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Anubhava Mantapa (Anubhavamantapa)


The heart of Lingayat Religion

-Rev.C.D. Uttangi

Source: Appendix-II, Lingayat Bibliography[1]

1. Its historicity

From the inscriptions available in Karnataka and elsewhere, it is fairly established that Basava, the reformer, in the real sense the founder of Lingayat religion, lived at about 1160A.d. it is known from these as well as the early literary sources that he was the Prime minister of the financial secretary of a Shaiva king named Bijjala (1157-1167A.D.) who usurped the Chalukyan throne and ruled in Kalyana, a city of historic importance, about 60 miles from Gulbarga, in the Karnataka State. One of the main works he did was the formation of an institution that went by the name of ‘Anubhava mantapa” “the Institution of Religious Experience”. That this rare but monumental institution in religious history of India was founded by him and is corroborated by the sayings of Saranas-technically known as “Vachana Shastra” as well as the earliest records of his life written about thirty years of his death. The former sources, the Vachanas being composed by eye witness may be relied upon s authentic. Hence there is no doubt as to the historicity of ‘Anubhavamantapa’ being founded by Basava.

2. The causes that brought the Mantapa into existence, its religious significance and its Apostles

The main intention of the great reformer in arising an institution of this type was to give a new life to the dying religion. It may be said that he gave heart to it rather than intellect. Buddhism, Brahmanism and Jainism, which had cultivated especially the intellectual and the moral side of Indian society, he had deplorably degenerated in his days and were unable to help humanity in its dying moments. To remedy this he ought for the living element in religion, which led him to construct the same (religion) on the basis of experience and which eventually resulted in the formation of Anubhavamantapa. In other words, it may be said that he struggled to rescue religion from the heavy mechanism of rituals on the one hand, and impractical idealism on the other, which taught much but did very little in helping the people to bring those high ideals into practice. However, the living religion of Basava found its day, and the so called scriptures sere replaced by men of religious experience and character. In short, it may be said that he constructed religion entirely on an experiential and pragmatic basis. This may be corroborated by one of the sayings of his contemporaries, which runs thus; ‘Knowledge is action; action is Knowledge.’ To differentiate them is to end in theory, since one knows more exactly by doing alone. To know that one should not covet his neighbor’s wife is knowledge, true; to translate that into action is knowledge complete; but to know it and to act otherwise, behold! The same is ignorance (Ajnana) Oh! Lord Kudala Chennasangamadeva.

The religion thus built, less on reason and more on a pragmatic basis had its deep foundation in action which very soon became the acid test of conduct of all the members of the Mantapa in their every day life.

Anubhavamantapa of the Institution of Religious Experience which came into existence by the great reformer was a nucleus, around which gathered men of religious experiences who were known as Lingayat saints. The first and the foremost among those who helped the institution in general and Basava in particular were perhaps Madara Chennayya and Dohara Kakkayya, who had come from the lowest class and who were his senior contemporaries. They were endowed with high spiritual qualities and the great reformer was pleased to call the one, his spiritual father and other, his great grand-father. The burning zeal of Basava for putting religion on a democratic basis, his passionate love for God, his untiring energy in serving humanity which made him consider himself lower than lowest among the devotees of Siva, his guileless heart, his readiness for open confession, his exemplary life of self sacrifice, added to the glory of the Mantapa. The whole edifice rested chiefly on the three great personalities, Basava, Channabasava and Prabhudeva who may be compared to the three apostles or pillars of the early Christian church.

In a short time the fame of the institution spred all over India and men and women of various faiths joined his flag, we learn from the early Lingaya works that the devotees of Siva flocked in from countries like Pandya, Chola, Chera, Gujarat, Orissa, Bengal, Kashmir and Nepal. The King of Kashmir attracted by this new revival is laid fo have abandoned his kingdom and become a member of this academy and led the life of poverty in his later days and supported his family by selling fuel(burning wood). This remote member, once the ruler of Kashmir, was known during his stay at Kalyan as Molige Marayya. “the faggot seller” and the queen who had followed him known by name Mahadevi “The great Mother”. In this Anubhava Mantapa the flower garden of spiritual experience, the royal pair represented the specimens of the violet plant, the flowers of which are known for their hidden appearance and sweet smell. Likewise these two members made the Mantapa attractive not by their outward appearance and royal habis or by the meritorious renunciation they had already achieved, but by fragrance of their inner life and simplicity. The queen whose short biography in Lingayat literature stands as a model for feminne boldness and morl courae, mingled with all gentleness and modesty, was his constant friend, dviser and guide. With this rare combination of opposite virtues, she very often shines as a critic of her master in whom she had the keenness to detect the spiritual pride of which he ws quite unaware and which at times was the real use of keeping him away from the goal he was ever struggling to reach.

Not unlike the king from the North, there came from the South, a ruler named Sakalesha Madarasa, who not only had renounced his kingdom but also adopted the life of an ascetic to help Basava in his movement as instructed by his father. Likewise we hear Adayya, a wealth merchant from Gujarat, Marulashankaradeva from Kalinga, (Orissa) Maiduna Ramayya, from Andhra. Ekant Ramayya, from Kuntala, an extreme devotee of Siva, who is said to have been miraculously restored to life which he had voluntarily offered in his zeal for the new faith, as evidenced by the Abalur inscription. A batch of ladies consisting of Hahadeviyakka, Satyakka, Muktayakka under the leadership of Ajaganna is said to have marched from the surroundings of Ballegavi, a city of Historic importance in the old Mysore State. From Banavasi (Karwar) came Prabhudeva who was elected the president of the assembly. From Hipparige (Bijapur) came Madival Machayya. And Siddarama from Sonnalapura, modern Sholapur.

There come men not only from high circles but also from various professions. So we meet with Jedara Dasimayya, a weaver, Sankara Dasimayya, a tailor, Madivala Machayya, a washerman, Medara Ketayya, a basket maker, Ambigara Coudayya, a ferryman, Hadapada Appann, a barber. Dakkeya Bamann, drummer, Turugahi Ramanna, a cowherd, Sunkad Bankanna, a tax gatherer, Kinnari Bomanna, a goldsmith, Okkal Muddayya, a farmer, Jodara Madanna, a soldier, Dohara Kakkayya, a tanner, Madara Chennayya, a Cobbler. Talavara Kamideva, a petty officer under the village headman, Ganada Kannappa, a oil miller, Vaidya Sanganna, a physician, Kirata Sangayya, a hunter, Nuliya Chandayya, a grass rope maker, Suji Kayakada Ramitande, a linen draper, Malhara Kayakada Chikkadevayya, a dealer in and repairer of second hand articles, Bachikayakada Basavappa, carpenter. Sattige Kayakada Ramitande, an umbrella holder, Kannadiya Kayakada Ammidevayya, mirror manufacturer, Kadira Kaykada Remmavve, s spinner (woman), Kottanada Remmavve, a rice pounder(woman), Aydakiya Marayya who lived by gleaning rice grains dropped in the field, while gathering crops.

An assembly of this nature, very often an ideal of many modern social and political reformer, stands unparalleled in the religious history of India, since it adopted as its creed interdining, intermarriage and spiritual intercourse, irrespective of caste, color, creed, sex, age, rank, position and profession among its followers.

To hold the meetings of this assembly, a part of Basava’s palace – an open hall-was set a part and it got the name of Mahamane or Anubhava mantapa later. In this Church of Religious Experience, every member considered his brethren greater than himself. For the residence of these members, caves cut in hillocks were constructed within the radius of a few miles from the Mantapa and the ruins of which are still found within the precincts of Kalyana.

These stars of the first magnitude that were shining in firmament of Lingayatism, in the 12th century may be approximately counted up to 300.

At the meetings of this assembly were discussed the theoretical and the practical sides of Lingayatism. The points and the nature of these debates may be found in a work called ‘Shunya Sampadane’ a compilation of the 16th century. These discussions remind us of the “Dialogues of Plato” the Greek philosopher. To illustrate the various stages of spiritual life in mystic experience a staircase or a throne of six steps was erected by the great reformer, each step being represented by a person or persons recognized by the assembly to have attained that stage in spiritual life. The persons, who gave a living presentation of a particular stage were appointed masters of that stage in spiritual attainment, and every bit of spiritual advancement was regarded as a means to the progress of spiritual life. Thus Basava was known for devotion, Chenna Basava, for knowledge Madivalayya, for purity of heart, Siddarama for ecstasy, Ajaganna, for spiritual union etc. Of those dignitaries Prabhudeva, who was regarded by his colleagues to have attained the last stage of spiritual experience, technically called ‘Aikya Sthala’ or ‘Linganga Samarasya’ the unity of the individual soul with the universal spirit, held the highest rank. The seat or the throne from which he spoke was called “Shunya Simhasana”.

3. Its work

1. It revolutionized the idea and the method of worshipping God in idolatrous Indian by introducing a method of its own which was perhaps not in vogue many centuries before the institution came into existence. If Agamic religion had improved upon the sacrificial religion of the Vedas by substituting image worship in the temples etc,. this institution superseded both by its particular “Ista Linga” worship and proclaimed its first commandment under the polytheistic sky that God is one and He should be worshipped in one and one form alone, viz. the formless one. By bringing into practice this new mode of worship which was rather a physical representation of the Absolute of the Upanishadas, it made a remarkable change in the image worship of India which is supposed to be one of the essential elements of popular Hinduism, so deeply ingrained in the Indian mind.

2. By the introduction of the ceremony of “Linga Diksa” it threw open doors of the new faith to men and women of all castes and creeds and put its follower’s high and low on equal status and infused northerly feelings into the new community which resulted in creating brotherhood and sisterhoods. In sort, it built the new society on democratic basis in which every individual had the right to enjoy full liberty in social and religious matters. The “Istalinga,” is called by someone a “universal Leveller”.

3. B means of Satshala philosophy it weakened the theory of transmigration and destroyed the roots of rebirth. Although there is a way in Hinduism for emancipation through Jnana Marga it is extremely difficult to secure, as it is meant only for the select few. For an ordinary family man there is no certainty as to when he will attain to this final goal though he seeks for it in earnest and does all that the scriptures demand for him. But this institution removed the uncertainty by ensuring the attainment of the final goal in this very life to every individual who accepted its faith. In Vedic literature we find no such hopeful promises being made except to the Sannyasis.

4. It regarded the gentle sex as in no way inferior to men in spiritual matters. Consequently the contributions in religious experience from the gentle sex were not only heartily welcomed but also more highly appreciated then of men. The exceptional attitude of the institution towards the gentle sex exchanged, so to say, the destiny of Indian women as opposed to Jainism and Brahmanism in which the one denied the right of salvation and the other the right of studying scriptures except Puranas, to the fair sex. It produced personalities like Mahadeviyakka, Satyakka and Muktayakka, women of sterling character and remarkable independence of thought and action and was also the cause of a valuable production of Vachanas by many authoresses whose religious experience some times far surpassed that of men.

Such representative women or sisters were afterwards called “the gentle sex-saints of Lyngayatism” and they may be numbered about 30.

5. It became the power-house of the dynamo of Lyngayatism which kindled many a cold soul and brought a miraculous change in the lives of the most sinful men and women.

6. It searched for the crystalline purity of heart and the more deeply the members of the Mantapa examined their inner-life the more defective it was found and the certainty of attaining perfection in the present life seemed almost impossible and something against human experience. The saint who took delight in conversing about the progress of his spiritual life and was conscious of its growth was onsidered as an unworthy child of God, as they soon arrived at the conclusion that the law of unconscious growth in the physical world should hold good also in the life of the spiritual world. Consequently the Siddhas and Buddhas who professed to have attained perfection here and now were set aside and o longer admired. In all controversial points concerning mystic experience, action and not reason, was its final criterion.

7. It gave full liberty of thought and action and a free scope for discussion in religious matters. As a result of this every man nd woman brought his or her share of experience and laid it at the foot of “Shunya Simhasana” which Prabhdeva, the prince of the saints adorned at times by his presence. The share of experience thus brought forth by any member in great humility was called his “Sampadane” hence the word “Shunya Sampadane”.

8. It enriched the Kannada language and literature by new style of expressing its independent thought and experience. It breathed life into the dead bones of the spoken Kannada, which was looked down upon by the classical writers of the pre-Basava period.

9. It taught the dignity and love of labor by giving it religious significance. Every kind of manual work that was considered degrading by the so-called high caste persons was looked upon s blessed and holy, as it was done in the spirit of service both to God and man. Thus it laid a new foundation in the history of the economics of the land.

10. It liberated the new community from the evils of superstitions and irrational fears of religious pollution to which the sister communities in India were subjected and which stand even today as the veritable impediments to the progress of any reforming cult.

11. It was a small museum in which one could find beautiful specimens of religious experience, which modern psychology has classified into various types of mysticism.

12. It was also a cleansing fountain in which every member washed himself clean of the slightest tinge of egotism very often detected and pointed out by his brethren, instances of which are scattered over the pages of “Sunya Sampadane”.

13. It ended the struggle for supremacy between Jnana, Bhakti and Karrm, by giving them equal importance which according to Lingayat tenants are physically represented by Guru, Linga and Jangama. The Bhagavad-gita which typically represents the same sympathetic view may be said to be wanting in Lyngayat interpretation.

14. It laid stress upon family life which in its opinion was in no way a disqualification to salvation as opposed to Buddhism and Jainism which closed their doors of salvation against the householder unless he abandoned his family and become a Sanyasi or member of the Sangha. Lyngayat saints of the 2th century re the living examples of the above mentioned principle and even the great reformer who is believed to be the incarnation of the sacred bull or Siva was not n exception to this. Thus the majority of the apprentices that joined the Mantapa or Spiritual Academy were family men and the names of the successful candidates who obtained salvation in this very life are published in a booklet called Gana-Sahasra and they are popularly known as 770 Amaraganas meaning hosts of immortals.

15. It experimented on a small scale and solved the problem of uplifting and educating the untouchables who stand even today outside the pale of Hinduism, destitute of the sense of human rights. Lingayatism of the day gave them education in the true sense of the term enabling them to express their feelings and thoughts in their mother tongue. In consequence we find every one of them an author of Vachanas in which he skillfully allegorizes his professions illustrating the spiritual truths he has found.

16. Last but not least was the method of “standing on wooden sandals with Pointed-Nails” practiced by a class of men pointed for the purpose of church-discipline whose duty or profession was called “Mullavigeya Kayaka” by which the innocent had to to suffer for the delinquent in calling him to repentances a method which seems to be absent in the disciplinary means of any civilized society either in the East or West and which is sad to have been adopted by the great reformer, who is often called the Luther of Karnataka, or the Buddha of south India. It anticipates the self-imposed spirit of suffering which has been widely infused into the mind of the public by mahatma Gandhi.(Satyagraha)

This institution reminds one of the early councils of Ashoka, or the Sangam of the Tamilians. Or the parliament of religions of Janaka of the Upanishadic days, or the later parliament of religions of Akbar. But unlike these it inverted the order a procedure of the theory and practice of religion. In short this movement may be said to be somewhat unique in the religious history of India.

It might seem to the reader that Lyngayatism has certain features in common with Vira Vaisnavism and other Agamic schools. But the credit of bringing into practice the above mentioned principles goes to the Lingayats rather than Vira Vaishnavas.


The origin of the expression Shunya Sampadane is given in Para no 7. There are other explanations also worth considering. At the first sight, the word “Shunya” seems to have been borrowed from Buddhistic literature which advocates an idea more or less negative or nihilistic nature, often illustrated by the extinction of fire. But in Lingayat literature it has different connotation which differs from the Dwaita conception, in which the individual soul though eternal as the universal soul is need expected to become perfect as the latter. The Advaita conception is rejected as well for the reason that it denies the reality of the individual soul and material world and holds the identity of the individual and the cosmic soul. But in Saktivishisthadvait philosophy of Lingayatism, it is held that the material world and the individual soul have a reality in God and these could not be distinguished, in the Avyakta of unmanifested state called Niskal in Lingayat literature. This mysterious union is very often illustrated either by the magnet and its power or matter and energy of the sun and its rays. It has all the negative aspects that can be had from the Buddhistic of Vedic conception and the positive aspects that can be fund in mysticism. Practically Shunay Sampadane is somewhat akin to St. Paul’s interpretation of his spiritual experience which is worded as follows:- ‘It is no longer I that live, but Christ live thin me”. To use here the Lingayat terminology again, it is the transformation of Anganga into Linganga, which modern psychology is pleased to call ‘Sublimation’.

To speak in language of Biblical theology it is a state in which ones own self is found its grave and to reach the state of sublimation the regenerate man struggles his utmost by submitting himself to the Divine will.

In other words, it is a kind of complete self-abnegation of reducing the “Flesh” or the: Lower self to zero point. In terms of Mystics psychology, it is the merging of the individual consciousness into universal consciousness which cannot be expressed in terms of any school of philosophy.

[1] Page no 170-181 from Lingayat Bibliography (A Comprehensive Source book), Editor: Dr. S.R. Gunjal, Pub: Sri Basavalinga Pattaddevaru, M.A., Hiremuth Samsthan, Bhalki, Dt Bidar (1989)

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