Essays About Shaivism

History, Philosophy, Beliefs and Practices of Shaivism,

A Brief Account of Vira Shaivism or Lingayatism


Virasaiva philosophy is only Sakti Visishtadvaita philosophy. It is a phase of Agamanta. It underwent radical changes in the hands of Sri Basavanna and his colleagues. Basava was the Prime Minister to a Jain king named Bijjala who ruled over Kalyan (1157-1167) which is sixty miles from Gulbarga in Karnataka State.

Basavanna was a magnetic personality. He exercised tremendous influence over the people. He held a spiritual conference. Three hundred Virasaiva saints assembled. There were sixty women saints also. Akka Mahadevi, the illustrious lady saint was also present on that grand occasion. Virasaivism became Lingayatism in the hands of Basava. Lingayatism is the special faith of the Karnatic Virasaivas. Sharanas are the saints of the Lingayat faith or cult.

Virasaivism or Lingayatism shows the way to attain the Lakshya or Lord Siva. Lord Siva, Lord Subrahmanya, king Rishabha, Santa Lingar, Kumara Devi, Sivaprakasa had all expounded lucidly this system of philosophy. Viragama is the chief source for this system of philosophy. Those who embrace this faith, live in great numbers in Karnataka.

Ordinary Saivites keep the Sivalinga in a box and worship it during the time of Puja. The Lingayats keep a small Linga in a small silver or golden box and wear it on the body with the chain attached to the box. Wearing the Linga on the body will remind one, of the Lord and help His constant remembrance. The Christians wear the cross in the neck. This also has the same object in view.

Sakti in Virasaiva philosophy is identical with Siva. Sakti works. Siva is the silent witness. Siva is infinite, self-luminous, eternal, all-pervading. He is an ocean of peace. He is stupendous silence. Siva illumines everything. He is all-full and self-contained. He is ever free and perfect. The whole world is an expression of the Divine Will. In Virasaiva philosophy, the world movement is not an illusion, but an integral play.

The Eightfold Practice

The eightfold practice of Lingayats include the following:

  • Guru - obedience towards Basavanna as Guru,
  • Linga - wearing a linga,
  • Jangama - worship of Siva ascetics as an incarnation of the Lord himself,
  • Pādodaka - sipping the water from bathing the Linga,
  • Prasāda - sacred offering,
  • Vibhuti - smearing holy ash(created using cow dung) oneself,
  • Rudrāksha - wearing a string of rudraksha (holy beads) and
  • Mantra - reciting the mantra: Aum Shri Guru Basavalingaya Namah.

Shatsthala - Six phases of spiritual progression

Shatsthala or the concept of six phases of progressive spiritual evolution culminating in the liberatino of the individual is central to Lingayat philosophy. Shat means six and sthala means place or plane or level. The six phases are Bhakta Sthala, Maheshwara Sthala, Prasadi Sthala, Pranalingi Sthala, Sharana Sthala and the Aikya Sthala. The Aikya Sthala is the final stage where the soul leaves the physical body and unites with Siva. the concept of shatsthala might have been derived from the Agama. But it was made popular with the rise of Vira saivism in the south. While Basavanna held that the souls progressed from one stage to another in a linear fashion, his nephew Channabasavanna differed with him and held that a soul may attain salvation in any of the six stages.


Source: Parts of this article is Reproduced, with the general permission, from Lord Siva and His Worship, WWW edition 2000, By Sri Swami Sivananda © The Divine Life Trust Society