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Title: Lingayatism  
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Subject: Allama Prabhu, Siddheshwar, Basava, Shaivism, Akka Mahadevi
Collection: Anti-Caste Movements, Hindu Denominations, Karnataka Society, Lingayatism, Monotheistic Religions, Social Groups of Karnataka
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Lingayatism , is a distinct Shaivite denomination practiced in India. It makes several departures from mainstream Hinduism and propounds monotheism through worship centered on Lord Shiva in the form of Ishtalinga. Like Buddhism, Jainism, Śramaṇa, Cārvāka and Sikhism, it rejects the authority of the Vedas and the caste system. However, Lingayatism does share some beliefs with Hinduism, such as reincarnation and karma.[1][2][3][4][5][6] Lingayatism was founded by the 12th-century philosopher and statesman Basava and spread by his followers, called Sharanas.[7][8][9]

The adherents of this faith are known as Lingayats. Both the terms Lingayatism and Lingayats are derived from Kannada word lingavanta for the "one who wears a iṣṭaliṅga (Kannada: ಇಷ್ಟಲಿಂಗ)". The Lingayat iṣṭaliṅga is an oval-shaped emblem symbolising Parashiva, the absolute reality, and is worn on the body by a cord hung around the neck.[10] The terms Lingayatism and Veerashaivism, which is a Vedic Shaivite cult founded by the Panchacharyas which also includes wearing Ishtalinga as a significant ritual of observance, have been used synonymosly, both by public and recognized by Governments, though its validity is the source of the biggest contemporary theological and historical debate related to Lingayatism.[11][12][13][14] Nevertheless, Lingayats are also invariably identified and referred as Veerashaivas.[15]

Contemporary Lingayatism is a rich blend of reform-based theology propounded by Basava and ancient Shaivite tradition and customs, with huge influence among the masses in South India, especially in the state of Karnataka. Today, Lingayats, along with Shaiva Siddhanta followers, Tirunelveli Saiva Pillai, Kashmiri Shaivas, Naths, Pashupaths of Nepal, Kapalikas and others constitute the major portion of the Shaiva population.[16][17][18]


  • Early history 1
  • Lingayat theology 2
    • Vedas and shastras 2.1
    • Panchacharas 2.2
    • Ashtavarana 2.3
    • Shatsthala 2.4
    • Concept of Shoonya 2.5
  • Anubhava Mantapa 3
  • Lingayat customs and practices 4
    • Ishtalinga 4.1
    • Diet 4.2
    • Lingadharane 4.3
    • Kaayakave Kailaasa 4.4
    • Daasoha 4.5
    • Burial 4.6
  • Festivals 5
  • Lingayat literature 6
    • Scriptures 6.1
  • Lingayat demographics 7
  • Lingayata 8
  • Lingayats and social work 9
  • Famous Lingayats 10
  • See also 11
  • References 12
  • Notes 13
  • Further reading 14
  • External links 15

Early history

Statue of Basava

Basava founded the philosophy of the Lingayatism and gave Ishta linga - in the form of a universal divine concept for worship. He eventually began to propagate the lingayatism as a movement with rational, humanitarian and egalitarian outlook, and was determined to educate and spread the knowledge of the Ishta Linga after having been enlightened by it.[19]

Basava founded Anubhava Mantapa to establish spiritual social and economic democracy, which is regarded as the world's first parliament. People from all walks of life embraced Basava's thoughts and became Lingayats. In the same way, Veerashaivas also embraced Lingayatism and became Lingayats and due to similar rituals centered on worship of Lord Shiva, Veerashaivas merged into lingayatism.

While the Indian society had converted workmanship into castes, Basava reversed the castes into workmanship again. The Society differentiated people based on birth while Basava offered equal status to all. As a result, large numbers of different caste people took Linga-Deeksha and became Lingayats.

He rebelled against the rigid practices of the caste system then prevalent in orthodox Hindu society (and as a result in earlier Veerashaiva/Lingayat traditions), and eventually began expounding his own philosophy with a casteless society at its core. His egalitarian philosophy and reform movement attracted large numbers of people. Saints like Allama Prabhu, Akka Mahadevi and Channabasavanna also played pivotal roles in the growth of today's Lingayat tradition.[20]

Basavanna lived and taught in the northern part of what is now Karnataka, India. This movement found its roots during the brief rule of the southern Kalachuri dynasty in those parts of the state. Basavanna preached that the devotion of people to God was a direct relationship and did not need the intervention of the priestly class. Temple building is generally not practised among Lingayats.[21]

Lingayat theology

The Lingayats propound a primarily monotheistic conception of divinity through the worship of Lord Shiva. Lingayatism conceives of the self as emerging from and being in union with the divine. Being fundamentally egalitarian, it does not differentiate humankind on the basis of caste, creed, gender, language, country, or race. Early Lingayats placed importance on the Vachana sahitya, which was promulgated by Lord Basaveshwara.

Central to Lingayat theology are five codes of conduct (called Panchāchāras), eight "shields" (Ashtāvarana), and the concept of six levels of attainment that the devotee can achieve (known as Shatsthala).

Vedas and shastras

Early Lingayat philosophers criticized ritualism centered around Vedas and other ancient texts of Hinduism.[22] Scholars state that while Virashaiva thinkers rejected ritual customs and the custodial hold of Brahmins over the Vedas and the shastras, they did not outright reject the Vedic knowledge.[22] The 13th-century Telugu Virashaiva poet Palkuriki Somanatha, author of Basava Purana – a scripture of Lingayats, for example asserted, "Virashaivism [Lingayatism] fully conformed to the Vedas and the shastras."[22][23]


Kudalasangama in Bagalkot district, where Guru Basavanna's samadhi is located

The Panchacharas describe the five codes of conduct to be followed by the believer. The Panchacharas include:[24]

  • Lingāchāra – Daily worship of the individual Ishtalinga, one to three times day.
  • Sadāchāra – Attention to vocation and duty, and adherence to the seven rules of conduct issued by Basavanna: kaLa beDa (Do not steal); kola beDa (Do not kill or hurt); husiya nuDiyalu beDa (Do not utter lies); thanna baNNisabeDa (Do not praise yourself* i.e. practice humility); idira haLiyalu beDa (Do not criticize others); muniya beDa (shun anger); anyarige asahya paDabeDa (Do not be intolerant towards others).
  • Sivāchāra – acknowledging Shiva as the supreme divine being and upholding the equality and well-being of all human beings.
  • Bhrityāchāra – Compassion towards all creatures.
  • Ganāchāra – Defense of the community and its tenets.


The Ashtavaranas, the eightfold armour that shields the devotee from extraneous distraction and worldly attachments. The Ashtavaranas include:[24]

  • Guru – obedience towards Guru, the Mentor;
  • Linga – wearing the Ishtalinga on your body at all times;
  • Jangama – reverence for Shiva ascetics as incarnations of divinity;
  • Pādodaka – sipping the water used for bathing the Linga;
  • Prasāda – sacred offerings;
  • Vibhuti – smearing holy ash on oneself daily;
  • Rudrāksha – wearing a string of rudraksha (holy beads, seeds of Elaeocarpus ganitrus);
  • Mantra – reciting the mantra of "Namah Shivaya: (salutation to Shiva)"


108 feet giant statue of Basava at Basavakalyan near Bidar

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 Basava understood shatsthala as a process with various stages to be attained in succession, Channabasavanna, Basava's nephew, differed radically from his uncle and held that a soul can reach its salvation in any stage.

Concept of Shoonya

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

Anubhava Mantapa

The Anubhava Mantapa was an academy of mystics, saints and philosophers of the Lingayata faith in 12th-century Kalyana. It was the fountainhead of all religious and philosophical thought pertaining to the Lingayata. It was presided over by the mystic Allamaprabhu, and numerous sharanas from all over Karnataka and other parts of India were participants. This institution was also the fountainhead of the Vachana (spoken word) literature which was used as the vector to propagate Lingayatism religious and philosophical thought. Other giants of lingayat theosophy like Akka Mahadevi, Channabasavanna and Basavanna himself were participants in the Anubhava Mantapa.

Lingayat customs and practices


An idol of Akka Mahadevi holding Ishta Linga in her left hand

The 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.


Lingayats eat only vegetarian food and must not consume meat of any kind, including fish. The drinking of alcohol is strictly prohibited.[25]


Metallic box enclosing Ishtalinga worn on the body

Lingadharane is the ceremony of initiation among Lingayats. Though lingadharane can be performed at any age, it is usually performed when a foetus in the womb is 7–8 months old. The family Guru performs pooja and provides the ishtalinga to the mother, who then ties it to her own ishtalinga until birth. At birth the mother secures the new ishtalinga to her child. Upon attaining the age of 8–11 years, the child receives Diksha from the family Guru to know the proper procedure to perform pooja of ishtalinga. From birth to death, the child wears the Linga at all times and it is worshipped as a personal ishtalinga. The Linga is wrapped in a cloth housed in a small silver and wooden box. It is to be worn on the chest, over the seat of the indwelling deity within the heart. Some people wear it on the chest or around the body using a thread. Both Lingayat men and women participate in these ceremonies in the presence of a satguru. This practice was begun by Basavanna himself, who refused to undergo Upanayana (a Brahmin initiation), because it discriminated against women.

Kaayakave Kailaasa

Kayakave Kailasa in Kannada

This is originally a Sanskrit phrase, Vrutti Chaitanya Roopini Karanika, preached by Jagadguru Renukacharya. 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.

There is a vachana complementary to this which talks about keeping the Kaaya (body) pure:

  • Enna 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, the Indian subcontinent is divided into North and South by the Vindhya mountain ranges. While the North has the Himalayan rivers flowing year-round and boasts the river Ganga, the South has the river Kaveri, which originates at Talakaveri and dries up in the summer. Hence the North is referred as Punya Bhoomi, whose residents believe that taking a dip in the Ganga with Bhakthi (devotion) will wash off all our sins. But the South is referred as Karma Bhoomi, whose residents believe that their Karma which will decide their fate. The Kaayaka Tatva of Basavanna also bases itself on the Karma Siddhantha (Philosophy of Karma).


Among the many injunctions prescribed for the devout Lingayat, Daasoha is a very important one. Basava created this as a protest against the feudalistic ideologies present at that time. He shunned the sharp hierarchical divisions that existed and sought to remove all distinctions between the hierarchically 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. Daasoha to him meant working hard for one's livelihood and for the maintenance of society. In Basava's view, a daasohi should consider himself but a servant of society. Therefore, daasoha 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 daasoha without reservation.

A famous vachana says: Soham ennade Daasoham endeNisayya – which means "be selfless [Daasa Aham] rather than selfish [Naanu or Aham]".


19th-century gravestone of a Lingayat woman buried in a military graveyard in Pune.

The Lingayats bury their dead. The dead are buried in the Dhyana mudra (meditating position) with their Ishta linga in their left hand.


  • Siddharameshawar Jayanti Solapur(Jan 14)
  • Allamaprabhu Jayanti (Ugadi)
  • Maha Shivraatri
  • Basava Jayanti
  • Akkamahadevi Jayanti
  • Basava Panchami (known as Nag Panchami) on this day Basava merged with God
  • Neelamma Shashti (Next day of Basava Panchami) on this day Neelagangambike merged with God
  • Kayaka Day (May Day)
  • Channabasavanna Jayanti (Deepavali)

Lingayat literature

The rise of Lingayatism heralded a new chapter in the annals of Kannada literature. Basavanna and other saints communicated their beliefs and ideas in Kannada which was the commoners' language unlike Sanskrit which was understood only by the Brahmins at that time. It saw the birth of the Vachana style of literature with the Lingayat philosophy at its core. The Vachanas were pithy poems of a devotional nature that expounded the ideals of Lingayatism.

A popular vachana (poem) composed by Akka Mahadevi
A statue of Akkamahadevi installed at her birthplace, Udathadi

Saints and Sharanas like Allamaprabhu, Akka Mahadevi, Siddarama and Basava were at the forefront of this development during the 12th century. Some of the best vachanas are the padas or the devaranamas of the dasas. The dasas were a group of religious singers of the Madhva faith who wandered around the kingdom singing about social injustice and true worship.[26] Siddarama (or Siddarameswara) of Solapur (Sonnalagi) is considered to be one of the five prophets of the Lingayat (Veerashaivism) religion and a Kannada poet who was a part Basavanna's Veerashaiva revolution during the 12th century. Siddharama claims to have written 68,000 vachanas, out of which 1379 remain in existence. His philosophy was one of service to mankind, the path of Karmayoga. He shared the worldview of other vachana poets in his rejection of blind conventions and caste and sex discrimination and his emphasis on realization through personal experience. He borrowed metaphors from diverse spheres of everyday life. Apart from vachanas, he wrote several devotional works in the tripadi style. Sarvagjna was a later lingayat vachana poet of the 17th century who wrote thousands of succinct vachanas in tripadi style.

The entire corpus of these works is in Kannada. As with the Dasa Sahitya of the later Haridasas, the Vachanas were also primarily targeted at the common person 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.


Lingayat demographics

Lingayats today are found predominantly in the state of Karnataka, especially in North and Central Karnataka with a sizeable population native to South Karnataka. Lingayats is Karnataka’s largest caste group, who are estimated to form around 17% of the population.[27][28] Significant populations are also found in parts of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana bordering Karnataka, as well as Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Gujarat.

The Lingayat diaspora can be found in countries around the world, particularly the United States, Britain and Australia.


A Lingayat ritual locket which holds Ishtalinga, 19th century, Tamil Nadu.

Basavanna invented the Ishta linga. Ishta linga is symbol of vast, formless, nameless, infinite and omnipresent God. All people who believed in Shivasharana movement had to wear the Isthta linga and follow the principles of Lingayata Dharma. While Lingayata Dharma is the faith, the one who practices it is called Lingayath.

Basava established Anubhava Mantapa to establish spiritual social and economic democracy. People from all walks of life embraced Basava's thoughts and became Lingayats. In the same way, Veerashaivas also embraced Lingayatism and became Lingayats, Veerashaiva lingayats.

While the Indian society had converted workmanship into castes, Basava reversed the castes into workmanship again. The Society differentiated people based on birth while Basava offered equal status to all. As a result, large numbers of different caste people took Linga-Deeksha and became Lingayats.

Lingayats and social work

The Lingayat community, under the aegis of several KLE Society, BLDE Association, Siddaganga Education Society, Vishweshwar Sahakari ( Cooperative ) Bank, Pune.

Famous Lingayats

See also


  1. ^ Veerashaiva Samaja of North America | VSNA Philosophy & FAQs
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Lingayat." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 09 Jul. 2010.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ For an overview of the Shaiva Traditions, see Flood, Gavin, "The Śaiva Traditions", in: Flood (2003), pp. 200-228. For an overview that concentrates on the Tantric forms of Śaivism, see Alexis Sanderson's magisterial survey article Śaivism and the Tantric Traditions, pp.660--704 in The World's Religions, edited by Stephen Sutherland, Leslie Houlden, Peter Clarke and Friedhelm Hardy, London: Routledge, 1988.
  17. ^ Shaivam
  18. ^ Tattwananda 1984, p. 54.
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b c Leela Prasad (2012), Poetics of Conduct: Oral Narrative and Moral Being in a South Indian Town, Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0231139212, page 104
  23. ^ VN Rao and GH Roghair (2014), Siva's Warriors: The Basava Purana of Palkuriki Somanatha, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0691604879, pages 7-8
  24. ^ a b A Survey of Hinduism, by Klaus K. Klostermaier
  25. ^
  26. ^ Indian Music, by Bigamudre Chaitanya Deva
  27. ^
  28. ^


  • Narasimhacharya, R (1988) [1988]. History of Kannada Literature. New Delhi: Penguin Books. ISBN 81-206-0303-6.
  • Sastri, Nilakanta K.A. (2002) [1955]. A history of South India from prehistoric times to the fall of Vijayanagar. New Delhi: Indian Branch, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-560686-8.
  • Rice, Edward P (1982) [1921]. A History of Kannada literature. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, Oxford University Press.
  • Matha System, Sacrament System and Ethics of Veerashaivism
  • Reference books

Further reading

  • Basavanna and other sharanas, Vachana sahitya
  • Lingayata Dharmada Modalaneya Pustaka Kannada, 1982, PM Giriraju.
  • Jatigala Huttu Kannada, 1982, PM Giriraju.
  • Sadbhakta Charitra Kannada. PM Giriraju.ājanu_sērisida_sadbhakta_cāritrya
  • 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
  • Thesis: Veerashaivism in Maharashtra: A sociological analysis with special reference to Kolhapur District

External links

  • Lingayat Religion
  • Lingayatism
  • Vishwaguru Basavanna
  • Veerashaivism – A vibrant Faith
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