Homage to Basava

- P. B. GAJENDRAGADKAR

“Whenever true religion is on the decline and irrational superstition ascends, then do I take birth in this world to redeem the truth”, said Lord Krisna in the Bhagavadgita. The fascinating story of Hindu religion, philosophy and civilization illustrates the truth of this statement. In the course of several centuries Hindu civilization has maintained perennial vigour and youth and the secret of this significant phenomenon lies in the fact that many high-souled dissenters and reformers were born from time to time and they strove to remove the impurities which had come to be associated with the theories and practice of religion, and sought to redeem truth. Buddha, Mahãvira, Dayãnanda, Rãm Möhan Roy, Rãmakrsna Paramahariisa, Vivekaanand are some of the great dissenters who helped the process of discovering and re-establishing truth in their time. Mahãtma Basava deservcs a place of pride in this galaxy of great dissenters and redeemers.

The religion which Basava preached was essentially a social religion. He was primarily a rebel and revolutionary who opposed Brahmanism of his time, its claims to spiritual and social leadership and the particular merit that it associated with the performance of religious rites and sacrifices. Basava proclaimed the significance of devotion to God and love amongst His creatures and made this dual concept the sole basis of the edifice of a socio-religious philosophy. He did away with all the obligatory rituals of Brahmanism and liberated common men and women from the domination of priests and from the spiritual and liturgical dogmatism of the priesthood. He entirely rejected the caste system and vehemently denounced the notion that some communities are superior to some others and eradicated this complex of superiority or inferiority from the minds of disciples. His teachings were addressed to all mcii and alike arid were not limited to a particular class or group. He fought for the emancipation of women and accorded them equal status with men. He treated Harijans and members of other backward classes on the same plane of equality as persons of the more advanced communities. Social equality was the very breath of Basava’s Philosophy; service to the community at large and devotion to the Lord, constituted the primary Sãdhana or means for human liberation.

He broke the monopoly of knowledge enshrined in Sanskrit and carried the stream of his thoughts to the doors of the ordinary men and women by speaking to them in their language. Traditionally, Sanskrit was the sole repository of Hindu philosophy and religious thought. Basava broke this monopoly of Sanskrit and made the spoken language of the masses, the vehicle for the spread of his own philosophy.

In a sense, Basava was a greater heretic and rebel from the point of view of Brahmanism or orthodox Hinduism than Christ was with regard to Judaism. In another sense Basava helped to remove the overgrowth of superstitions and ignorance which had invaded the Hindu religious thought and practice and sought to restore the Hindu philosophy and practices to their pristine glory of the Upanisadic times. That is why Basava can be regarded as an Avatãra of divinity and the story of his life can be treated as the fulfilment of the statement of Lord Krisna in the Bhagavadgítã.

The creed of Basava is a permanent revolution against the power of priesthood, against dogmatism, temple-cults, caste and class privileges and social inequality in every form. The message of Basava, like that of Buddha, is a message of love and compassion, coupled with devotion; it treats all men and women as equal and it makes no distinction between one person and another. This message had a revolutionary impact on the socio-economic ideology and religious thought of his times.

“Gird up your loins”, said Basava, “and Come to the field; yours is the lot to fight, not to yield. Life is a Struggle and a battle; nothing can be won without trouble.” The Contemporary defeatist view of life which emphasised the worthlessness of human existence in this world and which required men and women to escape from the miseries of this existence was foreign to Basava’s philosophy. Basava taught the doctrine that Life is real; that Life is earnest and the grave is not its goal. He wanted his disciples to face the challenge of life with courage and determination and he emphasised the importance of the doctrine of work.

Whenever I think of Basava and his teachings, I am tempted to believe that the essence of his message can be compared to the motto which was adopted by some of the followers of Buddha. Says this motto: “Go with heart full of Compassion into this world which is torn by sorrow. Teach, and wherever shadows and ignorance prevail, light a torch.”

Today several clouds seem to gather strength on the horizon of India and common men and women look perplexed and frustrated and show symptoms of gathering anger and indignation. At such a time in the history of India, I think all of us can go back to Basava and seek guidance, inspiration and light from his philosophy. If Basava’s philosophy is properly understood and interpreted to the common men and women of India, it will help the country in its onward march in search of happiness, social equality and spiritual good.

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

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