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Basaveshvara and his Socio - Religious Movement
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Click here to go to the main page of History of Karnataka.

The Kalachuri period witnessed a remarkable socio - religious movement of which Basaveshvara was the supreme leader. The Virasaiva Movement, which sought to simplify religion and create a harmonious social order. The Virasaiva tradition claims that the sect was founded by the five great acharyas, Renuka, Daruka, Ekorama, Panditaradhya and Vishwaradhya. But the Virasaiva movement itself was the supreme product of the inspiration and the organizational genius of Basaveshvara, who was an officer in the service of Bijjala.

Basaveshvara was born about 1105 A. D. at Ingaleshvara Bagevadi in Bijapur district. His Brahmin parents were Madiraja and Madalamba. In fact, Madiraja who belonged to the Kamme Kula, was the Chief of the assembly of the mahajanas of Bagevadi, and was also reputed to be a scholar. Basava as a boy studied Sanskrit and Kannada, and had the occasion to observe and realise the futility of traditional rituals and sacrifices. His sensitive mind rebelled against the hollow religious set - up. He refused to go through the thread ceremony, which was arranged to be performed at the age of eight. He left Bagevadi and went to Kudala Sangama, where he pursued his spiritual practices under Isanya Guru, who according Dr. P. B. Desai, might have belonged to the Pasupata sect. Basava's stay at Kudala Sangama helped him in achieving a spiritual maturity, which made him a revered leader of the movement.

Basava went to Mangalavada and took service in the treasury office of Bijjala. His efficiency and sincerity made great impression on Baladeva, a minister of Bijjala. In fact, Baladeva gave his daughter in marriage to Basava, who soon rose to the position of the Chief treasurer. His high office did not prevent him from gathering around him a large number of devotees of Siva. Basava associated freely with people of all castes, which raised many an orthodox eye - brow. Though Bijjala did not approve the activities of Basava, he could not, at first, take the side of the conservative section.

When Bijjala overthrew the Chalukya power and shifted his capital to Kalyana, Basava and his entourage also shifted the venue of their activities to the great imperial city. Basava continued his spiritual and organizational work with great vigour. "Anubhava Mantapa", an Academy of Mysticism, a great centre of religious discussions, was founded at Kalyana. Here came a host of Saiva devotees and mystics who gave great impetus to the Virasaiva movement. However, it also provoked a reaction from the orthodox groups complained to Bijjala and persuaded him to take stern measures against the new movement. It was at this time that two Sharanas, Haralayya, an untouchable, and Madhuvayya, a brahmana, had brought about an inter caste marriage.

The latter gave his daughter in marriage to the son of the former - all with the explicit support and blessings of Basaveshvara. It was a Pratiloma marriage forbidden by the lawgivers, and the orthodox at Kalyana screamed in anger. Bijjala summoned both Haralayya and Madhuvayya, and without any trial, had them executed. This atrocity of the ruler stunned the followers of Basava, and soon it became a signal for a widespread anger and discontent. The followers of Basava were yelling for the King's blood, but Basava did not favour vengeance. When he realised that he had lost control over his followers, he thought it prudent to get out of the hole affair. He left Kalyana and went to Kudala Sangama, where he merged with the deity.

In the Capital, however, Jagadeva, a cousin of Basava, got Bijjala assassinated, throwing Kalyana into great chaos. The Virasaivas, for a while, became the victims of vengeance, and the movement suffered a set back. But it survived, and it came to vigorous life again during the days of Vijayanagar.

Teachings of Basava:
Basava was, first and last, a great Bhakta. In his Bhakti there is an emotional exuberance, a philosophical insight, and a moving compassion. There is no empty sentimentalism, on dry philosophical or metaphysical speculation. It is frank, vigorous and pure. Basava's devotion is like a full flooded river; it runs with great dignity. And, it moves inexorably to join the expansive ocean of Kudala Sangama's Infinite Grace.

Basaveshvara believed that salvation is attained not by renouncing the world. But by accepting it. Life, according to him, is a struggle and a battle; hence, he called upon his followers. "Gird up your loins and come to the field; yours is the lot to fight, not to yield; "Basava did not preach asceticism. Life is worthwhile and one may enjoy the delights of the senses through legitimate ways. But man ought to know that there are more important things than merely be addicted to the material pleasures. It is this balance of outlook, which is the clue to true success. Basava accepted both the material and the spiritual aspects of life: "Those who earn merit here, earn also there, And those who earn not here, earn neither there…" Samsara or life is like a mad horse; one must have the resoluteness of a warrior to ride it.

Basava led an unceasing and relentless crusade against caste hierarchy, social inequality, and the soul - stiffing practice of untouchability. He sought to sweep the social evils with a strong broom, and he did it in the teeth of a determined opposition from the orthodox groups. His daring modernism convulsed the entire contemporary society, but from a distance of time we can appreciate Basava's spirit of Social reform and revolution.

Kayaka or divinity of labour was one of the ideas, which Basava often emphasized. There was nothing like high or low in occupations, it was honesty and sincerity that decided the merit of the means of one's livelihood. Religion, according to Basava, consisted in rejecting the plurality of gods and in submitting to the one God that permeated the Universe. The Children of one God will then be brothers, and so all-racial, sectarian inequalities that flourish in society re just a violence against the creator. Basava also pleaded for compassion, or Daya, for that alone can smoothly guide men in their social relationships. Indeed, Basava himself was a model of humility, and his entire life was dedicated to the service of humanity.

The word "Dasoham" is a dominant and recurrent note in the sayings of Basava. It is dedication to Guru, Linga and Jangama. It means that I am the servant, the servant of truth and the servant of God. Basava admonished his followers to develop in them the qualities of a true servant. It is indispensable for "Shunya Sampadane", "Shunya" means reducing the ego and its desires to the Zero point; and with the reduction of the lower self or ego, the energy of the higher self is released for higher spiritual attainments. Basava believed that the highest ideal of life is not the loss of the individual in the Universal but the possession of the Universal. It has been pointed out that this line of Basaveshvara's thought steers clear of both the positions of Dvaita and Advaita. However, it should be noted that Basava never indulged in philosophical speculations. His outlook was frank and true to life. Simple devotion to God and love for humanity appealed to Basava's honest mind, which shunned insincerity; cant and conceit in life and religion.

Basava believed that women were not inferior to men, an attitude, which was at once modern and revolutionary. Many women saints like Akkamahadevi, Nilambike, Gangambike and others strengthened the Virasaiva Movement.

Basava established Anubhava Mantapa at Kalyana, which was presided over by the great saint Allama Prabhu. It was an academy in which religious and spiritual discussions were held. Devotees of all castes gathered here. It attracted people like Allama Prabhu, Siddarama. Chennabasava, Madivala Machayya and a host of Siva Bhaktas. Women like Akkamahadevi too attended its meetings. Anubhava Mantapa also provided a strong organizational base for the Virasaiva Movement. It could be a centre of Virasaiva thought and philosophy, and it could send forth into the world an army of soldier of peace, knowledge and love.

The contribution of Basava to Kannada language and literature is immense and enduring. He couched his teachings in simple, terse, verse forms of rare felicity known as Vachanas. They are frank, vigorous and incisive. Dr. Mugali regards the Vachanas as "Spiritual lyrics" and "springs of beauty flown from the peak of devotion".

Basaveshvara was indeed a revolutionary saint of Karnataka. He rose above caste and sex. The hierarchy and orthodoxy, and democratized religion. In him head and heart, knowledge and devotion, action and meditation, rationalism and mysticism combined in perfect balance. He repudiated ignorance, superstition and insincerity; and identified religion with honesty and morality. His vigorous but simple teachings created a revolution in the religious and social outlook in Karnataka. It is for this reason that Arthur Miles called Basaveshvara the "Martin Luther of Karnataka".


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