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Lingayat Social Revolution



A Brahmin is not born to read the Veda and the Shastra;
A Kshatriya is not meant to kill and be merry,
Trading is not the monopoly of a Vaishya;
Our god Kama Bhima does not consent without
Examining the merits and demerits of a farmer


One of the many reform movements aimed against the supremacy of the Brahmins whose selfish exploitation of the lower classes led to the rise of new sects, essentially anti-Brahmanic in origin, is the Lingayat Movement. It rose in revolt against reactionary Brahmanism which was the dominating feature of Hinduism. The insistence upon the socio-religious cult of Varnashramadharma by Hinduism led to the domination of Brahmins in society which resulted in the exploitation of lower castes and classes. The age-long slavery of the Indian people can be traced to that source. Brahmanism as a socio-economic force exploited not only the untouchables but touchables like the Kshatriyas as well. For Brahmins, in days of yore, were effective powers behind the kingly throne of the Kshathyas. It was usually the Brahmin priest or Brahmin minister who shaped the policy and administration of kings. In fact they were not only administrators but law-makers also. The spiritual verdict of a family Brahmin priest on any political or social matter was willy-filly taken as a divine decree by Kshatriya kings.

The kernel of Hinduism was Brahmanism. Brahmin preceptors were the custodians of divine knowledge. They claimed to be a superior race to others in society. They were supermen keeping the under-dogs in ignorance and illiteracy. Sanskrit was a preserve of the Bramin priesthood. Books on religion, law and administration were written only in Sanskrit, outcastes like peasants workers, and coolies were deliberately exploited not only intellectually but socially and economically also. In ancient India society was religion-ridden. Any problem, social, economic or political, was judged in the light of religious books such as the Vedas, Upanishads and Smritis. But the rabble was deprived of the right of religion and religious books.

What was the status of a mother in Hinduism? She was classed among the untouchables as she was a source of sin. She was on a par with a chattel. She had no right, of religious worship. Since she was without religious rights she had no position in society, not to speak of her economic rights. The upshot of the argument is that the superiority of the priesthood was established over the inferior populace.

In the Hindu religion Vedic rituals and sacrifices were the order of the day. It was so dominated by a plurality of gods. Any object like a stone, or a plant was regarded as a small deity and worshipped. The reactionary Vedic religion was revived after the fall of Buddhism and the rise of Brahmanism. Shankaracharya, a theologian of the time, reestablished the supremacy of the Vedic cult and the Upanishadic religion.

It was against this reactionary religious society of Hinduism that Buddhism, Jainism and Lingayatism rose. Like Buddhism, the Lingayat movement exposed the dangerous tendencies of Hinduism. As against the crude Polytheism of Hinduism it set up a progressive refined monotheism. If the Agamic religion had improved upon the sacrificial religion of the Vedas by substituting image worship in the temples, Lingayatism superseded both by its particular Ishta Linga worship and proclaimed its firm commandment under the polytheistic sky that God is one and should be worshipped in one form alone.

Secondly the Lingayat movement exposed and tabooed the violence of the sacrificial rites of the Vedic religion in which innocent animals were slaughtered. Basava's heart, like Buddha bled for the animals killed in sacrifice and stronly condemned the killing of animals on a religious pretext. As the prophet puts it: a religion is no religion that does not teach non-violence, kindness and compassion. Both animals and men are entitled to live happily on earth. As Prof. Sakhare pertinently remarks:

"The Lingayat religion has entirely discarded the Karmas and Yajnas of the Vedas and Smrits and has repudiated the Vedic Varanashramadharma; it has established the universal brotherhood of man in religion; it is permeated with the doctrine of Ahimsa (non-injury) and with all-embracing kindness. It may be noted by and by that the religion having parted company totally with the Varanashramadharma and the doctrine connected with it, claims to be altogether different from Hinduism, the religion of Varanashramadharma"

The distinction of high and low is the core of the Varanashramadharma. This reactionary social doctrine is responsible for the separation of countless castes and sects. The result has been that the Hindu community is full of warring and jarring elements that refuse unity and solidarity. This has also enabled cunning and selfish sections of the community to trade upon the ignorance of the masses, kept ignorant as a matter of principle.

But the leader of the Lingayat movement, Basava, was up against these social iniquities and the domination of an intellectual aristocracy. Though a minister to the Jain king, Bijj ala, he associated with the common people of all classes and formed a refined society inviting into his fold recruits from all the lower castes. He grouped people from all grades and professions, manual as well as mental and initiated them into the revolutionary fold of Lingayatism. As Prof. Sakhare clearly points out:

"That band of saints had in it men and women of various ranks and professions. The prophet and Leader Basava was the minister of a kingdom; Gundayya was a potter; Appayya was a barber; Haralyya was a shoemaker; Kakkayya was a tanner, Ketayya was a basket- maker; Chaudayya was a ferry-man; Madival was a washerman. There were besides, traders, agriculturists, It thus proved that 'Kayak' (duty), the well planned life, was quite practical and nothing was impossible."

Basava became a radical reformer and a practical revolutionary by diagnosing and combating the evils of Hindu Vedic society. In his religious way he radicalised the stagnant and ignorant society. He affected a number of radical reforms.

"According to Basava's teachings, all are equal by birth; men are not superior to women who should have equal status with men and the fair sex religiously and socially must be treated with all respect and delicacy; marriage in childhood is wrong and the contracting parties are to be allowed a voice in the matter of their union; and windows are to be allowed to remarry. All the iron fetters of social tyranny are, in fact, torn asunder and the Lingayat is to be allowed the freedom of individual action. Even the lowest castes are to be raised to the level of all others by the investiture of Linga and all wearers of the divine symbol are equal socially and religiously in all respects... The Lingayats do not believe in the theory of Karma which forms one of the essential features of Hinduism. They worship the Linga, the visible symbol of the Highest Deity alone worn on the body. The other deities established in temples, according to strict Lingayatism, are not to be worshipped. They believe that they can be liberated from the entanglements of the world in this very life. But the everyday life of a Lingayat must be very pure and clean. They are strict vegetarians. Basava emphasised the dignity of labor and the spirit of service and sacrifice."

The movement laid stress upon family life, which in its opinion was in no way a disqualification for salvation, as opposed to Buddhism and Jainism, otherwise most liberal religions, which closed their doors of salvation against the house-holder unless he abandoned his family and became a member of the Sangha. Most of the Virashaiva saints are living examples of these principles, and even Basava was no exception.

The status of the women in Lingayat society was equal with that of the man. Lingayatism exploded sexual inequality in matters religious, social and others. A host of woman- writers like Sister Mahadevi and Neelambike participated in the deliberations and disputations on religious and social matters at Kalyan, the capital of the Lingayat community. Basava founded a religious parliament called Anubhava Mantap at Kalyan. The saints of the community, male and female, far and near came to Kalyan to hold debates and discussions on problems of life, religion and philosophy. It is recorded that saints, hearing the fame of the religious parliament, came to Kalyan from Kashmir in the extreme north, from Mysore in the south and from Andhra in the northeast. Allama Prabhu was the president of the parliament who conducted the meetings of the conference. The thought- provoking dialogue between Allama Prabhu and the woman saint, sister Mahadevi established beyond contention the equality of the sexes in religion and society. Sister Mahadevi with her ingenious appealing logic convinced Allama Prabhu of the status of women and their just claims in society and in every walk of life.

'This exceptional attitude of parliamentary insitution towards the gentle sex changed the destiny of Indian womanhood, as opposed to Brahmanism and Jainism in which the one denied the right of salvation and the other the right of studying the scriptures except Puranas, to the fair sex. It produced lady saints and savants like sister Mahadevi, Satyakka and Neelalochana, who became the authoresses of many Vachanas and whose writings some times far surpassed those of men saints. Such representative sisters were afterwards called 'The gentle sex saints of Virashaivism and they may be numbered about 60'. So the woman who was regarded as an untouchable and outcaste by Hinduism was given her equal position and rank by Lingayatism. Hence the Lingayat movement revolutionised the orthodox and reactionary Hindu society lifting it from the hell of inequality and class-power to the heaven of equality and democracy. Basava democratised the then existing society by stripping it of its inner contradictions.

"Being excluded from the sixteen sacramental rites the Sudras came to be reduced to the status of serfs to serve the higher three castes. Another most notable thing is that women also even of the first three castes are considered equal to Sudras in status and therefore excluded from the privileges of the rites. They are assigned the duties of domestic affairs and of serving their husbands to attain Mukti. They are thus considered to be merely an object of pleasure and as the means of race propagation only. This also is an equally iniquitous thing. The Varnashrama dharrna based on birth as it has since come to be, has been an iniquitous institution in spite of its champions and defenders. The Lingayat religion has done away it, and ushered in a new chapter of socio-religous life. The abolition of Varnasharama-dharina from the new socio-religious system is to be found in all Lingayat religious books. The status of Lingayats as a highclass community of ATIVARNASHRAMIS (those above the Varnashrama-dharma) is specially discussed in Veerashaiotkarsha Pradeepika and Veera shaivanand Chandrika."

"The abolition of sex and caste distinctions: -The female sex and the members of the lowest strata of society are given full and equal status with the members of the higher classes, socially and religiously. In Vaidika Hinduism. Sudras and females are unfit to perform the rites. Even among the twice- born (Dvijas), there isinquality based on gradation. One born as a Vaishya should remain throughout his life as a Vaishya. In the case of females, the first samskara begins with the marriage ceremony; but the unlucky Sudra has no right whatsoever. He is always kept in his own circle with a strong hand. An attmpt on his part to rise above it even by means of highly praised practices, such as penances etc., is not tolerated by the Brahmins and meets with severe punishment as is clear in the case of Shambhuka, killed by the most virtuous Rama. Everything depends on the right of being born in a particular community in which he is strictly enclosed. Death alone can liberate him from that enclosure. We see the tendency to remove this barrier in the Upanishads and Buddhism, yet it seems that no material progress was achieved in this laudable attempt during those days The Virashaivas firmly believe in the purity of mankind which will never be polluted as long as the Linga is worn on the body. The Linga is believed to be a fire which burns all impurities... Since Virashaivas wear the Linga at all times on their bodies, they believe that they are immune from pollution. Its puritan fervor is duly marked; so is its essentially democratic spirit. Caste and sex differentiations are obliterated and thus spiritual progress is not hindered in the least by accidents of caste or sex.... Religious life is not necessarily to be divorced from the commitments of family and society; to labor and to serve is also an aspect of religious life; and in fact, the business of life and the spiritual Endeavour are harmonised into the pilgrim's progress towards realization. Democratic in spirit, puritanic in fervor, with service for its watch-word and the Satsthala for its sign-posts, Veerashaivism firmly blends together man's spiritual and social lives and thus teaches the art of right living."

Finally no less popular an Indian philosopher than Sir S. Radhakrishnan brings out the outstanding feature of the Lingayat movement:

"Though Manikkavasagar did not develop a defiant attitude towards the caste rules the later Shaivas, Pattanathu Pillai, Kapilar and the Telagu poet Vemana are critical of the caste restrictions. Tirumalar held that there was only one caste, even as there was only one God. The reform movement of Basava (middle of the twelfth century) is marked by its revolt against the supremacy of the Brahmin, though Basava himself was a Brahmin. This sect does not accept the hypothesis of rebirth"

The secret of the Lingayat movement lies in the fact that theology and sociology proceed pan passue; in fact both are interwined. The Lingayat sociology is shaped in the monotheistic mould. Social development was possible through religion. The religious development resulted in social progress. Religion was a lever of progress in those days. The removal of age-long untouchablity was brought about through the abolition of the temple-idol worship which was vitiated by the Brahmin priest craft. Instead of allowing the untouchables to enter the Brahmin-controlled temples, as Gandhiji does now, Basava abolished the temple institutions; because those institutions had become reactionary religiously, socially and economically. That is the significance of the Lingayat social revolution. Basava ranks first among Indian social reformers in having achieved social revolution through religion:

Those who are well versed in the Veda, Shastra, Purana, Againa etc-are not great.
A rope- dancer is a master of sixty four lores.
Is he then inferior? This is not the right criterion.
It is quite different. All these are bread earning lores;
Therefore he is great who has realized virtue, knowledge, religion, conduct and purity,
My dear Lord Uralinga-peddi Vishweshwara.

- Uralingapeddi

Source: CHAPTER-IX from the book THE LINGAYAT MOVEMENT (A Social Revolution in Karnataka): By: S. M. Hunsal, B.A. (B. com); B.T., With forward by Dr. C. Ramlinga Reddy, Kt. Hon. D. Lit., M.L.C, Vice-Chancellor, Andhra University. 1947

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