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About Basavana | Biography & Life History Of Basavanna (ಬಸವಣ್ಣ) | Basaveshwara Biography | Dalit History

About Basavana | Biography & Life History Of  Basavanna (ಬಸವಣ್ಣ) | Basaveshwara Biography | Dalit History

Known for Socio-Religious Reforms, Anubhava Mantapa, Vachana Literature and Lingayat Movement in south India. Basavanna (ಬಸವಣ್ಣ) was Born 1105 CE  Basavana Bagewadi, in Bijapur district, Karnataka, India Died in 1167 CE  Kudalasangama, Karnataka, India

Basavanna (ಬಸವಣ್ಣ) was a 12th-century philosopher, statesman, Kannada poet in the Shiva-focusse Bhakti movement and a social reformer during the reign of the Kalachuri-dynasty king Bijjala I in Karnataka, India.

Basavanna spread social awareness through his poetry, popularly known as Vachanaas. Basavanna rejected gender or social discrimination, superstitions and rituals but introduced Ishtalinga necklace, with an image of the Shiva Liṅga, to every person regardless of his or her birth, to be a constant reminder of one's bhakti (devotion) to Shiva. As the chief minister of his kingdom, he introduced new public institutions such as the Anubhava Mantapa (or, the "hall of spiritual experience"), which welcomed men and women from all socio-economic backgrounds to discuss spiritual and mundane questions of life, in open.

The traditional legends and hagiographic texts state Basava to be the founder of the Lingayats. However, modern scholarship relying on historical evidence such as the Kalachuri inscriptions state that Basava was the poet philosopher who revived, refined and energized an already existing tradition. The Basavarajadevara Ragale (13 out of 25 sections are available) by the Kannada poet Harihara (c.1180) is the earliest available account on the life of the social reformer and is considered important because the author was a near contemporary of his protagonist. A full account of Basava's life and ideas are narrated in a 13th-century sacred Telugu text, the Basava Purana by Palkuriki Somanatha.

Basava literary works include the Vachana Sahitya in Kannada Language. He is also known as Bhaktibhandari (literally, the treasurer of devotion), Basavanna (elder brother Basava) or Basaveswara (Lord Basava).

Early Life Of Basaveshwara

Basava was born in 1105 CE in the town of Basavan bagewadi in north Karnataka, to Madarasa and Madalambike, a Kannada Brahmin family devoted to Hindu deity Shiva. He was named Basava, a Kannada form of the Sanskrit Vrishabha in honor of Nandi bull (carrier of Shiva) and the local Shaivism tradition.

Basava grew up in Kudalasangama (northeast Karnataka), near the banks of rivers Krishna and its tributary Malaprabha. Basava spent twelve years studying in a Hindu temple in the town of Kudalasangama, at Sangameshwara then a Shaivite school of learning, probably of the Lakulisha-Pashupata tradition.

Basava married a cousin from his mother side. His wife Gangambike, was the daughter of the prime minister of Bijjala, the Kalachuri king. He began working as an accountant to the court of the king.When his maternal uncle died, the king invited him to be the chief minister. The king also married Basava's sister named Padmavati.

As chief minister of the kingdom, Basava used the state treasury to initiate social reforms and religious movement focussed on reviving Shaivism, recognizing and empowering ascetics who were called Jangamas. One of the innovative institutions he launched in 12th century, was the Anubhava Mantapa, a public assembly and gathering, which attracted men and women across various walks of life, from distant lands to openly discuss spiritual, economic and social issues of life. He composed poetry in local language, and spread his message to the masses. His teachings and verses such as Káyakavé Kailása (Work is the path to Kailash (bliss, heaven), or Work is Worship) became popular.

Basava Philosophy

Basava grew up in a Brahmin family with a tradition of Shaivism. As a leader, he developed and inspired a new devotional movement named Virashaivas, or "ardent, heroic worshippers of Shiva". This movement shared its roots in the ongoing Tamil Bhakti movement, particularly the Shaiva Nayanars traditions, over the 7th- to 11th-century. However, Basava championed devotional worship that rejected temple worship and rituals led by Brahmins, and replaced it with personalized direct worship of Shiva through practices such as individually worn icons and symbols like a small linga. This approach brought Shiva's presence to everyone and at all times, without gender, class or caste discrimination. Basava's poem, such as Basavanna 703, speak of strong sense of gender equality and community bond, not waging war for any cause, and being a fellow "devotees' bride" at the time of his or her need.

A recurring contrast in his poems and ideas is of Sthavara and Jangama, that is, of "what is static, standing" and "what is moving, seeking" respectively. Temples, ancient books represented the former, while work and discussion represented the latter.

The rich
will make temples for Shiva,
What shall I,
a poor man do?
My legs are pillars,
the body the shrine,
the head a cupola of gold.
Listen, O lord Kudalasangama,
things standing shall fall,
but the moving ever shall stay.
 Basavanna 820, Translated by Ramanujan

Basava emphasized constant personal spiritual development as the path to profound enlightenment. He championed the use of vernacular language, Kannada, in all spiritual discussions so that translation and interpretation by the elite is unnecessary, and everyone can understand the spiritual ideas. Basava approach is akin to the protestant movement, states Ramanuja. His philosophy revolves around treating one's own body and soul as a temple; instead of making a temple, he suggests being the temple. His trinity consisted of guru (teacher), linga (personal symbol of Shiva) and jangama (constantly moving and learning).

Basava established, in 12th-century, Anubhava Mantapa, a hall for gathering and discussion of spiritual ideas by any member of the society from both genders, where ardent devotees of Shiva shared their achievements and spiritual poems in the local language.He questioned rituals, dualism and externalization of god, and stated that the true god is "one with himself, self-born".

How can I feel right
 about a god who eats up lacquer and melts,
  who wilts when he sees fire?
How can I feel right
 about gods you sell in your need,
  and gods you bury for fear of thieves?
The lord Kudalasangama,
self-born, one with himself,
he alone is the true god.
— Basavanna 558, Translated by Ramanujan

While Basava rejected rituals, he encouraged icons and symbols such as the wearing of Istalinga (necklace with personal linga, symbol of Shiva), of Rudraksha seeds or beads on parts of one body, and apply Vibhuti (sacred ash on forehead) as a constant reminder of one's devotion and principles of faith. Another aid to faith, he encouraged was the six-syllable mantra, Shivaya Namah, or the shadhakshara mantra which is Om Namah Shivaya.

Social Reform

Basava advocated that every human being was equal, irrespective of caste, and that all forms of manual labor was equally important. Michael states that it wasn't birth but behavior that determined a true saint and Shaiva bhakta in the view of Basava and Sharanas community. This, writes Michael, was also the position of south Indian Brahmins, that it was "behavior, not birth" that determines the true Brahmin. One difference between the two was that Sharanas welcomed anyone, whatever occupation he or she might have been born in, to convert and be reborn into the larger family of Shiva devotees and then adopt any occupation he or she wanted.

Anti-caste struggle by Basaveshwara

One of the first historical anti-caste movements in Karnataka was initiated by Basaveshwara in 12th century A.D. It is also popularly known as the Veerasaiva movement. According to Kancha Illaih the movement led by Basaveshwara entirely changed the philosophical discourse.

Caste system and untouchability were the two institutions that the Veerashaiva movement tried to dismantle. Patriarchy, caste and the brahmanic religion as an intertwined system of domination and subjugation was examined closely, and methodically dismissed and replaced with a just system. Led by Basavanna, a new social order based on equality between genders and castes, in both words and deeds was being established.

Anubhava Manatapa at Kalyan, played host to the intellectual, spiritual and metaphysical dialectics between diverse people drawn to this radical movement. For a period like that wherein caste system and untouchability were intrinsic Basaveshwara’s movement can be viewed as one of the radical anti-caste movements in the history of Karnataka. The movement not only focussed on caste but also on gender. Basavanna strongly criticised caste system and untouchability. In order to disassociate from his caste he refrained from wearing the sacred thread which is a symbol of caste superiority.

The egalitarian principles propagated by him primarily attracted untouchable communities. Many of them belonged to the backward communities like barbers, Sudras who were particularly kept out from the ritualistic discourse by the Brahmins. Like Buddhism the movement was against Brahminism. The philosophy of Basavanna questioned the authority of the priestly castes.

The Vachanas (poems) composed during this period raised many questions regarding caste, untouchability, Brahminism etc. Unlike Sanskrit that was unfamiliar to large number of people, Vachanas were composed in comprehensible Kannada.

The composition of Vachanas is an epoch in Kannada literature. The Vachanas composed incorporated various aspects of society. Many of the Vachanas strongly condemned caste and untouchability. Through Vacahanas he emphasised the significance the equality and human dignity particularly for those from the downtrodden sections. 

The Vachanas disapproved the insincerity and hypocrisy of the Brahmins. For instance in one of his Vachanas he says that “if I say I am a Brahmin, Lord Kudala Sangamadeva laughs aloud”  Though the movement is mentioned has Veerashaiva movement, it is important to note that Basavanna did not attempt to create a separate caste, instead it was the ‘linga deeksha’ (offering Linga) that was provided to untouchables as a way to include them in the ‘Anubhava Mantapa’ (The hall of spiritual experience.)’ Anubhava Mantapa was a democratic platform created for social discussions and progressive activities.

Basavanna recognised the fundamental problem behind the existence of caste and untouchability. The Anubhava Mantapa was a collective attempt that included notable individuals like Akkamahadevi, Allama Prabhu and saints like Channiah and Kakkaih from the untouchable caste. One of the radical steps taken by Basavanna was that he organised an inter-caste marriage between an untouchable groom and a Brahmin bride. In the history of social reform movement the inter-caste marriage organised by Basavanna remains as a remarkable achievement.

The adversity against the movement was too hostile that it resulted in political chaos in the Kingdom of Kalayan. The movement led by Basavanna remains subsided in the mainstream social reform movement. However, it is one the commendable movement that revolutionized the twelfth century social order. One can equate the Vachana movement to the Bhakti movement in fact consider it as the very first Bhakti movement of Karnataka, due to its association with the spiritual sphere and it contribution to the literature.

However, this particular movement stands different in comparison to the other Bhakti movements. The time period of the movement was such that the very attempt to initiate such a moment was remarkable. The impact of the movement on the society was not alone social but also political. He advocated a political philosophy of representation of the voiceless. At present the followers of Basavanna claim themselves to be Lingayats and form one of the dominant castes in Karnataka. With time, the movement initiated by Basavanna has diverted from its original purpose, the main idea of anti-caste and anti-Brahminism has vanished. Nevertheless it continues to be the foundation of the social reform movements in South India. Basavannas teachings remain as one of the progressive thoughts in the history of reform movements.


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