On July 19th, lakhs of people from the Lingayat community thronged the streets of Bidar— a city on the northern tip of Karnataka, demanding a separate religion tag and constitution recognition. The speeches of numerous influential seers in saffron robes of Lingayat mutts echoed, “We are not Hindus, we are the followers of Hindu god Shiva. Additionally, they submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister Siddaramaiah demanding to stop caste certificates titled ‘Veerashaiva Lingayat’ to Lingayat community and an independent religion status under the purview of the Indian constitution. Since the Bidar rally, the voices have gained momentum from numerous people of the community to orchestrate corresponding rallies in Belagavi, Latur, and Bengaluru.
Months after crowded rallies and charged speeches, Pontiffs of the influential Mutts demanded 12-15% reservation without a separate religion status. Lingayats listed as the ‘Other Backward Classes’ constitutes 15-17% predominantly in the parts of North and Hyderabad Karnataka region— they are the strongest vote bank for the ruling BJP. However, CM Siddaramaiah has shown a green flag to the separate religion moment. Kalburgi and Gowri Lankesh, who was shot dead by unidentified assailants had battled for a separate religion tag while Dr Chidananda Murthy and Dr GS Shivarudrappa— eminent intellectuals in the Kannada literary world of the Lingayat community say that they are an integral part of Hinduism. Now the voice of the community is demarcated into multiple narratives pointing a socio-political agenda and flaws behind the movement.
So, who are theVeerashaiva Lingayats?
Dr Shivananda Jamadar, a top brass of the Lingayat Independent Religion Horata Samiti, and other influential seers of numerous Mutts argue that the Lingayats adore ‘Ishtalinga’— which is totally different from the ‘static’ Linga worshipped by the Hindus. Lingayats believe that the concept of God is not based on Vedas, Agamas, Shivapurana, Skandapurana, or any other ancient texts associated with the Hinduism. In addition to this, they do not believe in the rituals, traditions which are similar to the Hindus. They solely believe in the teachings of Basavanna, a 12th-century social reformer in the Shiva-focussed Bhakti movement— under the Kalachuri-dynasty king Bijjala I.
Dispirited by the rigid caste system, superstitious beliefs, and other social evils, Basavanna fought relentlessly through Vachanas— rhythmic phrases packed with morals which adored Lord Shiva as the supreme being. He established Anubhava Mantapa— an academy to encourage discussions on social evils. In the 12th century, the followers of Basvanna were termed as “Sharanas”, who followed strict vegetarianism, opposed caste system, and other unhealthy practices in the society. Basavanna’s movement was similar to the Protestant Reformation in the west. He fought against the supercilious forces of the society like Martin Luther, but he never endorsed the voice of “Detachment” from the Hinduism.
In 1904, the leaders of the Veerashaiva Mahasabha— Hardekar Gandhi, Phagu Halagatti, and Banthanaala Shivayogi publicized that they are an integral part of the Hindu religion. When Saakhre, a Veerashaiva Lingayat scholar published a book saying that they do not belong to the Hindu religion – Ex-president, Prof.Radhaskrishnan said in his books preface that, “Prof.Sakhare is taking a somewhat narrow view of the spirit of Hinduism”. The followers of Basavanna evolved from Sharanas to Lingayats. In the present day, they are demanding a separate religion, following certain practices of worshipping Shiva which is contradictory to his basic teachings. A revolution in a particular religion speaks volumes about the flaws and internal brawl about the same.
Over a period of time, the teachings of Basavanna have been misinterpreted by undermining the fact that Basvanna borrowed the concept of Lord Shiva from either Adi Shankara’s teachings or ancient Hindu texts such as Vedas, Upanishads, Agamas etc. Moreover, the Vachanas reverberate an overview of Vedic knowledge and Katopanishad in particular. Chidanadamurthy once told to a private news organization that “The oldest Lingayat seer, the Siddaganga Swamiji has declared that Lingayats are Hindus. The Siddaganaga Mutt has set up a separate school called Sri Siddaganaga Veda Patashala, where Vedas are taught to the students. These movements sprout just a year or two before the elections. Since obtaining the minority status will open up doors of freebies for the Lingayats, they are now demanding a separate religion status.” An overview of the movement and Lingayat identify seems that the problem in the community is beyond one’s own imagination.