Lingayatism /ˈlɪŋɡɑːjʌθ/ is a religion practiced in India. It is different from Hinduism and propounds monotheism through worship centered on a universal god in the form of Ishtalinga. The Ishtalinga is often confused with Lord Shiva who is a central figure and a god in many of the Shaivite practices and sects. Like Buddhism, Jainism, Śramaṇa, Cārvāka and Sikhism, it does not directly follow the Vedas[1] and the caste system.[2][3] However, Lingayatism does share some beliefs with Hinduism, such as reincarnation and karma.[4][5][6][7][8][9] Lingayatism was founded by the 12th-century philosopher and statesman Basava and spread by his followers, called Sharanas.[10][11]

The adherents of this faith are known as Lingayats. Both the terms Lingayatism and Lingayats are derived from Kannada word lingavanta for the "one who wears a iṣṭaliṅga (Kannada: ಇಷ್ಟಲಿಂಗ)". The Lingayat iṣṭaliṅga is an oval-shaped emblem symbolising Parashiva, the absolute reality, and is worn on the body by a cord hung around the neck.[12] The terms Lingayatism and Veerashaivism, which is a Shaivite cult founded by the Panchacharyas which also includes wearing Ishtalinga as a significant ritual of observance, have been used synonymosly, both by public and recognized by Governments, though its validity is the source of the biggest contemporary theological and historical debate related to Lingayatism.[13][14][15][16] Nevertheless, Lingayats are also invariably identified and referred as Veerashaivas.[17]

Contemporary Lingayatism is a rich blend of reform-based theology propounded by Basava and ancient Shaivite tradition and customs, with huge influence among the masses in South India, especially in the state of Karnataka and across Maharastra as well. Today, Lingayats, along with Shaiva Siddhanta followers, Tirunelveli Saiva Pillai, Nadar, Naths, Pashupaths of Nepal, Kapalikas and others constitute the major portion of the Shaiva population.[18][19][20]

Early history

See also: Basava
Statue of Basava

Basava founded the philosophy of the Lingayatism and gave Ishta linga - in the form of a universal divine concept for worship. He eventually began to propagate the lingayatism as a movement with rational, humanitarian and egalitarian outlook, and was determined to educate and spread the knowledge of the Ishta Linga after having been enlightened by it.[21]

Basava founded Anubhava Mantapa to establish spiritual social and economic democracy, which is regarded as the world's first parliament. People from all walks of life embraced Basava's thoughts and became Lingayats. In the same way, Veerashaivas also embraced Lingayatism and became Lingayats and due to similar rituals centered on worship of Lord Shiva, Veerashaivas merged into lingayatism.

While the Indian society had converted workmanship into castes, Basava reversed the castes into workmanship again. The Society differentiated people based on birth while Basava offered equal status to all. As a result, large numbers of different caste people took Linga-Deeksha and became Lingayats.

He rebelled against the rigid practices of the caste system then prevalent in orthodox Hindu society (and as a result in earlier Veerashaiva/Lingayat traditions), and eventually began expounding his own philosophy with a casteless society at its core. His egalitarian philosophy and reform movement attracted large numbers of people. Saints like Allama Prabhu, Madival Machideva, Akka Mahadevi and Channabasavanna also played pivotal roles in the growth of today's Lingayat tradition. Machideva was the saint and great warrior who protected the Vachana Sahitya and all Shiva Sharanas from the attack of king Bijjala's army during Kalyana Kranti. He re-established the Anubava Mantappa in Ulluli, which is now in Karwar district of karnataka state.[22]

Basavanna lived and taught in the northern part of what is now Karnataka, India. This movement found its roots during the brief rule of the southern Kalachuris of Kalyani dynasty in those parts of the state. Basavanna preached that the devotion of people to God was a direct relationship and did not need the intervention of the priestly class. Temple building is generally not practised among Lingayats.[23]

Lingayat theology

Main articles: Panchachara, Ashtavarana, and Shatsthala

The Lingayats propound a primarily monotheistic conception of divinity through the worship of Lord Shiva (formless, infinite god). Lingayatism conceives of the self as emerging from and being in union with the divine. Being fundamentally egalitarian, it does not differentiate humankind on the basis of caste, creed, gender, language, country, or race. Early Lingayats placed importance on the Vachana sahitya, which was promulgated by Lord Basaveshwara.

Central to Lingayat theology are five codes of conduct (called Panchāchāras), eight "shields" (Ashtāvarana), and the concept of six levels of attainment that the devotee can achieve (known as Shatsthala).

Ardent followers of Lingayatism are called sharanas or shivasharanas.

Vedas and shastras

Early Lingayat philosophers criticized ritualism centered on Vedas and other ancient texts of Hinduism.[24] Scholars state that while Virashaiva thinkers rejected ritual customs and the custodial hold of Brahmins over the Vedas and the shastras, they did not outright reject the Vedic knowledge.[24] The 13th-century Telugu Virashaiva poet Palkuriki Somanatha, author of Basava Purana – a scripture of Lingayats, for example asserted, "Virashaivism [Lingayatism] fully conformed to the Vedas and the shastras."[24][25]

Lingayat religion is regarded as avaidik(which rejects vedas).


Kudalasangama in Bagalkot district, where Guru Basavanna's samadhi is located

The Panchacharas describe the five codes of conduct to be followed by the believer. The Panchacharas include:[26]


The Ashtavaranas, the eightfold armour that shields the devotee from extraneous distraction and worldly attachments. The Ashtavaranas include:[26]


Shatsthala, or the concept of six phases/states/paths, is pivotal to the Lingayat philosophy. Shatsthala is a conflation of Shat and Sthala, which means 'six phases/states/levels' through which a soul advances in its ultimate quest of realisation of the Supreme. The Shatsthala comprises the Bhakta Sthala, Maheshwara Sthala, Prasadi Sthala, Pranalingi Sthala, Sharana Sthala and the Aikya Sthala. The Aikya Sthala is the culmination where the soul leaves the physical body and merges with the Supreme.

While Basava understood shatsthala as a process with various stages to be attained in succession, Channabasavanna, Basava's nephew, differed radically from his uncle and held that a soul can reach its salvation in any stage.

Concept of Shoonya

True union and identity of Shiva (Linga) and soul (anga) is life's goal, described as shoonya, void or nothingness, which is not an empty void. One merges with Shiva by shatsthala, a progressive six-stage path of devotion and surrender: bhakti (devotion), mahesha (selfless service), prasada (earnestly seeking Shiva's grace), pranalinga (experience of all as Shiva), sharana (egoless refuge in Shiva) and aikya (oneness with Shiva). Each phase brings the seeker closer, until soul and God are fused in a final state of perpetual Shiva consciousness, as rivers merging in the ocean.

Anubhava Mantapa

The Anubhava Mantapa was an academy of mystics, saints and philosophers of the Lingayata faith in 12th-century Kalyana. It was the fountainhead of all religious and philosophical thought pertaining to the Lingayata. It was presided over by the mystic Allamaprabhu, and numerous sharanas from all over Karnataka and other parts of India were participants. This institution was also the fountainhead of the Vachana (spoken word) literature which was used as the vector to propagate Lingayatism religious and philosophical thought. Other giants of lingayat theosophy like Akka Mahadevi, Channabasavanna and Basavanna himself were participants in the Anubhava Mantapa.

Lingayat customs and practices


An idol of Akka Mahadevi holding Ishta Linga in her left hand

The Lingayats make it a point to wear the Ishtalinga at all times. The Istalinga is made up of light gray slate stone coated with fine durable thick black paste of cow dung ashes mixed with some suitable oil to withstand wear and tear. Sometime it is made up of ashes mixed with clarified butter. The coating is called Kanti (covering). Though the Ishtalinga is sometimes likened to be a miniature or an image of the Sthavaralinga, it is not so. The Ishtalinga, on the contrary, is considered to be Lord Shiva himself and its worship is described as Ahangrahopasana.

Thus, for the Lingayats it is an amorphous representation of God. Lingayat thus means the wearer of this Linga as Ishta Linga. Here the word Ishta is a Sanskrit term meaning 'adored' or 'desired'. Unlike Advaitins, however, Lingayats do not treat the Ishtalinga as merely a representation of God to aid in realising God but worship the Ishtalinga itself as God.


Lingayats eat only vegetarian food and must not consume meat of any kind, including fish. The drinking of alcohol is strictly prohibited.[27]


Lingadharane is the ceremony of initiation among Lingayats. Though lingadharane can be performed at any age, it is usually performed when a foetus in the womb is 7–8 months old. The family Guru performs pooja and provides the ishtalinga to the mother, who then ties it to her own ishtalinga until birth. At birth the mother secures the new ishtalinga to her child. Upon attaining the age of 8–11 years, the child receives Diksha from the family Guru to know the proper procedure to perform pooja of ishtalinga. From birth to death, the child wears the Linga at all times and it is worshipped as a personal ishtalinga. The Linga is wrapped in a cloth housed in a small silver and wooden box. It is to be worn on the chest, over the seat of the indwelling deity within the heart. Some people wear it on the chest or around the body using a thread. Both Lingayat men and women participate in these ceremonies in the presence of a satguru. This practice was begun by Basavanna himself, who refused to undergo Upanayana (a Brahmin initiation), because it discriminated against women.

Kaayakave Kailaasa

Kayakave Kailasa in Kannada

This is originally a Sanskrit phrase, Vrutti Chaitanya Roopini Karanika, preached by Jagadguru Renukacharya. Kaayaka means the exertion of the Kaaya (body) for the liberation of the soul imprisoned therein. Kailaasa means "abode of Shiva" – heavenly.

There is a vachana complementary to this which talks about keeping the Kaaya (body) pure:

As one theory goes, the Indian subcontinent is divided into North and South by the Vindhya mountain ranges. While the North has the Himalayan rivers flowing year-round and boasts the river Ganga, the South has the river Kaveri, which originates at Talakaveri and dries up in the summer. Hence the North is referred as Punya Bhoomi, whose residents believe that taking a dip in the Ganga with Bhakthi (devotion) will wash off all our sins. But the South is referred as Karma Bhoomi, whose residents believe that their Karma which will decide their fate. The Kaayaka Tatva of Basavanna also bases itself on the Karma Siddhantha (Philosophy of Karma).


Among the many injunctions prescribed for the devout Lingayat, Daasoha is a very important one. Basava created this as a protest against the feudalistic ideologies present at that time. He shunned the sharp hierarchical divisions that existed and sought to remove all distinctions between the hierarchically superior master class and the subordinate, servile class. Even though he himself served as a minister under the king, Bijjala, he pointed out that he worked only as a daasohi or one who serves. Daasoha to him meant working hard for one's livelihood and for the maintenance of society. In Basava's view, a daasohi should consider himself but a servant of society. Therefore, daasoha in principle assumed that what belongs to God must return to Him and what came from society should be given back by way of selfless service. Basava exhorted all wearers of Ishta linga to practice daasoha without reservation.

A famous vachana says: Soham ennade Daasoham endeNisayya – which means "be selfless [Daasa Aham] rather than selfish [Naanu or Aham]".


19th-century gravestone of a Lingayat woman buried in a military graveyard in Pune.

The Lingayats bury their dead. The dead are buried in the Dhyana mudra (meditating position) with their Ishta linga in their left hand.


Lingayat literature

Main article: Vachana Sahitya

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.

A popular vachana (poem) composed by Akka Mahadevi
A statue of Akkamahadevi installed at her birthplace, Udathadi

Saints and Sharanas like Allamaprabhu, Akka Mahadevi, Siddarama and Basava were at the forefront of this development during the 12th century. Some of the best vachanas are the padas or the devaranamas of the dasas. The dasas were a group of religious singers of the Madhva faith who wandered around the kingdom singing about social injustice and true worship.[28] Siddarama (or Siddarameswara) 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 his emphasis on realization through personal experience. He borrowed metaphors from diverse spheres of everyday life. Apart from vachanas, he wrote several devotional works in the tripadi style. Sarvagjna was a later lingayat vachana poet of the 17th century who wrote thousands of succinct vachanas in tripadi style.

The entire corpus of these works is in Kannada. As with the Dasa Sahitya of the later Haridasas, the Vachanas were also 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.


Lingayat demographics

Lingayats today are found predominantly in the state of Karnataka, especially in North and Central Karnataka with a sizeable population native to South Karnataka. Lingayats is Karnataka’s largest caste group, who are estimated to form around 17% of the population.[29][30] Significant populations are also found in parts of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana bordering Karnataka, as well as Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Gujarat.

The Lingayat diaspora can be found in countries around the world, particularly the United States, Britain and Australia.


A Lingayat ritual locket which holds Ishtalinga, 19th century, Tamil Nadu.

Basavanna invented the Ishta linga. Ishta linga is symbol of vast, formless, nameless, infinite and omnipresent God. All people who believed in Shivasharana movement had to wear the Isthta linga and follow the principles of Lingayata Dharma. While Lingayata Dharma is the faith, the one who practices it is called Lingayath.

Basava established Anubhava Mantapa to establish spiritual social and economic democracy. People from all walks of life embraced Basava's thoughts and became Lingayats. In the same way, Veerashaivas also embraced Lingayatism and became Lingayats, Veerashaiva lingayats.

While the Indian society had converted workmanship into castes, Basava reversed the castes into workmanship again. The Society differentiated people based on birth while Basava offered equal status to all. As a result, large numbers of different caste people took Linga-Deeksha and became Lingayats.

Lingayats and social work

The Lingayat community, under the aegis of several Mathas, has been very active in the field of social work, particularly in the field of education and medicine. Thousands of schools are run by the Lingayat Mathas where education, sometimes free and with boarding facilities, is provided to students of all sections of society irrespective of religion or caste. In addition, various Lingayat organizations run numerous schools, colleges and hospitals across the length and breadth of Karnataka. Some of these institutions also have branches in other states of India. Some of the notable Lingayat-run institutions include the JSS group of institutions, Sri Taralabalu Jagadguru education society, KLE Society, BLDE Association, Siddaganga Education Society, Vishweshwar Sahakari ( Cooperative ) Bank, Pune.

Notable Lingayats

Main article: List of Lingayats

See also


  1. "Lingayatism – An Independent Religion" and opposes caste system. Retrieved on 28 November 2015.
  2. Ataulla, Naheed (10 October 2013). "Lingayats renew demand for separate religion". The Times of India. Retrieved on 28 November 2015.
  3. "Lingayats Are Not Hindus". The New Indian Express. 5 January 2015. Retrieved on 28 November 2015.
  4. Veerashaiva Samaja of North America | VSNA Philosophy & FAQs
  5. A. K. Ramanujan, ed. (1973). Speaking of Siva. UNESCO. Indian translation series. Penguin classics. Religion and mythology. Penguin India. p. 175. ISBN 978-0-14-044270-0.
  6. Frank D'Souza (2014). A Victor of Circumstance. Notion press. p. chapter eight, page 4. ISBN 978-93-83808-97-7.
  7. "Lingayat." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 09 Jul. 2010.
  10. "What is Lingayatism/Lingayat?". Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  11. "Lingayat Religion - Tradition and Modernity in Bhakti Movements, Jayant Lele". Brill Archive. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  12. "Creator of Ishtalinga". Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  13. "'Veerashaivas, Lingayats are Same' - Prof. M. Chidananda Murthy". The New Indian Express. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  14. "Lingayat is an independent religion: Seer". The Hindu. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  15. "Veerashaivas are part of Hindu religion: Ayanur Manjunath". The Hindu. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  16. "Lingayats renew demand for separate religion". Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  17. "Declare Veerashaiva Lingayat a religion: Shivashankarappa". The Hindu. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  18. For an overview of the Shaiva Traditions, see Flood, Gavin, "The Śaiva Traditions", in: Flood (2003), pp. 200-228. For an overview that concentrates on the Tantric forms of Śaivism, see Alexis Sanderson's magisterial survey article Śaivism and the Tantric Traditions, pp.660--704 in The World's Religions, edited by Stephen Sutherland, Leslie Houlden, Peter Clarke and Friedhelm Hardy, London: Routledge, 1988.
  19. Shaivam
  20. Tattwananda 1984, p. 54.
  21. "Birth of Basavanna". Retrieved 18 October 2015.
  22. "Path of Basavanna". Basava Divine Center. Retrieved 18 October 2015.
  23. "Teachings of Basavanna". Retrieved 18 October 2015.
  24. 1 2 3 Leela Prasad (2012), Poetics of Conduct: Oral Narrative and Moral Being in a South Indian Town, Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0231139212, page 104
  25. VN Rao and GH Roghair (2014), Siva's Warriors: The Basava Purana of Palkuriki Somanatha, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0691604879, pages 7-8
  26. 1 2 A Survey of Hinduism, by Klaus K. Klostermaier
  27. "LINGAYATS".
  28. Indian Music, by Bigamudre Chaitanya Deva
  29. "Today could be former prime minister Deve Gowda's last hurrah".
  30. "In Karnataka politics, caste matters".


Further reading

External links

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