortly after the baptism and
wrote in German a long account of the origin of these pro.
phetic writings and a synopsis of their contents (Basel Mis-
sion Mogarin 1854, p. 172) .
Channappa Uttangi also wrote in Kannada about the
effect of these prophetic writings: 'About eighty years ago
six hundred Lingayats, who had heard of the Vira-Saiva
kalajnana prophecies, found a likeness in many things
between the hero, Vira Vasantha, who was spoken about in
these scriptures, and Christ. Like the Wise Men from the
East, they came to the missionaries, ready to enquire about
this and to take Christian baptism' (Bodhaka Bodhini,
August, ig$t). The London Missionary Society Report
(1894) tells of new converts at Bellary, mostly Lingayats;
'And are intensely interested in the study of a book wh;ch
professes to be a copy of an inscription, said to have existed
long ago on a stone which was supposed to have dropped
from heaven and around which a temple or monastery was
built at Kodekal'. The origin of the prophetic writings
at Kodelal, given by the L.M.S, missionary, not only
agrees with that given by Mission Inspector Josenhans of
the Basel Mission, but with the local tradition of the Kode-
kal matha itself. The prophetic book kept there is exposed
only once a year. The matha was established in the
reign of the Vijayanagara king, Krishna Deva Raya (A.D.
1509-1530). The founder of the matha at Kodekal also came
from Hampi and was regarded as a reincarnation of BasaLa,
The two temples attached to the matha resemble, and may
have once been, mosques. All this suggests that the prophe-
tic tradition, handed down at Kodekal, originated from the
time, and the place, when the Vijayanagarm kingdom was
engaged in its final struggle with the Muhammadan
confederacy. The prophetic tradition at Kodekal also ori
ginated from the time when the Portuguese were becoming
established at Goa and were sending missionaries and tra-
ders to both the Vijiyanagara kings and the Bijapura sul-
tans. This may explain how the kalijnana vachanagalu may
contain, In addition to Vira-Salva tradition, ideas from con-
temporary events, from Muhammadanism and even from
Christianity. One of the verses from Kodekal, most influen-
tial with those who embraced Christianity, is a tripadi
which may be translated:
A great one will come from the West, born of a
He will bring down the men that are high
And make smooth the things that divide.
MATTrES FOR FURTHER ENQUILY
S. C. Nandimath passimm) gives suggestions concerning
the influence of Jainism and Buddhism and the connec-
tions with the Tamil Saiva Siddhata. M. Chidananda
,Murthy .(ibid4 p 8): sys:tiat there is: an open feld for
research concerning the connectik between Tamil Saivite
Hymns of Praise and the vachana literature, for somebody
who knows both Tamil and Kannada. Channappa Uttangi
ends his book on the Anubhava Mantapa with a compare.
hensive syllabus to guide scholars who may wish to make
a thorough study of the Vira-Saiva religion and its philo-
sophy. There is another matter for further enquiry, which
at present can only be in the form of a question, although
it has been asked for a long time. Could the Vira-Sailv
religion have been influenced in its early stages by
Christiaunty? As long ago as AD. 1840, C. P. Brown, (Mad-
ras Journal of Literature and Science) *suggested the idea
that Basava was supposed to have come within the influence
of the Syrian Christians. E Thurston reports this and also
quotes the wrong identification (by another writer) of
Kalyana, the Chalukya capital of Basava's time, with Kal-
yan the ancient port (and present railway junction) near
Bombay (Caste and Tribes of Southern In.dia, Madras,
1909, vol iv, p. g54). The Kalyan near Bombay was most
probably the place mentioned by the sixth century writer,
Cosmos Indicopleustes, as the seat of a Persian bishop. At
that time Persia was the place from which The Church of
the East sent out its missionaries to Turkestan, China and
The Christians who belonged to The Church of the
East in IJdia are now called the St. Thomas Christ'ans.
Those in China are known as the Nestorian Christians. The
St. Thomas Christians were then well established in Kerala
and were found in other parts of India. The Chalukya kings
exchanged ambassadors with Persia. If Basava, his con-
temporaries or his forerunners in the Vira.Saiva movement,
*Fssay on the Creed, Customs and Literature of the Jangams, Vol.
XI, pp, 14-176.
'kew anything about Christianity, it must have been the
Christianity of the St. Thomas Christians in India or the
Nestorian Christians in other parts of Asia. Great disturb-
ance to the St. Thomas Christians in India was caused by
the arrival o -the Portuguese in A.D. 1498. It is not yet pos-
sible to describe with exactitude the nature of the Ohris-
tianity practised by them in India at t.uy special place or
period before A.D. 1498. Much more is known about the
Nestorian Christians in China. John Foster gives an ac-
count of the Nestorian Christians in China during the
period A.D. 550-1000 and a translation of the famous Nes-
torian Tablet erected at Sian-Fu in A.D. 781 from which
much of this information is derived (The Church of the
Tang Dynasty, 1939). There Is a picture of the Nestorian
Tablet in The Atlas of the Early Christian World, 1958,
p. 182. John Foster gives examples of how Christianity per.
manently influenced Buddhism in China and how a Chris.
tan scholar, co-operated with an Indian Buddhist monk
called Prajna in translating his sutras into Chinese ibidd
pp. 104-6 and i o-*)). Other articleA by John Foster give
reports of the recent recovery of Christian grave stones
circa A.D. 13oo from a city wall in China. John Foster
illustrates one of these articles with pictures of crosses
flanked by angels, or supported on a lotus and or a cloud,
or covered with a canopy in Indian Buddhist style (The
Illustrated London News, May 14, 19g ). These recent dis-
coveries may provide some guidance for Aurther research
and enquiry needed to answer the questions could the
Vira-Saiva religion have been influenced by Christianity
In its early stages?
Finally, Christianity in Karnataka'has drawn upon the
storehouse of Vira-Saiva literature and devotion. Thbi
debt should be more clearly defined ahd acknowledged.
A parcel of old papers containing a bulky file inscribed
'Lingayatism' came into my hands one day. After going
through It I asked Dr. P. D. Devanandan whether
I could not send it to the Christian Institute for the Study
of Religion and Society in Bangalore. He replied that I
should use it myself to write a pamphlet for the C.I.S.R.S.
This request would not have been taken very seriously by
me had I not recently heard the Ven'ble Archdeacon S. A.
Mara of Hubli give some talks on. this subject. Further
interest was aroused by some investigations into the origins
of the Christian Community in the Mysore State or Karna-
taka, groups oE converts having been led to Christiau
ity, at difrent times and places, by the contents of some
Lingayat prophet books called in Kannada Kdlajnana
Vaohanaaalu (plural of vachana meaning a speech, declare
tion or message).
SDr. J. N. Farquhar, the author of Modern Religiow
Movements in inpdia, 1914, wrote to the Rev. James
Mathers of the City Y.M.C.A. in Bangalore, asking him to
write a book on Lsngayatism for the Indian Religious Life
Series. This was in A.D. 1914, but by the beginning of
A.D. 1918 the task had been passed on to the Rev, W. E.
ToXinscon of Gubb. Dr. Farquharwrote toTomlinson from
Bijapura. Tarqubathad gone there to collect material for
his new book, Outlines of the Religious Literature of India,
i9~o. and sent to Tomlinson a list of the main questions
concerning Lingayatsm to be investigated, and later the
typescript of the WBbiography and the sections on Saivite
Literature in the book he was writing. Farquhar also sup-
plied Tomlinson with a copy of R. E. Enthoven's article in
the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. vii, p. 71,
extracts from E. P. Rice's Kanarese Literature, and intro-
duced him to the pioneer work then being done on the
vachana sahitya by P. G. Halkattl. Tomlinson himself cor-
responded with B. R. (aribasappa Sastry and P. Mahade.
vaiya, authorities on Iangayatism in the Mysore State, and
obtained from them a list of books. This large file of papers
collected by Tomlinson, testifes to his desire to set about
the work. But after Tomlinson's death in A.D. 1944 the
file had to wait many more years for some one to take it up.
its contents have provided a foundation for my own studies,
together with Thurston's article In Caste and Tribes of
Southern India asod Myore Gazetter, vol. i (i9e7), pp. P2.
331, vol. i9, part it (193o), pp. 764499.
The Rev. K. V. Shantharaju of Holenarasipr introduc-
ed me.to some old copies of Bodhaka Bodhini which con.
tainted the lectures inKannada given byChannappaUttangi
at the Union Kanarese Seminary, Tumkur, in 1926 and
1935. Ohe of these lectures mentioned a thesis on Vira-
Saivism submitted for a London Ph.D. by S. C. Nandimath
of the Lingraj College, Belgaum, since included in 4 Hand-
book of Virasaivism (Dharwar, 194i). This has been very
useful to me.
Sri S. R. Guajal, Librarian of the Karnatak College,
Dharwar, presented me with a copy of Cbannappa 17ttan.
gi's Anubhava Mantapa The Heart .of the Lingayat Reli.
gion (Dharwar, 1962) and introduced me to the scholarly
works in Kannada of S. S. Basavanal, S. M. Hunashal and
M. R. Shrinivasamurthy, which I ought to have studied but
was not able to. I am very grateful to B. C. Javali Le.c
turex in Xannada, Karnatak College, Dharwar; and M.
Chidananda Muithy, Lecturer in Kannada, Mysore Univer-
sity, for their articles in Prabuddha Karnatahk and other
help given. I also wish to thank Archdeacon Mara of Hub-
li; Mr. M. M. lhomas and Dr. Herbert Jai Singh, the late
Dr. P. D. Devanandan's colleagues at the Christian Ins.
titute for the Study of Religion and Society, for informa-
tion and suggestions.
Printed at the C.LS. Press, Bangalore-1
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