BASAVESWARA, THE PHILOSOPHER FORGOTTEN
(I-DISCOURSE BY N. R. SRINIVASAN, APRIL 2012)
Basaveswara of Veerasaiva faith occupies a unique place among the prophets of the world. He is an amazing personality whose charismatic personality simply baffles all of us. He strongly promoted the Vedic Mahaavaakya: "Aaatmavat sarva bhooteshu"—Look upon all beings as yourself. He was the treasurer of an ancient King Bijjala of Bijapur in India in the material world and was a divine treasurer of Supreme Principle in the spiritual world whom he worshiped as Koodala Sangama, like Ramanuja to whom Brahman was Sriman Narayana.
Basaveswara was born in the year 1134 A.D. to Madarasa and Madalambika, a pious Brahmin couple, in Bijapur district of Karnataka with the blessings of Lord Siva who listened to the prayers of Madalambika aspiring for a son. But to her disappointment the child after birth neither opened the eyes nor cried as is normal to any child born. Prompted by a divine message that a Basava (divine bull) is born to them sage Jaataveda came to Bagewadi, put some Vibhuti (sacred ash) on the child's forehead and whispered Panchaaksharee Mantra (Namah Sivaaya) in the child's ears. (Basaveswara followers omit Om as it becomes Shadaaksharee mantra.) The child immediately opened its eyes and started crying and laughing after several days. Jaataveda informed the crowd that the child was neither dumb nor blind, but was in yogic trance. He also instructed the proud parents to name the child Basaveswara.
Even while he was a boy he was very concerned that the local temple did not allow Harijans (untouchables) inside the temple while he as a Brahmin enjoyed special privileges. When the time came for his customary thread ceremony he refused to wear the sacred thread like all Brahmins, as he felt it was an empty symbol of privilege and before Lord Siva all people are equal. Thoroughly disappointed and disgusted with customary rituals of his privileged class and with no desire for property, kith or kin (typical of a recluse) he went to Koodala Sangama and spent his time on spiritual studies under the guidance of his mentor sage Jaataveda. Koodala Sangama is a holy town located at the confluence of the rivers Krishna and Maalaprabha. He spent several years there studying Vedas and other holy scriptures under the guidance of Jaataveda and worshiping Sangameswara.
King Bijjala wanted him to come to Kalyaana and help him in running the government. Recluse Basaveswara was not interested. But at the command of Lord Siva in his dreams he went to Kalyaana to help the king in running his administration. He was happy to leave Koodaala Sangama as he was blessed with a divine Linga (Vyaktaavyakta form of Siva), coming out of the divine bull which opened its mouth with radiance (Jyoti), which became his life partner. The king found immense treasure under his throne as per the forecast of Basaveswara. The king too was very religious and cared for his subjects too much. He appointed Basaveswara as the royal treasurer and asked to spend the money for the welfare of his subjects. His colleagues were jealous that he was slowly becoming a favorite of the King and was in charge of the Royal Treasury.
When the kingdom was affected with draught Basaveswara wanted the poor subjects to work hard and earn their living wages by digging canal and tanks. "No pain no gain" and "work is worship" was his philosophy. Poor Brahmins who were lazy resented to these sayings that it was not in-keeping with their Jaati-dahrma but Basaveswara did not believe in Jaati-bedha (birthright differences) and forced them to earn their living though king was favorably disposed to help them by way of charity. While some workers were digging the ground they suddenly found a snake and wanted to kill it. Basaveswara who was directly supervising their work prevented them from killing the serpent reminding them: "You feed the snake with milk and worship the snake and why then you want to kill it now" reminding them of the popular snake-worship in ant-hills prevailing in those parts. People wanted to pray for water after canals and tanks were dug by sacrificing a lamb to Goddess Kaali. Basaveswara prevented them from sacrificing the lamb and wanted them to let it go. He was against animal sacrifices and was very compassionate for all living beings. His subjects were not happy with him as he was interfering with the established religious customs. But Basaveswara had the support of the king and therefore they had to obey his instructions. People soon began to understand his philosophy in life and realized he was no ordinary treasurer and government official but a treasurer of Lord Siva and Divine Knowledge.
Orthodox Veerasaivas, also called Lingaayats, are most puritanical in their living and outlook on life. They are strict vegetarians and do not consume alcohol. They wear the "Linga" throughout their life and worship only this to the exclusion of everything else. They neither pray nor perform any rites for the dead. They firmly believe the departed soul has found its union with Sangameswara. The Lingayats are called Veerasaivites because they consider their tradition as the "Siva tradition of the Stalwarts".
Their philosophy is called "Sakti-Visishtaadvaita", signifying non-duality of God as qualified by His Power (Sakti). They believe God and soul are in a state of inseparable union, through the inalienable power called "Sakti". Their goal of life is to realize this union which is described as "Lingaanga Samarsaya"—identity in essence between the Linga and Anga (Siva and Soul). There is thus certain finality and firmness in their beliefs. The Linga commonly used for worship is egg-shaped one called "Basna Linga" signifying that Easwara has neither beginning nor end.
Basaveswara's teachings of compassion, equality and right conduct won him lot of followers. To-day there is more than 20 million followers of Basaveswara in the world. Among his followers were Haralaya, a cobbler; Maachayya, a washerman; and Chaudayya, a ferry-man. The followers of the Veerasaiva Faith who follow the teachings of Basaveswara are known as Sharanas, those who are subservient to Lord Siva. Sharana (egoless refuge) means those who take refuge in the Lord. Basaveswara preached Saranaagati like Ramanuja to take refuge in the Supreme Principle. Therefore his followers were known as Sharanas. The followers of Ramanuja were called Sri Vaishnvas and he called Supreme Principle as Sriman Narayana. To Basaveswara Supreme Principle was Koodala Sangama. Spiritually it could mean at the confluence (Sangama) of Janana and Bhakti everything merges together. He preached six principles of Siva Consciouness—1) Bhakti (devotion); 2) Mahesa (Selfless service; 3) Prsaada (Seeking Siva's grace); 4) Praanalinga (Visualize Siva in everything) 5) Sharana (ego free refuge); 6) Aikya (oneness with Siva or attain Siva Consciousness).
Every evening, after day's work Sharanas met Basaveswara at his place and enjoyed their dinner after prayers. All castes participated at the dinner. Ministers jealous of his popularity wanted to get him out of his powerful portfolio. They complained to the king that he was emptying the treasury by his free dinners to all. At the instance of his ministers the king was forced to set up an enquiry commission as to go into the question of misappropriation of royal treasury much against his will. To their surprise as well as their disappointment the commission found that not a single pie was touched for the purpose of food charity. The ministers had to apologize for their false allegations. The king appreciating his loyalty and sincerity released more funds for the spread of his spiritual cause.
Basaveswara did not retire to forest to lead a life of a recluse in solitary confinement. He lived with the people and served the society till he was forced to do so later. He married Baladeva's daughter Gangambika. Later he also married Neelaambika, the foster sister of King Bijjala.
Basveswara sat always with the out-castes and enjoyed his dinner. He always felt that food touched by Sharanas, his faithful followers is always pure. Basaveswara boldly declared untouchability is an evil concept. It keeps whole groups of people in poverty and misery, he felt. A Sharana in whom Siva himself resides can never be impure. When his minister taunted him saying: "Why then blood flows in the vein of a Sharana like ordinary man and why not milk (which they see during Abhishekam on the Linga)" looking at his close follower Naagideva, a devout Sharana, Basaveswara drew his sword and pricked the fingers of Naagideva. To everybody's surprise milk instead of blood started oozing out of the finger. All were astonished and started prayer to Sangamesvara along with Basaveswara and Naagideva.
Basveswara one day gave his consent to an inter-caste marriage and also agreed to grace the wedding. Haralaya, a Sharana, a Harijan by birth gave his daughter to Madhuvaasa's son, a Sharana, and a Brahmin by birth. This shocked the holy community which was not yet prepared for such drastic changes. Whole community approached the king for his intervention. The King was helpless and commanded Basaveswara to refrain from such sweeping changes. Basaveswara boldly replied: "Siva knows only one kind of division--between those who seek Him and those who blindly follow sacred texts. A ruler should be an upholder of the Truth. If his subjects in their ignorance hold wrong beliefs, the King must have the courage to correct them. He should lead and not be led". Fearing nationwide revolt King had to yield to the public pressure and wanted to punish the wrong doers to society. In protest Basaveswara resigned, and retired to the forests of Koodaala Sangama to devout rest of his life, dedicating it to Koodala Sangama.
King Bijjala was later killed by his political enemies. Suspicion fell on Sharanas. They were hunted, persecuted and killed in great numbers. Basaveswara advised Sharanas no to take revenge and react. His disciples left for Kalyaana to spread the message of Basaveswara.
Basaveswara spent the rest of his life at Koodala Sangama thinking of Lord Siva all the time and meditating thus: "Humming your nectar-like name, beholding your form with my eyes, hearing your glory with my ears, filling my mind with your thoughts, becoming one with you, Oh Lord of the Koodala Sangama, Lord at the confluence of Rivers, I am just a humming bee at your lotus feet". He gave up his ghost in 1196 A. D.
Basaveswara was a revolutionary reformer, an architect of a new classless society based on social justice, equality and liberty. He was an emancipator of oppressed class of women and a savior of the down- trodden. He was the originator of the Concept of Dignity of Labor, known as Kaayaka—pure and honest work. He was a champion of freedom of speech at the same time he respected others feelings and views.
It is rather unfortunate he was born 800 years ago at a period of difficult times when India was going through greater dangers of intimidation from foreign invasion and mass forcible conversion which took away focus to reform the society from within. He was soon forgotten and his followers lost grounds due to strong influence of orthodox Saivism of Saiva Siddhanta which received Royal patronage in the South later particularly in the regions of present day Tamil Nadu. His concept of Kaayaka (Kaayakave Kailaasa—this body is nothing but the abode of Siva) holds the key to solve the vexing problem of hunger amidst many and grinding poverty and unemployment even to-day. It combines ethics with economics, dignity of labor with the dignity of human being and temporal well being with spiritual happiness.
Basveswara spread awareness through his poetic lyrics called as "Basveswara Vachangalu" similar to the Grantha Sahib of Sikhs, much earlier. Vachana in Kannda means spoken word (of the guru). Basaveswara did not teach intricate Vedanta to knowledgeable people, like Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva, though he himself was well educated in it, but taught common people how to live happy in a rationale society and social order. It was like the preaching of Jesus Christ to fisher-men. Later, Sarvajna, a Kannada poet, also a Veerasaiva, followed his style and wrote number of Tripadis (three line lyrics) dealing with social, ethical and religious subjects. Basaveswara believed and practiced that all members of the State are laborers and must earn their living with dignity of labor. Throughout his life he worked for the following causes: rich literacy; elimination of barriers of caste; removal of untouchability; sanctity of family relations; improvement of status of women; less importance on rites and rituals, fasts and pilgrimages; contemplation of Lord by love and faith; deploring excesses of polytheism and encouraging monotheism.
Mahatma Gandhi in the Belgaum Session of National Congress in 1924 paid his tribute to Basveswara thus: "It has not been possible for me to practice all the precepts of Basaveswara which he taught 800 years ago and which he also practiced……eradication of untouchability and dignity of labor were among his core precepts. One does not find even shades of castes in him. Had he lived during our times, he would have been a saint worthy of worship". Dr. Abdul Kalam Azad inaugurated his statue on April 28, 2003 in the Parliament, in New Delhi when he was the president. He is the first Kannadiga in whose honor a commemorative coin has been minted in recognition of his social reforms by Dr. Man Mohan Singh, Prime Minister of India. There is a popular proverb in Kannada which reads: "Janasevaye Janaardhanana Seve"—serving the humanity is the service to The Supreme Lord''. Basaveswara's philosophy and life can be thus summarized!
Typical examples of Basveswara Vachanagalu
Janada baladinda ajnaanada kedu nodayya | Jyotiya baladinda andhakaarada kedu Nodaiyya | Satyada baladindaa asatyada kedu nodayya | Koodaala sangama sharanaara baladinda ahankaarada kedu nodaiyaa | Koodaala Sangama Deva ||
Oh Lord Koodal Sangama! Through the power of divine knowledge dissipate the ignorance; through the power of light remove all darkness; through the power of Truth, dispel all the ill effects of falsehood; through the strength of Sharanas ward off all egos.
Kalabeda, kolabeda, husiya nudiyabeda, muniyabeda, anyarige asahya padabeda, tanna bannisabeda, idiru halayalubeda: Ide antaranga suddhi, ide bahiranga suddhi, ide namma Koodala Sangama devanolisuva daaari ||
Do not steal; do not kill; do not tell lies; do not be angry; do not think ill of others (do not hate poor people); do not boast of yourself; do not insult others—this is the way to get internal purification; this is the way to get external purification; this is the way to please our Lord Koodala Sangama!
There is a controversy going in USA on in posting Ten Commandments of Christian Faith in public buildings as historic document since no historic record for the same exists and therefore it is not constitutional, under the First amendment of the Constitution. Of the Ten Commandments seven Commandments (see the seven tenets of Basaveswara) are universal and should be well received by followers of all religions of the world who are represented in America: These are—Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain; Honor thy father and mother; Thou shalt not kill; Thou shalt not commit adultery; Thou shalt not steal; Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor; Thou shalt not covet.
I sometimes wonder why America should not adopt the above sayings of Basveswara for display in all public buildings which is applicable to all human society of all colors! Probably they could avoid the word Koodala-sangama or give its true translation as the Supreme Principle at the confluence of all religions and faiths. They could also indicate these as the sayings from one of the great philosophers from a minority community of America. World knows that India, the largest democracy in the world, adopted the Ashoka pillar and Buddhist wheel as the National Emblem, though coming from the least represented minority religion of India, Buddhism, to respect the feelings of even the smallest represented community in a democratic set up. That way America would be pleasing even the majority faith as these echo Ten Commandments.
Veerasaivism promotes five modes of conduct; Lingaachaara; Sadaachaara; Sivaachaara; Bhrityaachaara and Ganaachaara-- 1) daily worship of Linga; 2) attention to vocational duty with 7 rules as in the Vachana above; 3) Always do good act; 4) Be human to all; and 5) Defend the community and the tenets.
Yenna kale kamba | dehave degula|Sivane honna kalasvayya |Sthaavarakke alivuntu |Jangamakke alivilla| Koodala Sangama Deva||
My legs are the pillars; my body is the temple; my head is the golden spire; that which is mobile is perishable; that which is immobile is transient, My obeisance to Koodala Sangama! (Lord in whom all merges).
Basaveswara Puraana by Bheemakavi (fourteenth century A.D.) is a popular poetic literature dealing with the life of Basaveswara and the miracles attributed to him.
Veerasaiva Sampradaya which flourished around 12th century A.D. in the present Karnataka Region, stood for a classless society, opposed child marriage, approved widow marriage and disapproved Sati. It is a pity these ideals have not yet been realized in full measure even after several centuries. Swami Vivekananda later said that any attempt to remove caste system forcibly will only cause a similar system to take its place. Educating the masses and improving their living standard, coupled with a healthy religious education, will eradicate the decadent caste system.
Basveswara had a dream to make every Indian a Sharana, like Ramanuja who wanted everyone to be a true Vaishnava, and fought hard in his life to make the society economically strong and caste-ridden. Soon after his death, his followers lost courage to pursue his footsteps. Continuous foreign invasion f0llowed by rule and power struggles within each kingdom made the society weak and compartmentalized to protect them. Those who were thrown out of the main stream of society (segregated as untouchables) were attracted to be converted to the faith of the Conquerors who ruled the country and many from the main stream were also subjected to forceful conversion.
In the latter half of the 19th century, during the British Rule, a few reform movements were started in India to remedy some of the ills of Hindu Society and to prevent mass conversion of Hindus to other religions--Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) founded the Brahmosamaj and Swami Dayananda Saraswati (1824-1883) Aryasamaj and Swami Vivekanada Ramakrishna Mission.
Chaitanya and Ramakrishna taught their followers that lovers of God do not have any caste whatsoever like Basaveswara and Ramanuja. Later political figures Mahatma Gandhi, Rajaji, Suddhananda Bharati and others were very critical of the ills of the caste system.
India after Independence in 1947 did not follow the preaching of Basaveswara fully. They are trying to raise the educational, cultural and economic levels of Hindus from the so called lower castes up to the cultural level of the so called highest caste Brahmins. Pulling the Brahmins down to the level of the culturally disadvantaged lowest caste is not a healthy solution as the governments are contemplating at present, after the Independence. It will cause only further degradation of the Hindu Society. They have to treat all the community equally and be good to all following the principles set by Basaveswara--Sadaachaara, Sivaachaara and Bhrityaachaara.
Today Lingaayats are again a formidable political power and powerful lobby in the reorganized State of Karnataka in India. But they neither follow the preaching of Basaveswara nor follow his footsteps. Recently they have used their political muscle to enlist themselves as backward class under the leadership of their leader Yediyurappa, though better placed than many unfortunates in Karnataka. Thus, they have firmly placed the Caste system glued to the caste-ridden society with a view to materially progress themselves but not spiritually as taught by Basaveswara.
Culturally advanced fortunate few from among the lower castes in India are frustrated that the progress is insignificant even after 60 years or so and the culturally advanced from the British days feel they are being denied the opportunity for their children to grow similarly. So both have left the country and have come together in foreign lands where they are permanently settled, in countries where they can enjoy cultural and religious freedom. Here is an opportunity to follow the wise advice of Basaveswara and create a classless society with unified culture and Brahmopaasana (meditation on Supreme Principle) for the promotion of Universal Spirituality (Sanatan Dharma).
This discourse is prepared drawing considerable help from the following literary sources which is gratefully acknowledged.
- Subba Rao & Dr B.D.Jetti, Basaveswara, Amara Chitra Katha, India Book house, Mumbai, India.
- Swami Bhaskarananda, The Essentials of Hinduism, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India.
- Viswanathan T.R., Sanatana Dharma, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.
- N.R.Srinivasan, Hindu mass worship in temples and the need of the hour, <nrsrini.blogspot.com>
- Basveswara Vachanagalu (psalms of Basaveswara)—translated by N.R. Srinivasan.