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Human Equality in Guru Basava's Vachana


-Shivshanker Cheral

Equality Path for all Living Creatures

Basava was the greatest of the great people of the 12th century and provided a very good path to equality for the human race. Basava never thought of himself or his family members; he thought of all human beings. He struggled for equality between males and females and between different castes. Basava was born into the Brahmin family, which was well dominant in the 12th century, and there was no need to worry about the wealth, as his father, Madrasa, was the chief of the village of Bagewadi. But Basava left the home; he sacrificed everything for the purpose of equality. At the tender age of 7, he left his home for gender equality..

Basava has one elder sister, Akkanagamma; he is offering his sister all the food, milk, or money he can before using himself. As per Brahmin custom, all boys (male members only) at the age of 8 and 10 have to undergo "Upnayana" Samskar. Now, as per the custom, Basava has to undergo "Upnayana' Samskar. Basava asked his father that his elder sister Akkanagamma has to undergo "Upnayan" samskar first, and then he will undergo the same process as he is offering anything to his elder sister first. Then my father said it's against our custom that we cannot provide the Upnayan Samskar for female members. The entire family and society were not ready to give equality to female members, and they refused to do so against the Orthodox rule. Basava refused to receive the Upnayan Samskar, which is only for male members, and left the home to build a society of equality between males and females.

In the 12th century, if anyone encounters a stranger, the first question asked is: Who is he? What is your caste, what is your gotra, etc.? If he does not belong to their caste or gotra, then people are keeping him away. Not only that, based on the caste, there is no entrance to the home, public places, grocery shops, temples, palaces, etc., and even into the cities. (Shudras are living outside of the city.) In such days, Basava said:

ಇವನಾರವ, ಇವನಾರವ, ಇವನಾರವ ನೆಂದೆನಿಸದಿರಯ್ಯಾ,
ಇವ ನಮ್ಮವ, ಇವ ನಮ್ಮವ, ಇವ ನಮ್ಮವ ನೆಂದೆನಿಸಯ್ಯಾ
ಕೂಡಲ ಸಂಗಮದೇವ ನಿಮ್ಮ ಮಹಾ ಮನೆಯ ಮಗನೆಂದೆನಿಸಯ್ಯಾ.

Do not say “who is he”, “who is he”, and “who is he”?
Say that he is ours, he is ours, and he is ours,
Say that he is the son of Thy own house, O Kudalasangamadeva.

Do not say, Who is he? Who is he? We need to treat all human beings as sons and daughters of God's home (world) (Mahamane); we need to welcome them just like our brothers and sisters since we are all children of God.

Basava started with equality from there and continued throughout his life. He preached and practiced equality. He hugged all the downtrodden people, like cobblers, potters, goldsmiths, waivers, farmers, harlots, etc., who are from different castes. When people are told that these people are of inferior class and we should not touch them, Basava says:

ಕೊಲ್ಲುವವನೆ ಮಾದಿಗ ಹೊಲಸು ತಿಂಬುವವನೆ ಹೊಲೆಯ,
ಕುಲವೇನು ಆವಂದರ ಕುಲವೇ,
ಸಕಲ ಜೀವಾತ್ಮರಿಗೆ ಲೇಸು ಬಯಸುವ ನಮ್ಮ ಕೂಡಲ ಸಂಗನ ಶರಣರೆ ಕುಲಜರು.

One who kills is a pariah (Madiga)
One who eats filth is indeed an inferior person (Holeya)
What has birth got to do with superior class or inferior class? (By birth all are equal)
Our lord Kudalasangamadeva’s Sharana’s indeed belong to the superior class as they wish for the welfare of all living beings.

Our Sharana's are well-wishers of all living beings. Sharanas are the real superior class. We should classify people by their practices, not by birth. One who is killing living beings needs to be classified as a pariah. People who are eating filth need to be classified as inferior. The Brahmin Pandits argued that in the Vedas and Agamas, we have all the classifications of castes; we need to follow these as per our sastras and Agamas. Then Basava says the following:

I shall sheathe the Vedas, fetter the Sastras,
Put Tarka in tongs, deface the Agamas.
Look father, most generous Kudalasangamadeva,
I am a son of Madara Chennayy’s family.

He completely disagrees with the caste system, which is written in the Vedas, Sastras, and Agamas. These all cannot be used for practical lives, which separate people based on birth.

We all need to learn a lot of lessons from Basava's Vachana literature; still, we are at separation based on caste system. We need to rethink these caste systems, which create a lot of problems in society. We all need to follow the Basava theory of equality, treat all people equally, and also give respect to each and every living being.

Father is our Maadaara Chennayya,
elder uncle is our DOahara Kakkayya,
uncle is Chikkayya,
elder brother is our Kinnari Bommayya.
Why do you not know me as such Koodalasangayya? -14 [1]

Whatever be his clan,
one who has Shiva linga is born pious.
Would one bother about the caste of the sharanas
after the castes are mingled?
As it is said that
shivadharniakule jaataha punarjanrnavivarjitaha
Urna niataa pitaa rudra eshwarain kulameva cha.
I will take what they cook,
I will offer daughter in marriage to them,
I will trust your sharanas. -54 [1] Holding on to caste you search for pollution,
holding light you search for darkness.
Why, oh foolish man, speak of higher caste?
What use if there are millions of Brahmins?
Devotee is the crown jewel, said the Vachana.
Don’t be undone.
Have faith in the parusha feet of sharanas of
Koodalasangamadeva. -205 [1]

Let him be a son of slave maid,
or a son of a whore,
after Shiva-initiation he should be considered Shiva,
should be respected and worshipped,
one should partake his paadodaka and prasaada.
That is the right way.
If one is indifferent to him
into a hell reserved for five deadly sins will
Koodalasangamadeva hurtle you. -224 [1]

[1] Number indicates at the end of each Vachana is from the book "Vachana", pub: Basava Samiti Bangalore 2012.

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