Evidence from the District Gazetteers of Karnataka on Lingayats as an independent Religion
✍ Dr S. M. JAAMDAR IAS (Retired.)
District Gazetteers are handbooks of authentic and authoritative information of an area comprised in a district as a unit of administration. It is compiled by the government and made available to the administrators and the public on almost every subject. The British administration began publishing the district gazetteers for use by the British officers serving at regional levels. W.W. Hunter was the pioneer in the efforts to write gazetteers since 1881. They act like encyclopaedia of accurate and authoritative information on a variety of topics regarding each district. The local conditions vary enormously in a vast country of continental size and huge cultural complexity. While keeping the pattern and presentation style and format uniform, the local variations in all respects are adequately captured at the level of each district and state. Accordingly, there is a separate District Gazetteer for each district (excluding the newly formed ones).
Writing of these Gazetteers was initiated by the British soon after the British Crown assumed direct responsibility to rule India after the uprising of 1857. The district, the state, and the country level Imperial Gazetteers were designed to provide "Accurate and accessible information” at various levels, as “an essential condition for the safe exercise of control”. Mr. W.W. Hunter, who was the architect of district Gazetteers, wrote in 1881 “it endeavoured, First, .......by providing a uniform scheme, a local mechanism and a central control. Second,..... “These objectives were partly of an administrative and partly of a general character; namely, for the use of the Controlling Body in England of administration in India, and of the public. Third, to secure cooperation of Provincial Governments,.....Fourth, to collect the material at once systematically and cheaply, by enlisting the unpaid agency of the District Officers throughout India under the central control”.
District Gazetteers are the most authentic and authoritative documents containing about 600 to 800 pages each published by the Government. During the British rule District Gazetteers for each district were published since 1881. They were revised from time to time to update the information even after India got independence. These documents even today serve the same purpose that they did during the British regime except that they serve the Indian central and state governments today instead of imperial rulers of United Kingdom.
For a new district level officer these Gazetteers act as a readymade handbook of information on almost every field of administration and every subject. Today Google, internet and web-services have rendered these printed books nearly outdated. Still they are used in the day to day administration and decision making in many matters. The relevant information about each district is obtained from the highly scientific survey / study / research reports of the highly specialized bodies such as:
(a) Survey of India (since 1767) for accurate maps, latitudes, longitudes, time zones etc., of the relevant district;
(b) Geological Survey of India (since 1851) for information about the lands, minerals, geographical data, seasons, rains, soil conditions and economic geography of the area;
(c) Anthropological Survey of India (since 1945) reports, surveys by the Backward Classes Commissions, Reports of Commissions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for information on the tribes, religions, SCs, STs, nomadic and other groups;
(d) Botanical Survey of India (since 1890), Forest Survey of India (1981), and Zoological Survey of India (since 1910) for information about the flora and fauna of the district;
(e) Census of India reports (since 1871), RGCC gives population and other demographic information of the district;
(f) Indian Meteorological Department (IMD since 1875) furnishes information on the agro-climatic, seasonal data about the district;
(g) Historical data comes from standard historical reports and books published by the universities, National Council of Historical Research, Asiatic Society reports etc., of the area.
(h) Economic and political information is obtained from Government departments dealing with different subjects.
Our concern here is very limited: we are interested in only that information from these Gazetteers which objectively and dispassionately narrates the history, basic tenets and contributions of Lingayat religion, and customs and beliefs of Lingayats in Karnataka which the administrators can use whenever necessary.
While noting local variations and religious places of Lingayats and their noted historical figures hailing from different districts almost all Gazetteers contain the basic information most of which is repeated from district to district. We have therefore taken only three districts scattered across Karnataka from extreme north to central and coastal Karnataka. These Gazetteers bear the authority of the Government. The Three District Gazetteers are:
(i) Uttar Kannada District Gazetteer, 1985, Government of Karnataka, (Coastal area of Karnataka)
(ii) Shimoga District Gazetteer (Central Karnataka)
(iii) Bidar District Gazetteer (Northern most Karnataka)
"Lingayats: The term Lingayat or Veerashaiva represents a faith not a caste. The reformers like Basavanna brought into Veerashaiva fold people of many castes and sub-castes. They are found mainly in the up-ghat taluks of Haliyal, Sirsi, Mundgod and Siddapur. Thus Lingayats or Veerashaivas came to follow a number of diverse occupations such agriculture, labour, trade and industry, handicrafts, priestcraft and public and private services. Lingayats are said to have migrated here from the old Hyderabad state, during the rule of Chiefs of Sonda. Some of them seem to have come from Dharwad and Belgaum districts to trade in spices. Astavarana (eight-fold aids to faith), Panchachara (five-fold discipline) and shatsthal (six fold stages towards union with God) form the fundamental structure of Veerashaiva faith. The first may be said to be its body, the second its breath and the third its soul. The followers of Veerashaiva faith wear a linga on their bodies. This is called Ishtalinga, corresponding to the material body. The one corresponding to the subtle body is called Pranalinga and that which corresponds to the causal body is Bhavalinga. These three suggest the degree of divine manifestation. Veerashaiva has certain points in common with Tamil Saiva Siddhant and Kashmiri Shaivism. Kayaka, the bodily labour, is considered sacred and compulsory for every Veerashaiva. Lingayats have their own gurus known as Jangamas who belong either to Virakta or guruvarga category. The Virakta swamijis who are celibates monks live in mathas and guide their followers in religious and spiritual matters. There are Veerashaiva mathas in Gokarn, Banavasi, Siddapur, Haliyal, Mundgod and Sirsi. Chennabasaveshwar kshetra at Ulavi in Supa taluk attracts a large number of Veerashaiva devotees. They also visit Shaiva centres like Gokarna. Divorce and widow remarriages are traditionally permitted by custom among some sections. They bury their dead in sitting posture.”
“Lingayats or Veerashaivas: The term Lingayat or Veerashaiva denotes a faith not a caste. Lingayats have been following diverse occupations. The caste system was rejected by Basaveshwar and other Sharanas who propagated egalitarian views and accepted into the faith people following many vocations, as equals. Kayaka, bodily labour, is considered as sacred and compulsory for every Veerashaiva. The adherents of Veerashaiva faith wear on their bodies a linga (called ishtralinga) which is worshipped. It may be said that Veerashaivism is an offshoot of early Shaivism. Its origin is sometimes traced to Sivagamas. However, it is largely built up on the sayings of Basavanna and other Sharanas such as Allama Prabhu, Akka Mahadevi, Channabasava, Siddharama, etc. Allama Prabhu and Akka Mahadevi who hailed from this district took a most prominent part in the Veershaiva movement.
It is a protestant faith in the sense that it did not accept the four-fold caste system, etc., of Brahmanism. It provided a common man's religion on a democratic basis.
Lingayats have their own gurus known as Jangamas who belong either to Virakta or Guruvarga category. The Virakta Swamijis, who are celibate monks, live in Mathas (monasteries) and guide their followers in religious and spiritual matters. There are several Virakta mathas in the district such as those of Hiremath near Honnali, Togarsi, Achapura, Keladi, Shiralikoppa, Kavaledurg and Malali. Some of them have a tradition of promoting education. Divorce and widow remarriage are traditionally permitted among some secions. The Lingayats bury their dead”. “Rajas of Keladi/Bidanur/Kavaledurg were Lingayats (page 648)”
“It was in this district at Kalyana (Basavakalyan) that the epoch-making Sharana (Veerashaiva) egalitarian reformist movement was at first organized in the twelfth century by Basaveshvara and his associates and spread thereon to other parts. The reformers created history by rejecting the caste system, untouchability, fetishes and elaborate ritualism, and preached bhakti by a simple form of worship of Shivalinga (primordial symbol of God), upright ethical conduct, dignity of labour, Kayaka principle (that everyone should work) and equality of women with men. These concepts brought about a new spirit and new dynamism among people. Many persons like Haralayya, Machayya, Chennayya, Gundayya, Kakkayya who were born in the so called low-caste families, were profoundly transformed by this upserge and emerged in this area as enlightened leading citizens.
This reform brought into Veerashaiva fold people of many castes and sub-castes. Thus Lingayats or Veerashaivas came to follow a number of diverse occupations, agriculture, labour, trade, industry, handicrafts, priesthood, public and private services etc. Customarily divorce and widow marriage are permitted among some sections. They invariably bury their dead.
It may be said that Veerashaivism is a full blown off-shoot of early Shaivism. Its origin is sometimes traced to the Shaiva Agamas. However, it was largely built up on the sayings of Basaveshvara and other Sharanas such as Allama Prabhu, Channabasava, Siddharama, Akka-Mahadevi, etc. It is a protestant faith in the sense that it did not accept the four-fold caste-system etc. It provided a common man's religion on a democratic basis.
Ashtavarana (eight-fold aids to faith), Panchachara (five fold discipline), Shatsthal (six-fold stages towards uinion with God) form the fundmental structure of Veerashaiva faith. The first may be said to be its body, the second its breath and the third its soul. Ashtavarana constituted of Guru. Linga, Jangama, Vibhuti, Rudraksha, Mantra, Padodaka and Prasad form its practical aspect. Panchacharas, constituted of Lingachara, Sadachara, Sivachara, Ganachara and Brityachara form its ethical aspect. Shatsthala, constituted of Bhakta, Mahesha, Prasadi, Pranalingi, Sharana and Eikya form its metaphysical aspect. Linganga Samarasya (union of the individual with the cosmic and the transcendental) is the ultimate goal. The material life is accepted as a divine leela. The Ishtalinga corresponds to the material body, while the one corresponding to the subtle body is Pranalinga and that which corresponds to the causal body is Bhavalinga. These three suggest the degree of divine manifestation. Veerashaivism has certain points common with Tamil Saiva Siddhant and Kashmiri Shaivism. Kayaka, (bodily labour) is considered as sacred and compulsory for every Veerashaiva. Divorce and widow marriage are traditionally permitted by custom among some sections.”
The above quoted Three District Gazetteers very briefly describe Lingayat as a separate faith and not as a caste. They provide, albeit, very briefly the major features of Lingayat Religion vis-a-via Hinduism. Those contrasting elements are Monotheism, Rejection of Caste System, Equality of Women, Absence of Concepts of Purity/Pollution, Widow Marriage and Equality Women with Men, Burial of the Dead in Sitting Posture instead of burning, basic spiritual concepts of Ishtalinga, Pranalinga and Bhavalinga; Panchachar; Ashtavaran; Shatsthal; and so on. In just three to four paragraphs they sum up the contrasts of Lingayatism with Hinduism to qualify it as an independent religion or faith and not as a caste or part of Hinduism.
The reader should note that the Gazetteers use Lingayat and Virasaiva as interchangeable words. But they clarify that most of the concepts are from Basavanna and his associates called Sharanas: However, the Virasaivas, who joined the Basava Lingayat three hundred years later in the 15th and 16th centuries have dominated the religious literature of Lingayats. In reality, Virasaivas are not the same as Lingayats: they represent the compromised positions and try to bring in Vedic practices and beliefs into the non-Vedic or even anti-Vedic Basava Lingayat. Thus Lingayats represent the pure and original faith whereas Virasaivas corrupt the original faith by bringing in certain practices and beliefs of Sanatan Hinduism totally rejected by the founders of Lingayatism.
1. W.W. Hunter, 1881, The Imperial Gazetteer, Oxford.
2. Gazetteer of Bidar District, 1985, pp.124-125, Government of Karnataka, Bangalore.
3. Gazetteer of Shimoga District, 1975, pp 99-100, Government of Karnataka, Bangalore.
4. Gazetteer of Uttar Kannada District, 1985, p 149, Government of Karnatak, Bangalore.
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 – email@example.com