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Basavanna, also known as Bhaktibhandari. Basavanna (elder brother Basava) or Basaveswara (Lord Basava) was a 12th-century philosopher, statesman, Kannada poet 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 such as the wearing of sacred thread, 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 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 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 of Lingayat community, the Basava purana by Palkuriki Somanatha.

Early life

Basava was born about 1105 CE in the town of Bagevadi in north Karnataka, to Madarasa and Madalambike, an upper caste 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.

Literary works

Several works are attributed to Basava, which are revered in the Lingayat community. These include various Vachana : 


The Basava Purana, a Telugu biographical epic poem, first written by Palkuriki Somanatha in 13th-century and an updated 14th century Kannada version, written by Bhima Kavi in 1369, are sacred texts in Lingayatism.
Other hagiographic works include the 15th-century Mala Basava-raja-charitre and the 17th-century Vrishabhendra Vijaya, both in Kannada.


Scholars state that the poems and legends about Basava were written down long after Basava’s death.This has raised questions about the accuracy and creative interpolation by authors who were not direct witness, but derived their work relying on memory, legends and hearsay of others. Michael states, “All Vachana collections as they exist at present are probably much later than the 15th-century. Much critical labor needs to be spent in determining the authenticity of portions of these collections”.

Bhakti marga as the path to liberation

The Basava Purana presents a series of impassioned debates between Basava and his father. Both declare Hindu Sruti and Smriti to be sources of valid knowledge, but they disagree on the marga (path) to liberated, righteous life. Basava’s father favors the tradition of rituals, while Basava favors the path of direct, personal devotion (bhakti).

According to Velcheru Rao and Gene Roghair, Basava calls the path of devotion as “beyond six systems of philosophy. Sruti has commended it as the all-seeing. Its subtle form is beyond praise. Its eternally blissful form is the beginning of the beginning. The form of that divine linga is the true God. The guru of the creed is an embodiment of kindness and compassion. He places God in your soul, and he also places God in your hand. The six-syllabled mantra, the supreme mantra, is its mantra. The dress locks of hair, ashes and rudrashaka beads place a man beyond the cycle of birth and death. It follows the path of liberation. This path offers nothing less than liberation in this lifetime.

Legacy and influence

The Lingayats, also known as Virasaivas or Veerasaivas, traditionally believe that Basava was the founder of their tradition. However, modern scholarship relying on historical evidence such as the Kalachuri inscriptions state that Basava was the 12th-century poet philosopher who revived and energized an already existing tradition. The community he helped form is also known as the Sharanas. The community is largely concentrated in Karnataka, but has migrated into other states of India as well as overseas. Towards the end of the 20th century, Michael estimates, one sixth of the population of the state of Karnataka, or about 10 million people, were Lingayat Hindus, or of the tradition championed by Basava.

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.

Synthesis of diverse Hindu traditions

Basava is credited with uniting diverse spiritual trends during his era. Jan Peter Schouten states that Virashaivism, the movement championed by Basava, tends towards monotheism with Shiva as the godhead, but with a strong awareness of the unity of the Ultimate Reality. Schouten calls this as a synthesis of Ramanuja’s Vishishtadvaita and Shankara’s Advaita traditions, naming it Shakti-Vishishtadvaita, that is monism fused with Shakti beliefs. An individual’s spiritual progress is viewed by Basava’s tradition as a six-stage Satsthalasiddhanta, which progressively evolves the individual through phase of the devotee, to phase of the master, then phase of the receiver of grace, thereafter Linga in life breath the phase of surrender to the last stage of complete union of soul and god (liberation, mukti). Basava’s approach is different than Adi Shankara, states Schouten, in that Basava emphasizes the path of devotion, compared to Shankara’s emphasis on the path of knowledge a system of monistic Advaita philosophy widely discussed in Karnataka in the time of Basava.

Icons and symbols

Basava advocated the wearing of Ishtalinga, a necklace with pendant that contains a small Shiva linga. He was driven by his realisation; in one of his Vachanas he says Arive Guru, which means one’s own awareness is his/her teacher. Many contemporary Vachanakaras (people who have scripted Vachanas) have described him as Swayankrita Sahaja, which means “self-made”.

Credit – wikipedia


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