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Is Lingayat Religion Recognition Necessary?


✍ Dr S. M. JAAMDAR IAS (Retired.)

Lingayat Religion

Basavanna and Sharanas associated with him established a new religion in the AD 12th century against the excesses of Vedic Sanatan Dharma. Its main objective was to prevent exploitation of the huge labouring masses and create a society based on egalitarian and democratic principles: where caste system does not exist; where women are treated equal to men; where work becomes the source of livelihood and wealth is not hoarded but distributed evenly; where blind beliefs don’t exist and rational reason and free thoughts guide every action.

It started as a small reform movement in the kingdom of Chalukyas of Kalyan and ended up as a major religion across peninsular and Western India. The quick turn of violent events and stiff opposition to the reforms led to religious strife and extensive bloodshed by the Sanatan forces. This forced the movement to convert itself into a progressive and egalitarian religion of missionary zeal. In a short span of fifty years the new religion spread far and wide in India far beyond the borders of Chalukya kingdom.

Basavanna led the movement as the prime minister of the state. At the initial stages he had the tacit support of the king. He had the able guidance and Support of a big band of visionary sharanas (person dedicated to god) who had come from all over India. They crystalized the revolutionary concepts about an ideal society and a creed initiated by Basavanna in the religious parliament known as Anubhav Manap. This was the ‘Think Tank’. More than one lakh ninety six thousand people became the ardent followers of the new faith in the city of Kalyan alone.

Naming the New Religion

The new religion was known as ‘Lingayat’. However, some prefer to call it “Basava Dharma” or “Basava Lingayat”. There are those who would like to call it “Sharan Dharma”.

Some religions are named after their founders. For example, Buddha Dharma is named after Buddha; Christianity is named after Jesus Christ; Zoroastrianism is named after its founder Zoroaster. Similarly, the religion founded by Basavanna, could be called “Basava Dharma”. Since the new religion sprang from a mass movement, it may also be named “Sharana Dharma”.

But certain religions are named after the most vital feature of the respective religion, for example, Jain Dharma is so called from its root word ‘jina’ which means “one who has conquered worldly passions and attachments which are shunned in Jainism. Sikh dharma comes from the word ‘Sikh’ which means a disciple or student dedicated to Guru. ‘Islam’ means ‘surrender’ to god. Similarly, the metaphysical and ceremonial aspect of and most equalizing basis of the new religion of Basavanna is the wearing of Ishtalinga on the body of the follower of the new faith. The new convert receives Linga from the Guru which process means Linga + Aayat =Lingayat. As a short form, Lingayat is quite convenient to call and use. Thus the new religion is rightly called ‘Lingayat’.

Is Recognition Necessary?

Lingayat religion has been there for nearly nine hundred years since the latter half of the twelfth century. Nobody asked whether Lingayat was an independent religion. There was no need to seek recognition to it as a religion from an outside authority. Lingayats never sought recognition from anybody to their religion until very recently. Nobody has questioned it though Sanatanis objected to its main tenets of equality and caste-less-ness at its very inception. Had they not objected, Lingayat would not have spread so far and wide and so fast. The opposition to the new religion helped fortify it and made its continuance a missionary zeal, whether a government or someone else recognizes it or not, Lingayat has been and will always remain an independent faith, as rightly asserted by His Holiness Shivamurthy Shivacharya Swamiji of Sirigere mutt.

But the times have changed. Lingayats do not exist in isolation but amidst followers of many other religions. India has been a nation of multiple religions, multiple languages and cultures. Amidst this complex socio-cultural arid political set up there are developing certain trends which are threatening the multiplicity of complex cultures, languages and religions. These ominous developments aim at India as a nation of only Hindus; Hindi along with Sanskrit to be the national language and Hinduism alone to be state religion of this country Whether such things end up in ethnic cleansing and genocide is too early to say but portents are clearly discernible. These developments make it necessary to get state recognition and protection of the Constitution against such forces of destruction.

Further, during the colonial dispensation for nearly two hundred years, the colonial administration introduced certain modern methods and tools to rule the colonies more systematically. These methods included, surveying the entire extent of lands (Survey of India), oceans (Oceanography and EEZ), forests (Forest Survey), flora (Botanic Survey) and fauna (Zoological Survey), human variety (Anthropological Survey), historical monuments survey (Archaeological Survey) mineral resources (Geological Survey) and so on. ¡t also included Census of population and census of cattle and livestock.

Population Census and Religious Identities

The most serious and equally complicated tool was the population census of India begun in 1871 (synchronous census in 1881). One of the several items of information iii the census was the census of religions and castes in India. It is from this process and from that period (since 1881) the problems of identity, recognition, and future prospects of various religious communities and castes in India carne to the fore. The efforts of colonial rule at modernization of Indian conservative society led to the unintended externality of arousing religious and communal identities and their consolidation since the nineteenth century. Lingayat agitation is undoubtedly an offshoot of it and as a matter of fact, it began in the 1880s.

Religion is a matter of beliefs — private as well as public! Beliefs are abstract and invisible. But the effects of beliefs are certain specific set of actions. Actions of believers arc visible, such as public prayers, construction and maintenance of temples, priests, icons, celebration of festivals, performance of religious rites on occasions of birth of a child, death of a person, marriage ceremonies, puberty rites, naming a child, and baptism etc. These items of information are collected during the population census by asking the people.

These population censuses initiated a process of identifying, enumerating and defining religious faiths as separate and independent religion or as a sect (part) of a larger religion, or simply as a caste group within the humongous “Hindu religion” (or “way of life”). It is this process in the population Censuses which aroused a huge and organized religious awakening in India. If a religion, which was independent for long, is treated as a sect of another major religion, such religious community gets offended and protests against its loss of freedom and independence enjoyed for a long time. In that sense, the religions of alien origin, namely, Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Judaism were relatively lucky although their sects and sub-sects were often given varying weightages.

Opposition of Vedic Religion

Vedic Hinduism, however defined, continues to deny separate existence of other religious faiths which originated on the Indian soil. Such has been the fate of Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Lingayatism, and so on of all religions of Indian origin. Even the courts in India have toed a similar line. The Vedic protagonists jump up and say that whatever other Indian faiths claim is always there in the Vedic religion and they assert that such other religions are therefore only sects of Hinduism! Even after proving such dubious claims wrong, they do not change their fixed mind-sets and they continue to crush other differing faiths ‘with the cruel strength of numbers! Might is right! Logic and facts do not matter! Either submit or suffer! It is these kinds of developments that are forcing the religious groups to seek legal recognition to religions, however small. Thus in India the preservation of the unique religious traditions and identities of non-Hindu religions through recognition has become a necessity for survival.

The second necessity is the development discourse. In the post-independence India, the Indian politics irrespective of the political parties whether in power or outside is characterized by cheap competitive populism. Cultivation of certain populous castes and certain religions as their vote banks is an open secret. In the process, secularism is sacrificed, religious consolidation is rampant, and pandering to the communal demands has become the order of the day. In this scenario, political and state recognition of any religion has assumed greater salience than ever before.

The third factor is the politics of reservation. Under the prevailing situation of historical injustices done to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, reservation policy was a justifiable decision. But year after year, inclusion of more and more castes within SC’s and STs, within OBCs, EBCs, and SBCs, has made the whole process of reverse discrimination a highly emotive political problem and mockery of democracy. In this process, every caste, every religious community tries its best to gamer the benefits of reservation in government sector jobs and in the admission to educational institutions. For such purposes also the state recognition of a religious community is a basic requirement since that has been the major defining clement of backwardness!

Finally, the most important reason for seeking state recognition is more a question of preserving one’s religious identity and its very survival in a very hostile environment.

The Indian Constitution and the Indic Religions

The problem of according recognition to non-Hindu native Indian religions first arose at the time of framing of the Constitution of India. in the aftermath of the partition of India on religious grounds, the framers of the Constitution suppressed the demands for recognition of other non-Hindu religions of Indian origin. Their main purpose was to retain a single religious identity as Hindus more as a geographic term than as a clearly definable religion.

But soon the problems began to crop up. Sikhs were the first ones to demand recognition for their religion—Sikhism. It was granted in reality in 1967 though notified in 1993. Buddhists were next to follow and they got it in 1993. Jains were the latest ones who got it in 2014 after a prolonged legal battle, The Lingayats are now in turmoil over the same demand.

For a long time Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs were also considered as sects of Hinduism in the same way as Lingayats now. Compared to these three religions, Lingayats possess more features to claim the status of a religion independent of Hinduism.

Source: Lingayat as an Independent Religion - DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE (Volume-1); Written by: Dr S.M. Jaamdar, IAS (Retired); Published by : Jagatika Lingayata Mahasabha, No, 51, 3rd Cross, Chakravarthi Layout, Palace Road, Bengaluru – 560 020. Ph: 080 2336 7799 e-mail –

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