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Lingayatism

Lingayatism [or Linga-wearers,] is a distinct Shaivite denomination practiced in India. The Lingayats, who are also known as Lingawants, Lingangis, Sivabhaktas, and Viraiaivas, derive their name from the word lihga, the phallic emblem, with the affix ayta, and are 'the people who bear the linga' habitually. Their name literally describes them; for the true Lingayat wears on his body a small silver box containing a stone phallus, which is the symbol of his faith, and the loss of which is equivalent to spiritual death. The emblem is worn by both sexes. The men carry the box on a red silk scarf or a thread tied round the neck, while the women wear it inside their costume, on a neckstring. When working, the male wearer sometimes shifts it to his left arm.

They have been not inaptly described as a peaceable race of Hindu puritans, though it may be questioned how far their rejection of many of the chief dogmas of Brahmanio Hinduism leaves them the right to be styled Hindus at all. Lingayatism makes several departures from mainstream Hinduism and propounds monotheism through worship centered on Lord Shiva in the form of linga universal God or Ishtalinga. It also rejects the authority of the Vedas, the caste system and some Hindu beliefs such as reincarnation and karma (but lingayat understand the Samsara and Karma as reality). In India, Lingayats are followers of the Lingayat sect founded in the 12th century by Guru Basava and his followers are called Sharanas.

BasavaBasava (or Basavesvara or Basavanna) is the purported founder of the Li?gayat (or Virasaiva) religious movement. Guru Basavanna was the author of an unique spiritual revolution that impacted the social life, literature, tradition, customs, religion, and economy of 12th century Karnataka, India. His most likely dates are 1105-1167 CE, though some argue for 1134-1196 CE. As with most founders, there are both traditional versions of his life and challenges to the very claim that he, rather than a group of mystical teachers (acaryas), founded the movement. Legendary lore is puerile enough in all countries; and is not worse in India than that which prevailed in Europe, before the invention of printing.

It is said that Guru Basavanna was born to a traditional Brahmin family in the small town of Bagevade in Karnataka, India. Rebelling against the futile customs, rigid traditions, untouchability, and caste system prevailantin the society, child Basava left home at the tender age of eight His quest for truth took him to the town Kappadisangama, where he sought refuge in the famous temple of Sangameswar. Baladeva, the prime minister of Vijjana, was his maternal uncle and gave him his daughter Neelagangambike in marriage. After Baladeva's death Basavanna eventually became the Prime Minister of King Bizzala/Bijjala's Kingdom of Vijjana/Calyanam. Kalyana, the capital city of the Chalukya Empire, became the focal point of his spiritual revolution.

The Jainas, however, state that Basava had a beautiful sister named Padmavati, of whom the king became enamoured and whom he either married or made his mistress; and it was on that account that he was raised to that office and became a man of influence. There must be some truth in this story; for the Basava Puraua narrates that the king gave his younger sister Nilalochana in marriage to Basava, which looks as if it were a counter-story devised to throw discredit on the other which was so derogatory to Basava.

Basava had charge of the king's treasury, and out of it he spent large amounts in supporting and entertaining these Jangamas, who led a profligate life. Vijjana had another minister named Maiichanna, who was tho enemy of Basava, and informed the king of his rival's embezzlements. In the course of time Vijjana was completely alienated from Basava. But a large number of followers now joined Basava, and the king was defeated and had to submit to his minister. Basava was allowed to return to Kalyana and reinstated in his office. There was, however, no possibility of a complete reconciliation, and after some time the leader of the new sect conceived the design of putting the king to death. Then arose dissensions in the city, men fought with men, horses with horses, and elephants with elephants; the race of Vijjana was extinct, Kalyana was a heap of ruins, and the curse pronounced.

The account given by the Jainas is different. Immadi Vijjatia gave orders that Basava should be arrested and all Jangamas, wherever found, executed. On hearing of this, Basava fled; and being pursued went to the Malabar coast and took refuge at a place called Ulavi. The town was closely invested and Basava in despair threw himself into a well and died, while his wife Nilamba put an end to her existence by drinking poison. When Vijjana's son was pacified, Chenua-Basava surrendered all his uncle's property to him and was admitted into favor. He now became the sole leader of the Lingayatas; but, even before, his position was in some Chenna-Basava'i respects superior to that of Basava. The religious portion of the leadership. movement was under his sole direction, and it was he who shaped the creed of the sect.

The traditional Lingayat teacher, Basava, proclaimed all men holy in proportion as they are temples of the great spirit, and thus, in his view, all men are born equal. Basava believed that man becomes great not by his birth but by his conduct in society. The denial of the supremacy of the Brahmans, coupled with the assertion of the essential equality of all men, constituted a vital departure from the doctrines of orthodox Hinduism. Other important innovations were: the prohibition of child-marriage; the removal of all restriction on widows remarrying; the burial, instead of burning, of the dead; and the abolition of the chief Hindu rites for the removal of ceremonial impurity. The founders of the religion could scarcely have forged more potent weapons for severing the bonds between their proselytes and the followers of the doctrines preached by contemporary Brahmanic Hinduism.

The ancient or braminical creed, offers homage to the image placed in a pagoda or in any sacred situation. The Jangama or Vira Saiva is the modern anti-braminical creed,i wherein each individual wears the image. The ancient form directs pilgrimage, penance and sacrifice : the modern substitutes (Guru, Linga, Jangam) devotion to the teacher, adoration of the image, and benevolence to the fellow worshipper. The older form admits of caste, and considers Bramins as sacred. The modern rejects easte, and certainly teaches no veneration for Bramins. In the modern creed every homage is paid to Basava, and paid exclusively to him as Siva: paying no regard to Parwati, to Ganésa, to Nandi, or any other attendant on Siva: in the older or braminical system (such as is taught in the Calahasti Mahatmyam and other books named with it) the name of Basava is never mentioned.

Madivala MachidevaMadivala Machideva was the coeval Sharana of the Guru Basaveshwara. He fought against the communal forces which intend to destroy the Vachana literature during the Kalyana Kranti. His was a washer man at kalyan. He also contribute a lot to define rectify the daily practice of Lingayath ethics. In his Vachana he specify Basaveshwara invented Guru (preceptor), Linga, Jangama (Priest), Prasada (Grace of God, holly food, Phala/return for the good deed) and even seven worlds.

The adherents of this faith are known as "lingayats", a term derived from Kannada lingavanta meaning "one who wears a lingam". The Lingayat jangam is an oval-shaped emblem symbolising Parashiva, the absolute reality, and is worn on the body by a cord hung around the neck. Contemporary Lingayatism is a rich blend of reform-based theology propounded by Basava and ancient Shaiva 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.

The Lingayats are neither an intellectual aristocracy like the Brahmans nor a functional group such as the Vanis. It is not an easy task to decide precisely what the term Lingayat does include. Tradition imputes the origin of the Lingayats to a reformer, Basappa of Kalyan, who lived in the twelfth century, and would seem to have been one of the many rebellious spirits who challenged the Brdhman claim to social predominance. Some members of the caste claim for it an antiquity not less than that of the Brahmans. Many men who wear tho sacred thread and the topknot have brothers or cousins who have taken to wear the ling. Few castes have remained beyond the influence of the new sect.

In its origin, the religion of Basava insisted on the wearing of the linga or emblem of Shiva, the worship of this member of the Hindu triad, and the practice of virtues common to all religions. Basav held that the proper worship of the ling overthrew all distinctions of caste, and received converts from the lowest classes as readily as from the highest. This enthusiasm did not last long. Shortly after Basav's death, when the new sect found its position established, the original members claimed a higher rank than any outsiders. If a Brahman wished to become a Lingayat he had to pass through a three years' proving. The term was six years in tho case of a Kshatriya, nine in the case of a Vaishya, and twelve in the case of a Sbudra. The door was apparently shut to all of impure caste.

Caste distinctions were abolished entirely, and converts were freely admitted to equal rights with all members of tbe fraternity. But social distinctions inevitably asserted themselves later. In connexion with the attitude originally assumed towards caste distinctions, there has been a very noticeable departure from Basava's teaching.

One of the most interesting phenomena connected with the evolution of modern caste is the working of a religious reformation in which caste finds no place on the previously existing social structure of caste units. If caste is largely a manifestation of deep-rooted prejudices tending to raise and preserve barriers between the social intercourse of different sections of society, it would seem not unnatural to expect that it would tend to reassert itself within the fold of an essentially casteless religion so soon as the enthusiasm of the founders had spent itself; and it is not unlikely that the mere fact of converts having joined the movement at an early stage in its history would generate a claim to social precedence over the later converts, and thus in time reconstitute the old caste barrier that the reformers spent themselves in endeavouring to destroy. One of the most interesting pages in the history of caste evolution, therefore, must be that which deals with the evolution of caste inside the fold of a religious community originally formed on a non-caste basis.

As the Lingayats, or Panchamsalis, as they styled themselves, increased in importance, number and wealth, elaborate forms of worship and ceremony were introduced, rules of conduct were framed, and a religious system devised, in which the influence of the rival Brahman aristocracy can be freely traced. Thus, in course of time, the Panchamsalis became a closed caste. New converts were placed on a lower social footing, the priests alone continuing, as a privileged class, to dine freely with them. This development is alleged to have occurred about the close of the seventeenth oentury.

Without entering on a discussion concerning the weight which can be attached to the commonly accepted account of their origin, the Lingayats may be described as Hindus denying the ascendancy of the Brahmans, and entitled to receive from their own priests, or jangams, an eightfold sacrament known as the ashtavarna.

In the addition to Panchamsalis, non-Panchamsalis with ashtavarna rites, and others, including the unclean castes attached to the Lingayat community by reason of performing its menial service, e.g., Dhow, Chalvadis, &c., there are seven divisions of the Panchamsalis which stand in the relation of hyper^amous groups, that is to say, members of the higher orders may wed the daughters of those beneath them, suggesting the probable former existence of free inter-marriage. Members of the lower orders among Panchamsalis may rise to the higher freely by performing certain religious ceremonies.

Though the rule is that a member of a lower division is allowed to eat with members of higher divisions in a religious house when a Jangam is present, this privilege is not granted to all classes who profess Lingayatism. The classes who are debarred from this privilege are Nhavis or barbers, Gavlis or cowkeepers, Dhobis or washermen, Bedars, and the depressed classes such as Mhars and Mangs. In the same way there is no objection to any Zinjf-wearing man coming into a Lingayat's house and seeing the food; but if a Musalindn, or a Maratha, or any one without a ling sees the food it must be thrown away. This rule applies only to food in one's own house; it does not apply to food in the field or in tho rest-house.

As regards marriage a Jangam occasionally marries a Chalgeribalki, Holiyachibalki, or Panchamsali girl, first making her a Jangam by diksha or cleansing rite. Shilvants seem not to give their daughters in marriage to Jangams. A Jangam girl cannot marry any one but a Jangam; Holiyachibalki girls and Chalgeribalki girls may marry Panchamsali husbands. No True Lingayat boy or girl ever marries into any of the Affiliated Lingayat castes.

The ashtavarna supplies a key to the meaning of the term Lingayat. It also divides Lingayats into two sub-divisions, i.e., those in whose house the priest may take cooked food, and those in whose house he may not. There are in all forty-seven divisions of the community, thirty-five of which are entitled to the full rites, and twelve to the first seven only.

Shortly after the birth of a child, the parents send for the guru or spiritual adviser of the family, who is the representative of one of the five dahdryas from whom the father claims descent, or, in his absence, for his local agent. The guru binds the linga on the child, besmears it with vibhuti (or ashes), places a garland of rudrdksha (seeds of the bastard oedav) round its neck, and teaches it the mystic mantra of 'Nantah Shivdya., The child being incapable of acquiring the knowledge of the sacred text at this early stage of its existence, the mantra is merely recited in its ear by the guru. The child has then to be presented to the god Shiva in the person of a jangam, or Lingayat priest, who is summoned for that purpose. On his arrival, the parents wash his feet. The water in which the feet are washed is described as the tirtha or charantirtha of Shiva. This tirtha is next poured over the linga attached to the infant. The jangam is fed, and a portion of the food from the dish placed in the child,s mouth. This final ceremony is known as prasad. Occasionally, the double character of guru and jangam are combined in one person.

When the child attains the age of eight or ten, the ceremony is repeated with slight modifications. According to the religious books, all Lingayats are now-adays entitled to receive the ashtavarna. In practice, however, the last and most important of the rites, i.e., prasad, is restricted to those members of the community in whose houses the priest may eat cooked food. Unless the jangam may partake of cooked food in the house, he must not administer prasad.

Virakts, the highest class of Jangams, dedicate themselves to celibacy, aud are not allowed to celebrate marriages. They are a comparatively small body aud move about the country accompanied by their disciples. They stop at maths or religious houses, live on the offerings of the sect, let the hair and beard grow, and wear no cloth but the loincloth, a cap on their heads with a string of rudrdksh beads in it, and a long salmon-coloured coat falling to tho ankles. They never intentionally look on tho face of a woman.



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Page last modified: 17-04-2018 13:45:40 ZULU