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Vachana Sahithya


Vachana Sahithya: Lingayat's Unique Literature

Vachanas: Sharanas have chronicled their experiences and path towards divinity in unique literature known as Vachana. The word Vachana means ‘Speech’. It also means a verbal promise. Vachanas of the Sharanas are the means to purify one in word, action, and vision. Composed in simple language, yet carrying profound philosophy and thought provoking ideas, Vachanas form the backbone of the path of Guru Basavanna Typically small verses/poetry of 4-8 lines, they prescribe to a format-free writing, not imposing any grammatical or literary restrictions on the authors. Yet, Vachanas possess musical and emotional quality.

It is interesting to see how Sharana s convey complex concepts in simple Vachanas. Often, they draw examples from familiar day-to-day experiences and use them as similes and metaphors to drive home profound ideas. Some Vachanas convey different meaning based on the level of an aspirant. Some Vachanas state the message and follow it with an example or explanation. Yet others use common images and experiences to orient the minds of the reader to the proper context and then deliver the message. Vachanas are the first hand narrative of Sharanas and were also seasoned by the scrutiny of fellow mystics.

Guru Basavanna realized the value of chronicling and organizing Vachanas. Each Sharana has used a penname that seems be drawn from his/her first divine connection. These divine insignia are incorporated towards the end of the Vachana clearly identifying the author. For instance, Guru Basavanna has used Kudalasagamadeva as his penname drawing from the place where he first realized his divine mandate. He seems to have anticipated the confusion that would arise about the authenticity of Vachanas and formulated this system to retain the genuineness of the mystic sayings. Sharanas have also classified and categorized the Vachanas of major Vachanakaras into step-by-step levels, giving us a framework to absorb the concepts of the path of Basavanna.

Written in simple language and drawing graphic examples from day-to-day life, Vachanas form the basis of a unique mystic literature that was penned by the mystics themselves. Often, using examples from everyday life, Sharanas have conveyed abstract concepts and mystic experiences. Vachanas cover a wide spectrum of subject matter with the idea of guiding aspirants towards experiencing divine bliss. It covers the philosophical, cosmological, scientific, and theological aspects with the same ease as it handles the interpersonal relationships, emotional turmoil, instincts, and shortcomings of human beings. It takes an extremely scientific and logical approach in dealing with the cosmology, universe, and its creation. Vachanas are the blue print left behind by Sharanas that help us transform our day-to-day by making it more purposeful and meaningful.

The rise of Lingayatism heralded a new chapter in the annals of Kannada literature. Basavanna and other saints communicated their beliefs and ideas in Kannada which was the commoners' language unlike Sanskrit which was understood only by the Brahmins at that time. It saw the birth of the Vachana style of literature with the Lingayat philosophy at its core. The Vachanas were pithy poems of a devotional nature that expounded the ideals of Lingayatism. Saints and Sharanas like Allama Prabhu, Akka Mahadevi, Siddarama and Basava were at the forefront of this development during the 12th century. Siddarama (Siddarameswar) of Solapur (Sonnalagi) is considered to be one of the five prophets of the Lingayat (Veerashaivism) religion and a Kannada poet who was a part Basavanna's Veerashaiva revolution during the 12th century. Siddharama claims to have written 68,000 vachanas, out of which 1379 remain in existence. His philosophy was one of service to mankind, the path of Karmayoga. He shared the worldview of other vachana poets in his rejection of blind conventions and caste and sex discrimination and emphasis on realization through personal experience. He borrowed metaphors from diverse spheres of everyday life. Apart from vachanas, he wrote several devotional works in tripadi. Sarvagna was a later lingayat vachana poet of the 17th century who wrote thousands of succinct vachanas in tripadi style.

Vachanas were primarily targeted at the common person and sought to demystify God, as large sections of society had been deprived of access to the texts. The Jangamas played a central role in the propagation of the Vachanas.

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