Śaivism: Vīraśaivas

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The Indian religious movement of the Vīraśaivas ("heroic Śaivas")also known as Ligāyats ("bearers of a ligā ")appeared as a reformist Śaiva sect in Hinduism probably in the middle of the twelfth century in the border regions of Maharashtra and Karnataka. Its founder is said to have been a brahman named Basava or Basavanna (11061167), though the main reformist role may have been that of Ekantada Ramayya, a contemporary of Basava. The Vīraśaiva doctrine was probably further elaborated in the following centuries.

The sect now has about six million adherents, mostly in Karnataka, where, though officially classified as "backward," they are a not unimportant group. Vīraśaivism may have appeared as a reaction of Dravidians against Brahmanic (and therefore Aryan) domination. Temple worship, sacrifice, and pilgrimages are condemned as useless. The caste system is rejected, the sexes are declared equal, child marriage is forbidden, and widows are allowed to remarry. Caste distinctions tended, however, to reappear in the course of time. There are, for instance, hereditary priests, the jagamas, while the sect itself is regarded as a caste.

All Vīraśaivas must belong to a group connected with one of the sect's five main religious centers or matha s (Kedarnath, Śrīsaila, Balehalli, Ujjain, Varanasi). All must have a guru, undergo initiation, and carry a small ligā in a tube fastened to the neck or arm (hence the name Ligāyat). The sect mark is a white dot on the forehead. The dead are buried, not cremated.

Though they condemn all ritual, Vīraśaivas still admit some rites, but these are performed by jagamas, not brāhmaas, the main rite being initiation (dīkā ) of male children. They must also pay homage at least twice per day to the small ligā they wear. Fundamental to their religion and deemed indispensable for salvation are the so-called eight covers (aāvaraa ): the guru, who is even more revered than God; the ligā; the jagamas ; holy water (padodaka ); returned offerings (prasāda ); holy ashes (vibhūti ); the rosary (rudrāka ); and the mantra "Nama Śivāya." Vīraśaivas believe in reincarnation, except for those who attain a certain degree of holiness in this life.

The metaphysical creed of the Vīraśaivas is "qualified dualism" (viśeādvaita ), a Śaiva variant of Rāmānuja's doctrine, from which it may derive. Śiva acts through his energy (śakti ), which divides itself into the Lord as manifested in the guru and the ligā and into all individual souls (agas ). Māyā is the cause and origin of the material world. Liberation from this world is gained by devotion to God and through a sixfold practice, the six phases (sthala s) of which will eventually bring the devotee to union with Śiva (united with Śakti), a union that is not, however, complete identity with God.

The literature is in Sanskrit, Kannada, and Telugu. That in Sanskrit is mostly doctrinal; some gamas include Vīraśaiva elements. The most important and popular texts are in Kannada, the main part being made up of vacana s ("sayings"). These are sermons, poems, and mystical utterances of the great Vīraśaiva saints and masters (Basava, Kasimayya, Mahādēviyakka, Allamaprabhu). This literature, in which bhakti and Tantric elements combine to form a very remarkable synthesis, is often of great poetic beauty.

See Also



For the doctrine and practices of the Vīraśaiva, and historical facts, any of the good histories of Indian religions may be consulted, for instance Jan Gonda's Die Religionen Indiens, vol. 2, Der jüngere Hinduismus (Stuttgart, 1963). The best introduction to the subject is probably Speaking of Śiva, translated with an introduction by A. K. Ramanujan (New York, 1973), a short but excellent anthology with very useful and perceptive commentaries. A vast collection of vacana s in the original text and English translation, Śūnyasampādane, 5 vols., edited and translated by S. S. Bhoosnurmath et al. (Hubli-Dharwar, 19651972), is interesting but difficult to find.

New Sources

Nandimath, Sivalingayya Channabasavayya. Theology of the Saivagamas: A Survey of the Doctrines of Saiva Siddhanta and Veerasaivism. Thiruvananthapuram, 2001.

AndrÉ Padoux (1987)

Revised Bibliography