Lingayatism or Veerashaivism is a Hindu religious sect in India but a Dharma. The adherents of this faith are known as "Lingayats" or "Veerashaivas". The term is derived from "Lingavantha" in Kannada. This became more prominent after a reform movement attributed to Basavanna and others in the 12th century CE.

History and origin

The history of the Lingayat faith goes back to Basavanna (1134 - 1196 CE). It is said that Basavanna, though born a "Brahmin", rebelled against the rigid practices of the caste system then prevalent, and eventually began expounding his own philosophy with a casteless society at its core. Soon, his philosophy began attracting large numbers of people into the fold. Saints like Allama Prabhu, Akka Mahadevi, Channabasavanna also played pivotal roles in founding and spearheading the sect.

Basavanna lived and taught in the northern part of what is now Karnataka State. This movement found its roots during the brief rule of the southern Kalachuri dynasty in those parts of the state. Traditionally, Basavanna is believed to be an incarnation of Nandi, Shiva's greatest devotee.

Another school of thought maintains that Basavanna only brought about a renaissance in an already existing sect. They attribute the founding of the sect to the mythological "Panchacharyas" (Five Teachers). The "Panchacharyas" consisted of Sri Revanaradhya or Revanasiddha, Marularadhya or Marulasidhdha, Ekoramaradhaya or Ekorama, Panditaradhya and Vishwaradhya. This theory however, is not historically attested and Basavanna is widely held as having founded this sect.

;Sources of Lingayat historyTo reconstruct the historical context, origin and development of the Lingayat faith, one will need to draw upon several sources. The various sources that are involved here include folk literature, inscriptions, historical facts, post-Basava developments, the Vachanas, reminiscences, Ragale literature, the lingayat and Jaina puranas and the doctrinal and philosophical works like the "Shoonya Sampadane". Following a holistic and comparative study of all these sources, it is possible to reconstruct the origin and development of the Lingayat faith across time and space. Of all the sources, particularly important is the epigraphical evidence. The Arjunavada inscription in particular establishes the historicity of Basava beyond dispute. The "Vachana" literature, especially the "vachanas" composed by Basava himself are of vital importance in this studya. Harihara's "Ragale" is yet another invaluable source.

Lingayat theosophy

Lingayats believe in a monotheistic world where Shiva the supreme god and self are one and the same. This form of monotheism is called "Shakti Vishishtadvaita". Unlike other Hindus, Lingayats don't place importance on the Vedas but rather focus more on the Hindu Agamas, specifically, the Shaivite Agamas. Some Lingayats view the Vedas to be polytheistic in nature while the Agamas are held as being strictly monotheistic and devotional in nature. Veera Shaivism's means of attainment depend on the concepts of "Panchāchāra" (five codes of conduct), "Ashtāvarana" (eight shields) and "Shatsthala" which are central to Lingayat theosophy.

The "Shatsthala" refers to the different levels of attainment that the devotee can achieve to protect the body as the abode of the Lord.

;PanchacharasThe "Panchacharas" describe the five modes of conduct to be followed by the believer. The "Panchacharas" include -
* Lingāchāra - daily worship of the personal Sivalinga
* Sadāchāra - attention to vocation and duty
* Sivāchāra - acknowledging Shiva as the one God and equality among members
* Bhrityāchāra - humility towards all creatures
* Ganāchāra - defense of the community and its tenets

;AshtavaranaThe "Ashtavaranas" shield the devotee from extraneous distraction and worldly attachments. The "Ashtavaranas" include -
Guru, Linga, Jangama (wandering monk), Pādodaka (water from bathing the Linga or guru's feet), Prasāda (sacred offering), Vibhuti (holy ash created using cow dung), Rudrāksha (holy beads) and Mantra (Namah Sivaya).

;Shatsthala"Shatsthala" or the concept of six phases/states/paths is pivotal to the Lingayat philosophy. "Shatsthala" is a conflation of "Shat" and "Sthala" which means 'six phases/states/levels' through which a soul advances in its ultimate quest of realisation of the Supreme. The Shatsthala comprises the "Bhakta Sthala", "Maheshwara Sthala", "Prasadi Sthala", "Pranalingi Sthala", "Sharana Sthala" and the "Aikya Sthala". The "Aikya Sthala" is the culmination where the soul leaves the physical body and merges with the Supreme.

While the origins of the "Shatsthala" may be traced to the "Agamas" particularly the "Parameshwaratantra", with the evolution of Veerashaivism, the evolution of concept of Shatsthala was also unavoidable. While Basavanna understood Shatsthala as a process with various stages to be attained in succession, the credit of refuting this and redefining "Shatsthala" goes to Channabasavanna, Basavanna's nephew. Channabasavanna differed radically from his uncle and held that a soul can reach its salvation in any stage.

;Concept of GodLingayats believe in a monotheistic world where Shiva is the supreme God and the self and Shiva are one and the same. This form of monotheism is called "Shakti Vishishtadvaita". The concept of God in Veerashaivism is very interesting and its synthesis is even more fascinating. The Istalinga worn by the Veerashaivas on their body is technically a miniature of the "Sthavaralinga" worshipped in the temples. The Sthavaralinga is also known as "Shivalinga" and it is considered to be an amorphous representation of Shiva.

;Concept of ShoonyaTrue union and identity of Siva (Linga) and soul (anga) is life's goal, described as shoonya, or nothingness, which is not an empty void . One merges with Siva by shatsthala, a progressive six-stage path of devotion and surrender: bhakti (devotion), mahesha (selfless service), prasada (earnestly seeking Siva's grace), pranalinga (experience of all as Siva), sharana (egoless refuge in Siva), and aikya (oneness with Siva). Each phase brings the seeker closer, until soul and God are fused in a final state of perpetual Siva consciousness, as rivers merging in the ocean.

;Anubhava MantapaThe "Anubhava Mantapa" was an academy of mystics, saints and philosophers of the Veerashaiva faith in 12th century Kalyana. It was the fountainhead of all religious and philosophical thought pertaining to the Veerashaivas. It was presided over by the mystic Allama Prabhu and numerous Sharanas from all over Karnataka and other parts of India were participants. This institution was also the fountainhead of the Vachana literature which was used as the vector to propagate Veerashaiva religious and philosophical thought. Other giants of Veerashaiva theosophy like Akka Mahadevi, Channabasavanna and Basavanna himself were participants in the Anubhava Mantapa. The Anubhava Mantapa was originally called the "Shivanubhavamantapa".

;Saguna and NirgunaSaguna is one who has Guna or characteristic manifestations.This way leads to Saguna Upasane.This is accomplished by engaging our senses like eyes to watch Abhisheka ,ears to hear Sthotra and Mantra,and tongue to chant etc .This means that involving our characteristics for worship.

Nirguna means one who has gone past all attributes. When a person follows the Ashtavarana for the body and Shatsthala for the mind (these gradually converts a person from Saguna to Nirguna) will lead self to rise and reach nirguna state. This way leads to Nirguna Upasane.

* Siddhanta Shikhamani
* Vachanas
* Mantra Gopya
* Shoonya Sampadane
* Shaivite Agamas
* Karana Hasuge

Lingayat customs and practices

;IshtalingaThe Lingayats make it a point to wear the "Ishtalinga" at all times. The Istalinga is made up of light gray slate stone coated with fine durable thick black paste of cow dung ashes mixed with some suitable oil to withstand wear and tear. Sometime it is made up of ashes mixed with clarified butter. The coating is called "Kanti" (covering). Though the "Ishtalinga" is sometimes likened to be a miniature or an image of the "Sthavaralinga", it is not so. The "Ishtalinga" on the contrary is considered to be Lord Shiva himself and its worship is described as "Ahangrahopasana".

Thus, for the Lingayats it is an amorphous representation of God. Lingayat thus means the wearer of this Linga as "Ishta Linga". Here the word "Ishta" is a Sanskrit term meaning 'adored' or 'desired'. Unlike Advaitins however, Lingayats do not treat the Ishtalinga as merely a representation of God to aid in realising God but worship the Ishtalinga itself as God. Similar to most brahmins, Lingayats do not partake non-vegetarian food.

;"Lingadharane"Lingadharane is the ceremony of initiation among Lingayats. Though, it can be performed at any age, it is usually performed when a child is 3-8 days old. The child receives Istalinga from the family Guru that is worshipped until age 8 -11 years. Usually between the ages of 8 and 11 years, the child receives "Diksha" from the Guru. From then on, the child wears the Linga at all times for the remainder of his/her life and it is worshipped as their own "Istalinga". The "Linga" is housed in a small silver and wooden box and cloth. It is worn on the chest or around the body using a thread.Unlike other castes of Hinduism like brahmins permitting upanayana to only males this ceremony or deeksha can be taken by both men and women in presence of a satguru.This practice was started by revolutionary Basavanna himself who refused to undergo upanayana seeing the discrimination of women.

;"Kaayakave Kailaasa"Kaayaka means the exertion of the Kaaya (body) for the liberation of the soul imprisoned therein. Kailaasa means abode of Shiva -heavenly.
*"Kaayakave Kailaasa" literally means, Kaayaka or the body which exerts itself for nishkaama Karma-Karma without any expectation is nothing but Kailaasa-the abode of Shiva - heavenly.A vachana complementary to this which talks about keeping the Kaaya or body purely goes as
*"yenna kaale kamba dehave degula shirave honna kaLashavayya sthaavarakkaLivuntu jangamakkaLivilla" - meaning, 'My legs are the pillars, my body the temple, and my head the golden spire. That which is immobile is transient. That which is mobile is not.'

As one theory goes Indian subcontinent can be divided as North and South divided by the Vindhya mountain ranges. While the North is blessed with the Himalayan rivers flowing all through the year and boasts of Ganga -called as sacred river. The South has river Kaveri which originates at Talakaveri dries up in summer. Hence the North is referred as Punya Bhoomi residents of which believe in taking a dip in Ganga with Bhakthi will wash off all your sins. But South is referred as Karma Bhoomi who believe in their Karma which will decide the fate. The Kaayaka Tatva of Basavanna also bases itself into Karma Siddhantha -Philosophy of Karma.

;"Daasoha"Among the many injunctions prescribed for the devout Lingayat, "Dasoha" is a very important one. Basava created this as a protest against the feudalistic ideologies present at that time. He shunned the sharp hierarchial divisions that existed and sought to remove all distinctions between the hierarchially superior master class and the subordinate, servile class. Even though he himself served as a minister under the king, Bijjala, he pointed out that he worked only as a "daasohi" or one who serves. "Dasoha" to him meant working hard for one's livelihood and for the maintenance of society. In Basava's view, a "dasohi" should consider himself, but a servant of society. Therefore, "Dasoha" in principle assumed that what belongs to God must return to Him and what came from society should be given back by way of selfless service. Basava exhorted all wearers of "Ishta linga" to practice "dasoha" without reservation.

A famous vachana says
*"Soham yennade Daasoham yendenisayya" - which means be selfless (Daasa Aham) rather than selfish (Naanu or Aham).


;BurialUnlike most other Hindus who cremate the dead, the Lingayat bury their dead. The dead are buried in the "Dhyana mudra" (meditating position) with their "Ishta linga" in their left hand.

Veerashaiva literature

The rise of Veerashaivism heralded a new and glorious chapter in the annals of Kannada literature. It saw the birth of the Vachana style of literature with the Veerashaiva philosophy at its core. The Vachanas were pithy poems of devotional nature that expounded the ideals of Veerashaivism. Saints and Sharanas like Allama Prabhu, Akka Mahadevi and Basavanna himself were at the forefront of this development. The entire corpus of these works was in Kannada and it marks one of the glorious chapters in the history of Kannada literature. As with the Dasa Sahitya of the later Haridasas, the Vachanas were also primarily targeted at the common man and sought to demystify God as large sections of society had been deprived of access to the texts. The Jangamas played a central role in the propagation of the Vachanas.

Veerashaiva "Mathas" and "Mathadipathis"

Historically there are 5 mathas known as pancha peethas located at
*Balehonnur - Chikkamagaluru district
*Kudligi - Bellary district, Karnataka state.
*Kedar - Uttaranchal
*Shreeshaila - Andhra Pradesh.
*Kashi- Uttar pradesh.

Lingayat demographics

Lingayats today are spread all over the state of Karnataka. They are Karnataka's largest community with 22% of the state population and about 2% of the country's population. Sizeable populations are also found in parts of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh bordering Karnataka. In Tamil Nadu they are referred as Nayanars . Kerala and Gujarat also has Lingayat population. In north Indian more prominently they are called Kashmiri Shaivites or Veerashaiva. In Karnataka, the Lingayat population is quite large and widespread.

Today, the Lingayat diaspora can be found in countries around the world, particularly the United States, Britain and Australia. The Lingayat community wields considerable clout in the sphere of Karnataka politics. Several important and powerful leaders have been from the Lingayat community.

Lingayats subcastes

Since Lingayata was not meant to be a caste but a Dharma - social reformation almost all of the social sects fall in as sub categories but still have distinctions between them.
* Lingayat Panchapeeta ( Balehonnur)
* Lingayat Agasa.
* Lingayat Aradhya.
* Lingayat Bajantri.
* Lingayat Balegala.
* Lingayat Bhandari.
* Lingayat Bilijedaru.
* Lingayat Bilimagga.
* Lingayat Brahmana.
* Lingayat Badigar.
* Lingayat Banagar.
* Lingayat Banajiga.
* Lingayat Chaturtha.
* Lingayat Ganiga.
* Lingayat Gowda (Gowdike).
* Lingayat Gowli.
* Lingayat Gurav.
* Lingayat Hadapada.
* Lingayat Hatgar.
* Lingayat Hugar.
* Lingayat Jadaru.
* Lingayat Jangama.
* Lingayat Jeer.
* Lingayat Kammara.
* Lingayat Kammasali.
* Lingayat Kudu Vokkaliga.
* Lingayat Kumbara.
* Lingayat Kuruhina Setty.
* Lingayat Lolagonda.
* Lingayat Machegar.
* Lingayat Madivala (dhobi).
* Lingayat Malgar.
* Lingayat Medhar.
* Lingayat Nayinda.
* Lingayat Neelagar.
* Lingayat Neygi.
* Lingayat Nolamba.
* Lingayat Panchamasali.
* Lingayat Reddy/Reddi.
* Lingayat Sadar.
* Lingayat Setty.
* Lingayat Shiva Simpi.
* Lingayat Veerashaiva Hatgar.
* Lingayat Uppara.

Lingayats and social work

The Lingayat community under the aegis of several Mathas has been very active in the field of social work, particularly in the field of education and medicine. Thousands of schools are run by the Lingayat "Mathas" where education, sometimes free and with boarding facilities is provided to students of all sections of society irrespective of religion or caste. In addition, various Lingayat organizations run numerous schools, colleges and hospitals across the length and breadth of Karnataka. Some of these institutions also have branches in other states of India. Some of the notable Lingayat run institutions include the JSS group of institutions, K.L.E. ,Siddaganga Education Society and Sri Dharmasthala Group of Institutions(SDM).

Further Reading

* Ishwaran, K. 1992. Speaking of Basava: Lingayat religion and culture in South Asia. Boulder, Colo: Westview Press.
* Farquhar, J. N. 1967. An outline of the religious literature of India. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
* "People of India" : Karnataka : Volume XXVI/edited by B.G. Halbar, S.G. Morab, Suresh Patil and Ramji Gupta. New Delhi, Affiliated East-West Press for Anthropological Survey of India, 2003. ISBN 81-85938-98-9

External links

* [ Spiritual World of Veerashaivas]
* [ Shivayoga - Veerashaiva Teachings]
* [ Lingayatism]

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