Allamaprabhu (allamapraBu) (ಅಲ್ಲಮಪ್ರಭು) is one of the most revered persons in the history of Karnataka. He was a philosopher, a poet and a saint in addition to being the guiding spirit of the ‘shivasharana’ movement of the twelfth century. He was an insider critic of the movement and was held in high esteem by one and all including Basavanna. Allama extended the expressive capacities of Kannada as never before and he created the tools necessary for such activity.
Vachanas of Allamaprabhu give little information about his biographical antecedents. Works such as ‘praBudEvara ragaLe’ by Harihara and ‘praBulinglIle’ by Chamarasa do not see eye to on many issues and details. There is an attempt by Chamarasa to deify the protagonist of his work. There is an element of mystery attached to his early life. Slightly dramatized versions of his confrontations with many seekers of truth, deleneated in the book called ‘shUnyasampAdane’ provide ample data about his later life.
Early life of Allama is associated with ‘baLLigAve’ a small village in Shivamogga district. Even this fact is not fully substantiated. He was born a family of drumbeaters associated with a temple. (maddaliga-ಮದ್ದಲಿಗ) He became an adept in the art. There are two variants related to his love life and later renunciation. According to Harihara the poet, Allama fell in love with a girl called ‘kAmalate’ and lived with her for a while. He was inconsolable after her premature death. He volunteers to go underground in search of a temple, whose cupola was visible at an excavation site. He meets his mentor ‘animiSayya’ in that temple. That meeting leads to self-realization and Allama comes out as a full fledged mystic and seer. The signature word, ‘guhEShvara’ which is attached to all his poems literally means ‘the lord of the cave’
The poet Chamarasa who has composed ‘praBulingalIle’ contradicts this account. According to him, Allama comes to Banavasi and meets a princess called ‘mAyAdevi’ at the famous ‘madhukEshvara’ temple. He does not yield to the cajoling of the princess and spurns her offers of love. He does not really need any enlightenment by a master because he is blessed by Lord Shiva himself.
However, the life of Allama after this cataclysmic event is well documented. He assumes the role of a meandering saint and moves all over Karnataka and its neighbouring states. He was well connected with many contemporary religious and mystical cults. His poems reveal many areas uncharted by his peers.
Allama goes from place to place in search of genuine devotees who have erred in their perception of spiritual realities. Goraksha, (gOrakSa) Muktayakka (muktAyakka), goggayya and Siddarama (siddarAma) are the important ones among them. They accept his guidance with or without an argument. By the time Allama arrives at ‘Kalyana’ the abode of Basavanna and the seat of ‘anubhavamanTapa’, an assembly of mystiques, he was known as a great visionary and a saint. Basavanna requests him to preside over the assembly during his sojourn. Allama does not hesitate to put both ‘akkamahAdEvi’ and ‘basavaNNa’ through an ordeal by fire. He is a bitter critique of all religious trappings and is not even ready to accept the concept of ‘iSTalinga’ propounded by Basavanna. Sharanas had no alternative but to accept his criticism. However, his stay in Kalyana was not prolonged and he moves over to the hilly regions of ‘Shrishaila’ in Andhrapradesh.
Allamaprabhu and his poems have the ability to transcend the boundaries of Veerashiava religion. He is a great philosopher who had deep insights into the nature of the universe, individual life and the tools forged by human beings to unravel these mysteries. He was aware of the fact, that language is only an inadequate tool to perceive and communicate reality. Unfortunately, we do not have any other recourse. Consequently, Allama adopts different strategies to fathom the unfathomable. Many of his vachanas are encoded in a mysterious language and they are called ‘beDagina vacanagaLu’
Allama has become a powerful influence on the mystical traditions of Karnataka. This influence transcends the boundaries of caste, creed, erudition and class. His writings and personality continue to attract intellectuals and artists of modern Karnataka.
1. Allama Prabhu - Life and Legacy (An article by H.H. Kumaraswamiji of Dharwar)
1. ‘Allamaprabhu mattu Shaivapratibhe’ by D.R.Nagaraj, 1999, Akshara Prakashana, Heggodu.
2. ‘Speaking of Shiva’ by A.K.Ramanujan, 1973, Penguin Classics.