Shri Basaveshwara: The Universal Man (विश्व मानव, ವಿಶ್ವಮಾನವ).

- Vinayak Krishna Gokak (V. K. Gokak)

There was a time when the phrase ‘a citizen of the world’ hit the highest water-mark of culture. The Space Age is in love with the phrase ‘Universal Man’. But Visvamaanava (विश्व मानव, ವಿಶ್ವಮಾನವ), its Sanskrit equivalent, is as old as the Vedas! All knowledge is in a sense, as Keats said a remembrance.

What is our notion of Universal Man? Apparently, he is a person whose heart is as large as the universe, whose mind is so vast that he can take in the whole of creation at a glance, the rhythm of whose daily life is in tune with the Infinite in every vibration and whose body is at home in all climates and under every sky. He has a comprehensive soul.

Comprehensiveness of soul is, in a sense, inclusive of other things: for it establishes the most intimate identity with all human beings, beasts, birds, trees, rocks and stones. The universal man is he who is one vit1i the universe.

It is the prides of Karnataka that she produced early in the twelfth century a universal man; whose vision was unclouded and who sought to realise in the life of the individual as well as the collectivity this supreme universality of vision. If Allama Prabhu was the God-man of his time Basaveshwara was the Universal Man. Their companionship and collaboration was as significant as that of Krishna and Arjuna. There was a period of glory when this great conjunction shone dazzlingly in the sky and illumined life all over the Kannada land and beyond.

Truth to tell, Universal Man is the harbinger of a new race, the prophet of a new humanity. Vishvamitra and Vasistha, Mahavira and the Buddha, the Christ and Zoroaster: it is as a star in this galaxy that Basava beckons to us from the twelfth century. He might as well be a prophet of our own times; such is the modernity of his teaching. His teachings will find a sympathetic echo in a Russian or American, a Mexican or Egyptian bosom: such is the universality of his teaching. Universalism is struggling to send its roots down the earth and assert the unity of humanity. Humanity, alas, monkeys about among the branches and forgets the roots. This has been its story through the ages. But that great day may yet dawn for humanity. It is for this dawn that Universal Man has lived and died and his life and death have not been in vain.

There has hardly been a more glorious academy of souls than the Academy of Experience that Basaveshwara established in Kalyana. Here under the guidance of Allama Prabhu and spear-headed by Basaveshwara met seers and saints to weigh themselves and weigh each other; to cross-examine each other so that no dishonesty ever lurked in the discovery of the Ishtalinga, the ‘one entire and perfect chrysolite’; to kindle each other’s consciousness into a divine blaze; to companion each other as pilgrims of eternity; to safeguard the pearl of purity that was as precious as their tribe; and to pass on as a legacy to humanity their path-finding and soul-finding, their God-intoxication and dedication and their gospel of a new social order, of a redeemed and emancipated humanity. If Christ was the white Lamb, Basaveshwara was the Saviour Bull, the Nandi that descended to earth with Shiva and Parvati on his back. No wonder, the seekers of spirit felt that Kalyana was Kailasa itself, the New Jerusalem with its streets paved with gold.

Universal Man that he was, Basaveshwara cultivated and enriched a literary form that had a universality of appeal — the vachana or brief prose lyric. It was couched in the colloquial idiom of the time acceptable to the written standard of the day. Its rhythm was linear and non-metrical but intense, distinguished by varying repetition, balance and antithesis. Basaveshwara gave this form the poignancy of heart-rending devotion, the luminousness of rare mystical experience and the perspicacity of intense metaphysical brooding. It raised the banner of revolt in literature against Conventional poetry and there arose a great band! Of vachankaras who made this form their own. These lyric utterances were simple enough to be understood by most and yet great enough to be admired by the most sophisticated. This was so because, first and foremost, the vachana was an authentic utterance summing up a mystical insight, an apocalyptic moment or contemplative delight. It gave the primacy to experience.

It was a great moment in the life of Karnataka when a social upheaval seemed imminent. The men of vision were there to lead a social revolution. Allama Prabhu, Basaveshwara, Chenna Basaveshwara, Mahaadevi Akka, to name only four of the most outstanding — had the capacity to lead any new movement to a triumphant close. But the hour was not ripe for it. A casteless society seemed almost a fantasy at the time. The Brahmin and Jain orthodoxy raised the familiar hue and cry that religion was in danger. The king sat on the fence, looking this way and that. The imputation too was made that the finance minister was abusing his position and using the revenue of the State to promote this heresy. The king knew that this was baseless propaganda and Basaveshwara was vindicated publicly. But matters carne to a head through the zeal of followers like Madivala. Maachayya.

The daughter of Madhuvarasa, a Brahmin, was given in marriage to the son of Haralayya, an ‘untouchable’, and the marriage was celebrated by Basaveshwara’s followers. Both Madhuvarasa and Haralayva had been Basaveshwara’s disciples. The orthodoxy in Kalyana complained against this to the king and insisted that offenders should be brought to book. But Basaveshwara, being a free thinker advised Bijjala against the alleging orthodoxy and justified the marriage. Finding Bijjala giving a deaf ear to his advice, Basaveshwara left Kalyana for Kappadi Sangama near Bagalkot.

The Universal Man had absorbed the universe within himself; formulated a creed leading to a casteless society and attracted to himself seers and men of vision who realised its tremendous social significance. But there was fanaticism on either side and the hour was not yet. And so he returned to the Confluence from which he came, his fulfilling itself though the quest had to go on.

But fortunately for Karnataka and for the world, Basaveshwara left behind him a veritable treasure of poignant prose lyrics and these have kept the vision of Universal Man alive through the centuries and will continue to do so till the dream is realised.

“Be not light-hearted with the saints”, said Basaveshwara: “Would you take hold of serpent-hoods to tickle your cheek? Would you extricate the tangled knot of head-hair with a flaming torch? Would you go swinging, clinging to the whiskers of a tiger? “

“Why are you bent on correcting the world,” he asked: “Correct yourself”. Attend to your own body. Attend to your mind.

His last prayer was: “I did your bidding. Take me into your bosom flow, O Kudala Sangama!” And that is the prayer of the great of all times, who descended into the flesh.

[This Article is from the book: Sri Basavesvara, Eigth centenary commemoration Volume, Pub: Government of Mysore (Karnataka), Bangalore, 1967.]

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[1] From the book "Vachana", pub: Basava Samiti Bangalore 2012.