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Life and Works of Basava or Basavanna


Basava , also known as Basavanna (1106–1167)) was a philosopher and a social reformer, who fought against social evils of his time such as caste system and the ritual practices of Hinduism. His teachings and philosophy transcend all boundaries and address the universal and eternal. Basava was a great humanitarian, who advocated a new way of life, in which divine experience was at the center of life and where caste, gender and social distinctions carried no special importance. The cornerstone of his movement was the firm monotheistic belief in God as the absolute and universal supreme Self identified as Lord Shiva, and the equality and dignity of all individual beings irrespective of their social and gender status.

A true visionary, who was born ahead of his time, he envisioned a society based on sound religious, moral and spiritual values, encompassing one and all. Besides serving the people as a great reformer and a great mystic, he also served as the Prime Minister of the Southern Kalachuri Empire in South India and originated a literary revolution by introducing Vachana Sahitya (Lit. vachana = sayings, prose). Basava is said to have been a mystic by temperament, an idealist by choice, a statesman by profession, a man of letters by taste, a humanist by sympathy, and a social reformer by conviction. Many great yogis and mystics of the time joined his movement, enriching it with the essence of divine experience in the form of Vachanas that define a new way of looking at God and life. Basava's path later gave birth to a new tradition (sampradaya), which became popular in the south as the Lingavanta Dharma or Lingayata movement. Other synonyms for lingayata are Basava Dharma, Sharana Dharma, Vachana Dharma.

His life and work

Basavanna was born in the year 1106 into a Shaivite Kamme Brahmin family in the small town of Ingaleshwar (Bagewadi ) in the Bijapur district of northern Karnataka. He grew up in a strict, religious household, where he was made to wear a sacred thread known as the Janivara, which he did not accept. He rejected both the traditional Sanskrit scriptures and the prevailing Hindu rituals. At an early age he left Bagewadi and spent the next 12 years studying Sangameshwara, at the then-Shaivite stronghold of Kudala Sangama. There, he conversed with scholars and developed his spiritual and religious views in association with his societal understanding. His Guru was Játavéda Muni, also known as Eeshánya Guru. His believed in one true and perfect God and campaigned aggressively against untouchability, superstition, temple rituals and the dominance of priestly class. He believed that people should be be shown the right way to reach God and preached equality of all people and castes. For his revolutionary work and exceptional ideas, he earned a great recognition in the 12th century Hindu society.

Basavanna started his career as an accountant at Mangalaveda in the court of Kalachuri king Bijjala, a feudatory of the Kalyani Chalukya. When Bijjala acquired the power at Basavakalyana, by overpowering Tailapa IV(the garandson of Vikramaditya VI, the great Chalukya king), Basavanna also went to Kalyana. With his honesty, hardwork and visionary mission, Basava rose to the position of Prime Minister in the court of king Bijjala, who ruled from 1162—1167 at Kalyana (presently renamed as Basavakalyana). There, he established the Anubhava Mantapa, a spiritual parliament to openly discuss Lingayatism, which attracted many saints from throughout India. He believed in the principle Káyakavé Kailása (Work puts you on the path to heaven, Work is Heaven). It was at this time that the Vachanas, simple and easy-to-understand poetic writings, such as the following, which contained essential teachings, were written.

The power of knowledge destroys ignorance;
The power of light dissipates darkness;
The power of truth is foe of all untruth;
The sharana's experience of god is the sole cure of worldliness;
- Lord Kudala Sangamadeva

Dont rob,dont kill, never ever lie
dont get angry,dont think negative about others
Dont self describe, dont tease others
this is the way of self respect, this is the way to get respected by the world.
This is the way of impressing my Lord Kudala Sangam Deva.

Through his revolutionary ideas and actions against social evils Basava stirred a lot of ontroversy. By allowing untouchables to have lunch with him and praising a marriage between a Brahmin woman and an untouchable man, he invoked the ire of the orthodox members of society, who appealed to King Bijjala with complaints, allegations and accusations. The king did not want to offend the orthodox members of the society and invoke their displeasure. So he ordered the newly married couple to be harshly punished. Before punishing them, he asked Basava to agree with caste system. But Basava did not relent. He believed that the married couple were Lingayats and the rules of caste system are not applicable to them. The king was not pleased with his argument and proceeded with punishing the couple. After that unpleasant event, Basavanna left Kalyana in 1196 with heavy heart and marched towards Kudala Sangama. On the way he preached the people about humanity, morality, honesty, equality, individuality, simplicity, and the dignity of labor. In the same year on 30th July he left the body and became liberated.

His Philosophy

Basava said that the roots of social life are embedded not in the cream of the society but in the scum of the society. It is his witty way of saying that the cow does not give milk to him who sits on its back, but it gives milk to him who squats at its feet. With his wide sympathy, he admitted high and low alike into his fold. The Anubhava Mantapa, or the religious parliament, established by Basava laid down the foundation of social democracy. Basava believed that man becomes great not by his birth, but by his worth to the society. He believed in the dignity of man and the belief that a common man was as good as a man of status. He proclaimed that all members of the state were laborers, euating the intellectual laborers socially with the manual laborers. He set an example by practicing the ideals he preached and followed a rigid discipline. He emphasized the importance of self-purification. and tried to raise the moral standards of people in society. He also taught the dignity of manual labor. declaring work as worship. He insisted that every type of manual labor, including those menial tasks which were held in contempt by people, should be looked upon with love and reverence.

With his views on dignity of work and equality of people, he formed people's committees for various vocations such as agriculture, horticulture, tailoring, weaving, dyeing, and carpentry. People from all vocations and wakes of life participated in them and contributed their ideas for improving the lives of people socially, morally and economically. There were women also followers such as Satyakka, Ramavve, and Somavve with their respective vocations. Some of them composed their own vachanas, expressing the philosophy of Basava.

The movement initiated by Basava through Anubhava Mantapa became the basis of a sect of love and faith. It gave rise to a system of ethics and education at once simple and exalted. It sought to inspire ideals of social and religious freedom, such as no previous faith of India had done. In the medieval age which was characterized by inter-communal jealousy, it helped to shed a ray of light and faith on the homes and hearts of people. But the spirit soon disappeared after the intermarriage that Basava facilitated came to an abrupt end when the couple were punished for the same by the King. The dream of the classless society was shaken and Basava soon realised the meek picture and left for Kudala Sangama and a year later died. Many believe that it was through self-annihilation, because of the agony caused by the failure.


Source: This article is adapted with necessary changes from an article on Basavanna from