Basavanna ( about 1115-1167) meaning elder brother Basava ( he is also venerably called as Basaveshwara or simply Basava) was a rationalist revolutionary, unique prophet, pragmatic humanist and irrepressible social organizer and reformer. He revolted against the Vedas, their unjust social caste structure and irrational and harmful religious rituals. He founded a new religion named as Lingayat with the support of the common people of all social statuses. Basavanna uniquely stands out as a rationalist revolutionary.
This religion has no supernatural God as its governing and guiding supreme head. The rationalist Lingayat religion has been enjoying the whole-hearted support of the Lingayat people of the Karnataka State of India from the 12th century to this day. The scripture of the Lingayats is the prose-poems composed and described as vachanas(in the Kannada language) by Basavanna and other vachana writers from the 12th century onwards.
Basavanna’s views are solidly based on rationalist and humanist principles and contained in his vachanas.
Basavanna‘s concept of God is that the God is only one, that He has various names and that He is formless, invisible and omnipresent. He goes further and affirms that human conscience is the God and that a godly man also is a God. Kudalasangama Deva is Basavanna’s symbolic God who is man’s conscience itself. This God is not in any temple. This God is in the human mind as his conscience or symbol of dhyana or meditation in the form of ishtalinga(personal God) on the devotee’s palm. This God is neither a gift-giver nor a gift-taker nor a miracle-maker. This God demands that man should be of good conduct and work. He should work not only for himself but also for the society. Man must make his destiny individually for himself and, as part of the society, for the society. Man can become more than the symbolic God, Kudalasangama Deva by contributing to the various types of daasoha( free offering of useful thing or service) for the society.
‘There are some gods
That always watch by the doors of the houses of men.
They do not depart, although told to depart.
They are worse than dogs, these same gods.
There are some gods
That live by begging from men.
What can they give?
But our Kudalsangama Deva
Will give you whatever you ask.’
‘I did not see those so-called gods alive,
When the four yugas (ages) and eighteen cycles
Of those yugas were being destroyed;
Nor do I see them now.
I did not see them,
When all was burning,
Nor do I see them now.
Neither that day nor this day,
Do I see those gods
Except Kudalasangama Deva.’
‘God Is One, Names Are Many’
‘God is one, names are many.
A chaste wife has just one husband.
Should she desire another.
He will chop her ears and nose off.
What would you say then of those
Who relish leftovers of many gods, Kudalasangamadeva?’
Priests as God’s Mouthpieces
Priests have been dependent upon God and exploit the common innocent followers of a religion for their livelihood in the name of God. Basavanna has very harsh words of his righteous anger against the ignoble profession of priesthood throughout the human history.
‘Is there anybody in this world who says to another
“Eat for my body, and enjoy my wife for me”?
Hence you yourself ought to work with eager mind.
You yourself ought to work, laboring with your body.
If you do not work with your body,(and mind together),
How will Kudalasangama Deva be pleased with you?’
To reach God, a man should directly approach the isthalinga(personal god) or meditate on it for his spiritual growth and goal without using the intermediacy of any priest. Priests have been parasites on God’s devotees in the name of God!
He rejected the Vedas which perpetuated human exploitation in the form of four castes structure of the society, etc. and were (and are to a large extent) against the interest of the common majority of the people.
‘I shall put leather sheath to Vedas
I shall put shackles on the Shashtras
I shall skin the back of Tarka
I shall cut off the nose of Agamas.’
‘The Vedas shivered,
Scriptures stood aside,
Logic became dumb,
Aagama just went away,
All because our Kudalasangayya
had his food in the house of untouchable, Maadara Chennayya.’
‘Shall I say scriptures are great?
They praise karma.
Shall I say the Vedas are great?
They tell of animal sacrifice.
Shall I say shruti is great?
It searches what is before one’s eyes.
As you are not in any of those, Kudalasangama Deva,
You can be seen in nothing but three kinds of daasoha.’
Temples of God
Those that are rich build temples for God
But alas! What can I do?
I am a poor man.
To me my legs themselves are pillars.
My body itself is the temple.
And my head itself is the golden crown.
(The stationary perishes, but not the moving one.)
Man’s body itself is the abode of God. Man purifies his conscience with the aid of meditation on the isthalinga, the physical symbol of God on his palm. To enable man to be away from the temples and the priests, Basavanna created man’s personal God in the form of isthalinga on his palm. If the devotee did not need to go to a temple to propitiate God, the priest had no chance to mislead and exploit him. Man was free to meditate on his ishthalinga always worn on his body at any time and place. This God was not stationary but mobile together with his devotee.
Basavanna had the indomitable courage and waged a relentless, organized and peaceful war against the Vedic superstitions. He held that heaven, hell, rebirth, astrology, devil, auspicious day and time, etc. do not exist and are deluding and harmful illusions. But they had gripped most of the masses at that time. When a man has no rebirth, heaven and hell have no raison de etre. Man’s real heaven and hell both are here on this planet. Man’s good conduct and good work make for heaven, and their opposite leads to hell, in this world itself.
‘My brothers, behold,
What are called the divine world and the mortal world
Are not far away.
To speak the Truth is the divine world,
And to utter a lie is the mortal world.
Good conduct is the divine world
And bad conduct is hell.
For this Thou Thyself art our authority,
O Kudalasangama Deva.’
‘The pot is god
The winnowing fan is god
The stone on the street is god
The comb is god
The bowstring is god
The measuring vessel is god
The small cup is god
There are gods and gods
No place to set foot in.
There is just one god, Kudalasangama Deva.’
There were-and are- thousands of Gods in India in so many strange forms! Basavanna harshly disapproved of them. For Lingayats, there is only one God, the symbolic Kudalasangama Deva.
‘Offering sheep to tiny troublesome gods carried on winnowing fan
They dance in joy.
Does sheep die and protect those with whom Shiva( a Vedic God) is angry?
No sheep, no calf,
Just worship our Kudalasangama Deva with leaves, it is enough.’
Basavanna condemns animal sacrifice to propitiate Gods.
Caste System in Hindu Society
‘Father is Maadaar Chennayya,
Elder uncle is Doahara Kakkayya,
Uncle is Chikkayya,
Elder brother is our Kinnari Bommayya.
Why do you not know me as such Kudalasangayya?’
The followers of Basavanna named in this vachana were of the lower social rung. Basavanna, though born in a higher caste, asks God to identify him as one of them. His view was that they are equal to him and all other people of higher social status irrespective of their lower social status. His other followers did not discriminate against them in any way.
Mortification of Body
‘If you quell the senses you are guilty.
The five senses will hereafter come and torment you.
Did Shiriyala and Changale abandon the pleasures of life
And that enjoyment of happiness as husband and wife?’ Curbing the five senses is physically, mentally and spiritually unhealthy. One need not necessarily be a bachelor or spinster or celibate to achieve the spiritual and social goal of Lingayat religion which is universally open to every person irrespective of his or her social status, gender, age, educational level, marital status and social caste. Lingayat embraces sinner too and teaches him to attain the goal of the Lingayat.
Women of all social statuses were equals to men in the spiritual and social parliament called as Anubhava Mantapa(spiritual and social think-tank) set up by Basavanna. They actively participated in the collective activities of the of the Anubhava Mantapa.
Basavanna’s sparkling rationalism and humanism shines in his stands on God, priests, Vedas, temples of God, religious superstitions, social caste system, mortification of human body and gender equality. Basavanna’s new view of pragmatic humanism is strikingly similar to the modern concept of humanism pithily outlined by A.J.Ayer, the British philosopher and humanist:
the world and this life are all we have (and) we should try to live full and happy lives ourselves and, as part of this, make it easier for other people to do the same.’
Robert G.Ingersoll, the humanist expresses a similar view in his book, The Gods:
‘ Reason, Observation, and Experience- the Holy Trinity of Science – have taught us that the happiness is the only good; that the time to be happy is now and the way to be happy is to make others so. This is enough for us. In this belief, we are content to live or die.’
Basavanna makes man the centre of all human activity both as an individual and as a member of the society. To him, what matters is man’s all-sided interest only both as an individual and as a member of the society. He does not make us pursue mirages.
Basavanna is a star in the galaxy of the outstanding rationalist and humanist thinkers of the world.
Lingayat dharma founded by him deserves the lofty status of a world rationalist religion.