‘Lingayatism is not divisive. It unites a caste-ridden society’

The Chaturvarna religion has kept society divided for the last 3000 years. Those who have already been divided want to live self-respecting lives, so they have come under the banner of Basavanna, says K.S. Bhagawan

I welcome the decision of the Government of Karnataka to recommend to the central government the granting of the status of a religion for Lingayatism. I thank the chief minister, Mr Siddaramaiah. He has taken the right decision on the matter. There are two factions: the Lingayats and Veerashaivas. There is a world of difference between the two factions. Lingayats don’t believe in the Vedas, they don’t go by Agamas [Vedas and Smritis], they don’t accept the caste system and untouchability is unheard of. Whereas the Veerashaivas believe in the Vedas, they accept the four-fold system of society and they swear by everything that the Brahmins do; in fact, they claim they are superior to Brahmins. So, Veerashaivas and Lingayats can’t go together although they have lived together for so many years. Ideologically and in terms of religion and spirituality, they are far apart. Therefore, what the Government of Karnataka under the leadership of Mr Siddaramaiah has done is laudable.

Siddaramaiah listens to people’s grievances at a “Janata Darshan” in Bengaluru

This demand was there all along and the opportunity came to Mr Siddaramaiah. After what Basavanna, the founder of the Lingayat dharma, did in the 12th century, that burden was felt by all followers of Basavanna and this burden has been taken up by Mr Siddaramaiah. He has done a yeoman service in fulfilling the demand of the community.

This recognition has taken so long to see the light of day because the Lingayat leaders hadn’t organized themselves effectively earlier. It’s been a different story in the recent months and they have prevailed upon the government to proclaim that Lingayatism is a separate religion. The government made a note of the demand and appointed a committee. The (Nagamohan) committee went into the issue. They examined all the religious texts and found that Lingayatism has historical evidence whereas Veerashaivism has none. The latter has been there more as a faith, a belief. If you ask who the founder of Veerashaivism is, we get no answer. If you ask who founded Lingayatism, we have Basavanna. He brought about a great revolution in the 12th century. He went to the extent of saying that he was the son of the cobbler Mathara. ‘Mathara chenaina mane magananu” (I am the son of cobbler Mathara). No one has expressed such a feeling in any part of the world. That shows that Basavanna, despite being a Brahmin, identified with the Untouchables, those who suffered the most in society. He was a Brahmin in the true sense of the word. A Brahmin is one who has transcended all differences and all inequalities; he accepts everyone as himself. Therefore, I have made a distinction between a caste Brahmin and an enlightened Brahmin. I often say that the country needs enlightened Brahmins and that the country does not need caste Brahmins. The latter are dangerous. Hence, Basavanna was an enlightened person.

By the way, you would be surprised to know that Basavanna was greatly influenced by the philosophy of the Buddha of the sixth century BC. The only difference between Buddha and Basavanna is that Basavanna accepted a personal god – he accepted the Lingayat’s symbol on the body, the linga. Buddha did not give a symbol to his followers because he believed a symbol would divide society. He accepted all human beings as one. Basavanna’s adoption of the symbol was the result of certain people being not allowed into the temples. He wanted to counter that attitude. The linga was supposed to indicate all those who wear it are one, be they Brahmins or Untouchables.

Mate Mahadevi (extreme right), pontiff of the Basava Dharma Peetha, and others at the annual convention of the Lingayat Mahasabha in Bengaluru last year

Vedic religion claims that Brahmins are above all. Lingayat religion disagrees with this claim. It is based on the belief that all are one. Lingayats felt “infected” because Manusmriti says “Dasyam Shudram Vidyambanam” – All non-Brahmins are slaves to Brahmins. What an insulting statement it is. Hence, the self-respecting Lingayats wanted to have their own religion. That’s how they succeeded in prevailing upon the government to accept the report (of the Nagamohan committee). Not only has the government accepted the report, it has implemented it. It has agreed to send the report to the central government, which will take a final decision. This is a historical step.

Women at a Lingayat rally held to demand the status of religion for Lingayatism

To those – the RSS and the BJP – who say that Siddaramaiah is trying to divide society, I would say that they have been dividing society all along. Ever since the Vedic religion came into existence, it has divided society in the name of caste. There are thousands of castes – what do you say about that? Their Vedic religion has already divided them. Those who have already been divided want to live self-respecting lives, so they have come under the banner of Basavanna. Such divisions are not there in any other religion – in Islam, in Christianity. They believe in one God and embrace one another. Do you see any of that in today’s “Hindu” society? A Brahmin doesn’t go near an Untouchable, doesn’t touch him. So, they have no moral right to say that the government has divided the “Hindu” society. “Hindu” society has been divided for the last 3000 years. It’s not a united society, it’s a society of castes. Hinduism is a conglomeration of castes.

I would like to add here that the word “Hindu” does not appear in the four Vedas, in the 18 Puranas and 18 Upapuranas, in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, in all the Sanskrit works composed before 1000AD. All ancient texts referred to the “Vedic religion”, “Brahmanical religion” and “Chaturvarna religion”. Only after the coming of the British, the word “Hindu” became popular. Even today, Hinduism is Brahmanism.

(As told to Anil Varghese)


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