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Liṅgāyat (Skt., liṅga, emblem of Śiva). An ancient Indian Śaivite sect believing in the One Undivided, or Non-dualistic, Being, Brahmā, or Śiva-tattva, possessing latent creative energy in its aspect as pure ‘existence’ (sthala). Its adherents are also known as Viraśaivas. Once the creative principle is activated, this Being becomes two: Śiva made manifest who is worshipped (liṅga-sthala), and each individual worshipping soul (aṅga-sthala).

Before the 12th cent. the Liṅgāyats, termed Ārādhya (devoted), maintained many traditional brahmanic practices, but a reform movement was initiated by Basava (c.1106–67/8), a S. Indian brahman who carried out systematic attacks on Jains, Buddhists, and Vaiṣṇavas, while sponsoring Śaivism and, in particular, the Liṅgāyat sect.

The Liṅgāyats adopted many socio-religious reforms, some of which were later to be promulgated throughout Hinduism.

Liṅgāyat priests (jaṅgamas) are highly regarded; while some are allowed to marry, those in the most prestigious category are celibate. They have great influence in the community, and every Liṅgāyat, boy or girl, has to undergo initiation, at which the significance of the three types of liṅga is explained: the bhāvalinga of Siva-tattva, the supreme, all-pervading, and eternal; the prāṇa-liṅga, that which a person may comprehend, the deity he worships; the ishṭa-liṅga, or ‘desire’-liṅga, which may be seen and which fulfils all desire, and is therefore to be reverenced. All Liṅgāyats, after initiation, wear a stone liṅga in a silver casket; its loss is the equivalent of ‘spiritual death’: this is a reminder that the body is the true temple.

Liṅgāyats are found chiefly in Kanara, and much of the development of literary Kanarese is owed to them.

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