Basava Jayanti: Remembering the life and times of a radical thinker

Basava Jayanti: Remembering the life and times of a radical thinker

Jagajyoti Basaveshwara was a great humanitarian, philosopher, thinker, a social reformer, and a revolutionary who taught that right conduct is heaven, work is worship, and who preached the ideals of simple living and equality of all people.

Basaveshwara 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. He practiced what he preached and fought against the practice of caste system and rituals in the society. By virtue of his great philosophy and social revolution, he is also called as Kranti-Yogi, Vishwa Guru, Vishwa-Vibhuti and Bhakti-Bhandari.

His teachings go beyond all boundaries and are universal and eternal. Basaveshwara advocated a new way of life wherein the divine experience was the centre of life, giving equal opportunity to all aspirants regardless of the gender, caste, and social status. The cornerstone behind his movement was the firm belief in a universal concept of God.

Basaveshwara was a proponent of monotheistic concept of formless God. A true visionary with ideas ahead of his time, he envisioned a society that flourished enriching one and all.

In addition to being a great mystic, Basaveshwara was the Prime Minister of the Southern Kalachuri Empire in South India and originated a literary revolution by introducing Vachana Sahitya. Many great yogis and mystics of the time joined his movement enriching it with the essence of divine experience in the form of Vachanas (Literary. sayings - sacred hymns in Kannada) that define a new way of looking at God and life. Basava's path later gave birth to a new religion called Lingayata Dharma. Other synonyms for Lingayata Dharma are: Basava Dharma, Sharana Dharma, Vachana Dharma.

Birth and childhood
Basaveshwara was born to couple Madarasa and Madalambike into a Shaivite Kamme Brahmin family residing in the small town of Ingaleshwara- Bagewadi in Bijapur district of northern Karnataka.
Basava grew up as a lovely boy in Ingaleshwara-Bagewadi. He was the brightest student in the Gurukula and was very intelligent for his age. Even at such a tender age, he would think for himself and form his own views. The teachers used to teach things in the traditional way and at every step he used ask them 'how?' and 'why?' The teachers no doubt admired his boldness and independent thinking but they found it difficult to answer his questions. There used to be several religious ceremonies in Ingaleshwara-Bagewadi, and Basava, as a child, would want to know the meaning of everything, which was not possible for the elders to clarify them to his satisfaction.
There was the traditional caste system, according to this some were considered high and some low in the society, which seemed wrong to Basava. He used to think and say that all should be treated as equals and all should be pure and devoted to God. Everyone should work and earn their livelihoods and contribute for the betterment of the society. Liberal views such as these took shape in the mind of Basava even in his childhood which was indeed God's grace.

Ingaleshwara-Bagewadi to Kudalasangama
Basava completed his eighth year and in accordance with the family custom, Madarasa decided to perform the 'upanayana' (investing with the holy thread-Janivara) for Basava. Basava started raising several questions on the meaning of the thread ceremony. He also insisted that the thread ceremony also has to be done to his elder sister Akka Nagalambike and insisted for equity between him and his sister. Little Basava rejected to accept the thread ceremony. He convened this message to his father Madarasa, who was taken aback and felt pained. But Basava's stand was clear and firm. Breaking the tradition was a big problem to Madarasa.
Basava also thought over it a good deal and informed his father in a humble way that he will not go with the tradition and was not ready to place his father in a difficult position and announced his decision of leaving the house for good and continue his education at Kudalasangama, at the holy feet of Lord Sangamadeva. However much the parents and the closest kinsmen entreated, Basava did not change his mind and did not accept the 'janivara' and the ritual rites. Leaving his home, he set out for Kudalasangama. This bold and firm decision of Basava at such a young age amazed everybody in Ingaleshwara-Bagewadi. No doubt it was indicative of the great religious revolution that he was to bring about later in his life.

Education at Kudalasangama
Basaveshwara left Ingaleshwara-Bagewadi and reached Kudalasangama. He spent the next 12 years studying in Kudalasangama. Basava conversed with scholars and developed his spiritual and religious views in association with his societal understanding. He was inculcated with the views of believing the presence of only one true, perfect God; additionally, he created people who perform social services like removal of untouchability, superstitiousness, confusions, temple culture, and priesthoodness. He also believed that people who were in search of a false god needed to be shown the right way. He preached equality among humankind and condemned all barriers of caste, creed and sex, fighting against the caste system. A new chapter began in the life of young Basava.
Basava would get up before dawn, meditate on God for some time, and gather flowers for worship, before sunrise. When he worshipped Lord Sangamadeva he used to forget himself completely. So exalted was his state of mind that he felt the presence of God everywhere. All people admired Basava's deep devotion and worship of the Lord.
Basava studied the lessons of the day and also read several books connected with each subject. After reading the books, he would discuss certain points with scholars. He enjoyed long walks on the bank of the river Krishna and Malaprabha in the evenings. Smart and active, simple and frank, and always cheerful as he was, he was also of a serious reflective nature. It was not the type of education that trained the students to pass the examinations and get jobs. The aim of education was to help the development of the inner self of the students, and prepare them to achieve something great in life. Years rolled by, he learnt what he needed for his worldly life and also gained spiritual learning. Basava always pondered over the meaning of life, the final goal and duty of human life.

From Kudalasangama to Kalyana
Basaveshwara's remarkable personality and fame had spread far and wide. Baladeva, the minister in Kalyana, heard much about Basaveshwara. King Bijjala was ruling Kalachurya dynasty. Baladeva had great reverence for Kudalasangama. Hearing about Basaveshwara, he visited Kudalasangama.
He was very happy to meet Basaveshwara. Baladeva thought it would be a very good thing if a brilliant personality like Basaveshwara held some responsible office in the court of Bijjala. He felt the prosperity and the fame of the kingdom would grow. He also thought that Basaveshwara was the best man to marry his daughter.
Basaveshwara had already thought deeply about his career and aim in life. The idea of entering service in the King's court had never occurred to him. Nor had he thought of marriage. He believed that all this would not enable him to achieve his ideal. The scholars in Kudalasangama advised him to agree to Baladeva's proposal which would later help his great mission of human upliftment. He thought that it might be God's will and so at last he consented. A few days after this, Basaveshwara traveled to the city of Kalyana. The grace of Lord Sangamanatha and the best wishes of others went with him.

Responsible position at a young age
The arrival of Basaveshwara to Kalyana heralded many changes. Basaveshwara started his career as a junior officer in the state treasury of King Bijjala. He found the office in a mess and the officials were lazy. He spared no effort to set things right and the king admired his sharp intellect and administrative capability. A copper plate containing an old inscription was discovered in the kingdom and the writing was in coded language and none of the language experts were able to read and understand it. Finally Basaveshwara with his extraordinary intelligence was able to understand and explain its contents to the king which enabled the king to find out a hidden treasure, thereby bringing enormous wealth to the state treasury.
Basaveshwara suggested several plans to the king to use the wealth for the welfare of the people. Bijjala was greatly pleased with this event and appointed Basaveshwara as the chief officer of the treasury. Later, Basaveshwara married Gangambike, the daughter of Minister Baladeva, and Neelambike, the adopted sister of king Bijjala. So Basaveshwara had two wives and his family life was pleasant. The new family and the new office increased his responsibilities, the field of work grew. Basaveshwara was young but already held a high place. So some people in the king's court grew jealous of him.

Anubhava Mantapa
Even at the time, he came to Kalyana, Basaveshwara had chalked out in his mind a programme of spiritual awakening. Beliefs of high and low had broken the society into pieces. Meaningless rituals had become important and there was no equality in the society, no social and economic justice.The essence of religion had slipped to the background. Real devotion and virtuous life had disappeared. All did not have the right to perform 'puja' (worship) or to receive religious education. So Basaveshwara made the principle of the equality of all, the basis of his religious life. He formed a new spiritual institution on a democratic foundation and that was called 'Anubhava Mantapa'.
Anyone, whatever his or her caste by birth, could become a member. Women were also allowed to join it. Piety and good character were the prerequisites to join Anubhava Mantapa. Anubhava Mantapa soon became popular. Many devotees from different parts of Karnataka and India came to Kalyana and joined the new order. These devotees were provided with food and facilities for puja in 'Mahamane', the residence of Basaveshwara. The two wives of Basaveshwara, his sister Nagalambike(Akkanagamma), his nephew Channabasavanna and some other devotees were in charge of various arrangements both in Anubhava Mantapa and in Mahamane. Discussions on religious and spiritual matters were held in Anubhava Mantapa. The number of participants increased every day. People in the king's court, who were jealous of Basaveshwara, got an idea.
They reported to the king that Basaveshwara was feeding a large number of his followers -the Shaiva devotees (Shivasharanas) - out of the money taken from the king's treasury. Basaveshwara invited the king to initiate a detailed inquiry. All accounts of the treasury were verified Bijjala himself and everything was absolutely correct and Bijjala begged to be forgiven and requested Basaveshwara to continue as the chief officer. Thus the false charges made by the jealous courtiers only established Basaveshwara's perfect honesty and increased his fame.
After the death of Baladeva, Bijjala made Basaveshwara his Prime Minister. Basaveshwara proved very efficient in this new office. He led his usual simple life but his thoughts were always high and his heart was pure. He was polite and civil, and in matters of justice he was always firm and never yielded to personal considerations. He was fearless even in the face of great difficulty and danger. 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 saying that the cow does not give milk to the man 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 established by Basava laid down the foundation of social democracy. Basava believed that person becomes great not by his her birth but by his or her worth to the society.

Basaveshwara's philosophy a model to the whole world
Basaveshwara continued his mission of formation of a new and a model society through Anubhava Mantapa on the basis of great principles carved by him. These principles included (a) presence of only one God with many names (b) surrendering of oneself to the God in devotion (c) compassion as the root of all religions (d) treating all living beings with kindness (e) Living for the welfare of all and not living for selfish and personal interests. He also said those who are acceptable in this world will be acceptable in the next world too. People should lead a proper life as householders, only then they will be fit for spiritual life. One need not give up the family and become a monk. No man should be proud thinking 'I give this' or 'I do that'.
True devotion and virtuous conduct should be given greater importance than the outward religious formalities. One should lead a clean and good life both within and outside. A pure mind is more important than scriptures and conventions. All people should have equal opportunities for religious life. Birth, profession, position or sex should make no difference. One should not eat or drink just to please the tongue. Food and water should be taken as 'prasada' (the gracious gift) of Lord Shiva. Humility is God's love. Never try to show off your power and position; and do not be vain.
Everyone should take up a fair and honest means of livelihood. No one should beg. Out of the daily earnings one should take only as much as is needed for the maintenance of the family. The rest should be offered, by way of service, to God for the benefit of others. Everyone should try to rise to the level of Godliness through prayer, practice and meditation. This is the goal of life. These teachings were not just words in speeches or books. They were practiced in daily life by all the members of the Anubhava Mantapa. There were men and women of different professions and social ranks among them.
Setting a model of practicing and preaching
Basaveshwara always practiced and then preached to others. Once his cows were stolen by thieves leaving behind the young calves, which began crying for their mothers. Basaveshwara's heart was moved and he made arrangements to find the thieves so that he send the calves to the thieves to reunite them with their mothers. This kind act of Basaveshwara made the thieves feel ashamed and sorry. They surrendered and reformed themselves and lived honestly thereafter.
Thus Basaveshwara by his noble influence on several deceitful and cunning fellows changed the course of their lives. The society of ShivaSharanas (those who have surrendered themselves to God) formed by Basaveshwara and the high ideals it practiced brought new strength to the masses. Basaveshwara's fame spread everywhere through the model that he set by practicing and preaching.

Basaveshwara Vachanas

Basaveshwara wrote several vachanas, and he wrote them in an easy and simple language. A few are mentioned below
Heaven and man's world are not elsewhere, my dears.
Speaking truth is heaven, uttering lies is man's world,
Righteous conduct is heaven, unrighteous conduct is hell,
Say 'sire', sweet and soft; heaven is there,
Say 'you feller', vulgar and rough; and that is hell.
Basaveshwara did not have any worldly desire. He said
Never do / keep by in store,
One streak of gold or one yarn of sari,
Desiring for today or for tomorrow,
I swear this oath by you and your ancient devotees.
Basaveshwara here declares in the name of God and all his devotees of all times that he would never hoard gold or provisions in greed, expecting that he would need them some day. He never begged or cringed before others for anything:

For fear of danger to my body, I shall not ask, 'Please protect me',
For fear of losing my livelihood, I shall not ask, 'Please give me',
'As is the feeling so it happens.' Come what may - pain or gain,
I shall never deviate from you, nor shall beg men for anything,
This / I swear by your name, Lord Kudalasangamadeva.
Basaveshwara was not afraid of anything;
Let what is to come tomorrow come today,
Let what is to come today, come this very moment.
Who is afraid of it? Who hesitates?
Since he had completely surrendered to God and relied entirely on His grace he could be so fearless.

You are my father, you are my mother, you are my brother, and all my kith and kin are you,
I have none except you Lord Kudalasangamadeva.
'Dip me in milk or dip me in water -only thy will be done.'
Such was his firm stand. He saw God everywhere. He had realised by experience that the same God who was present in all cosmos was within him. Filled with such divine bliss, his heart sang:

My words are filled with you nectar-like name; my eyes are filled with your image,
My mind and heart are filled with thoughts of you; my ears are filled with the praise of your glor,y
O Lord Kudalasangamadeva, your lotus feet are filled with me.

There is a deep sense of fulfillment in this vachana. Speech finds its fulfillment in chanting His name. The eyes find theirs seeing His lovely form. The mind or heart has its fulfillment in thoughts are feelings relating to Him only. The ears delight in listening to the praise of His glory. The self, like the bumblebee sucking honey from a lotus forgets itself in the ecstasy of being one with the Divine. In the last line of this vachana there is a fine pun on the Kannada word 'tumbi'. In consonance with the earlier lines it means 'filled'. Associated with the lotus it means a 'bumble-bee'. Below is one of the vachanas:

The power of knowledge destroys ignorance, the power of light dissipates darkness;
The power of truth is foe of all untruths,
The sharana's experience of god is the sole cure of worldliness, Lord Kudala Sangamadeva.
Became one with Lord Sangamadeva
Basaveshwara's philosophy of classless society and the new social system was not liked by the orthodox groups who had been opposing Basaveshwara and his philosophy from the beginning and were waiting for an opportunity. They got one such opportunity when Madhuvarasa (a Brahmin) and Haralayya (a cobbler) joined Anubhava Mantapa after being initiated and given a linga to wear as their personal god and were treated as equals. Followed by this Madhuvarasa's daughter was given in marriage to Haralayya's son, which was a revolutionary event in those days of rigid caste system and orthodoxy. This marriage had the approval of Basaveshwara and all other Shivasharanas of Anubhava Mantapa.
The orthodox group rose in violent protest against this marriage and raised hue and cry and they said that their sacred religious system was spoilt by Basaveshwara and his followers. The orthodox group further pressurized the King to take action to protect and maintain the old religious customs and traditions. Bijjala, afraid of a possible uprising in orthodox society, ordered the newly married couple to be harshly punished. Before punishing the couple Bijjala asked Basaveshwara to agree with caste system. Basaveshwara strongly opposed the move and said that both Haralayya and Madhuvaras were Lingayats and the rules of caste system were not applicable to them.
Bijjala did not agree with Basaveshwara's ideas, and asked Basaveshwara to be silent and accept the punishment to couple or leave Kalyana. The "Being punished" (Danda-gonda) Basaveshwara left Kalyana with a heavy heart and marched towards Kudalasangama. On his way to Kudalasangama he preached the people about the humanity, morality, honesty, simplicity, and the dignity of labor, equality among all human beings, human rights etc. Being a perfect yogi he released the bonds of the body and soul and took nirvana and became one with Lord Kudalasangamadeva.
Haralayya and Madhuvarasa died for a noble cause and became martyrs. This noble sacrifice only proclaimed to the world the great worth of Basaveshwara's philosophy. The Shivasharanas who left Kalyana during these disturbances scattered all over the country. They spread the message and preaching of Basaveshwara everywhere.
Basaveshwara's preachings have been inspiring many societies across the world even today. Basaveshwara said that Lord Kudala Sangamadeva is infinite, eternal, and beyond the reach of the physical senses. Basaveshwara gives perfect shape in the form of Ishtalinga to the formless and absolute God. Thus Ishtalinga represents the eternal, omnipresence, and Absolute God.
Basaveshwara lived as a man of God. He showed others also the way to become godly men. Even after eight hundred years, the light that was lit by him continues to shine brightly. The society remembers him and his followers on this great day of Basava Jayanti.

About the Author:

Special Officer–Regional Office of University of Horticultural Sciences, Bagalkot

Tags:    Humanity