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Basava

(c. 1106—1167)


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(c.1106–1167)

The founder of the Liṅgāyats. Various accounts of his life have been given. According to a sympathetic biographer, Basava was brought up by foster parents as a Śaiva brahmin. At sixteen he rejected his ritual and caste background and made his way to Kappaḍisaṅgama (‘where three rivers meet’) in northern Karnataka. Śiva as ‘Lord of the Meeting Rivers’ became his chosen god, and is named in all Basava's religious lyrics (vacanas), composed in the Dravidian language of Kannada. After a period of study with a guru in Kappaḍisaṅgama, Basava went to Kalyāṇa, married, and eventually succeeded his uncle as minister to the local ruler, King Bijjaḷa. It was here that he fostered the growth of a religious community devoted to Śiva (the Liṅgāyats), which ignored distinctions of caste, class and sex, and so rejected the authority of the Veda and its brahmin guardians. (Such anti-Vedism may have been agreeable to the large number of Jains who were said to have been converted by Basava.) This heterodox and heteroprax egalitarianism gave rise to a political crisis. When the community conducted a marriage between a brahmin woman and an outcaste, Bijjaḷa had their respective fathers put to death. A Liṅgāyat rebellion ensued during which Bijjaḷa was assassinated, and the Liṅgāyats eventually dispersed. According to some accounts, Basava himself was opposed to the violence, and retired to Kappaḍisaṅgama, where he spent the rest of his life. The community he founded survives and flourishes as an influential religious force in some parts of Karnataka. A selection of Basava's vacanas have been translated into English by A. K. Ramanujan (Speaking of Śiva, Penguin Books, 1973).

Subjects: Hinduism.


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