Basavanna (ಬಸವಣ್ಣ) also known as Basaveshvara (basavEshvara) (ಬಸವೇಶ್ವರ) is one of the most respected personalities in the entire history of Karnataka. His contributions to the culture of Karnataka are multifaceted. He was a great social reformer, the founder of Veerashaiva religion and above all one of the greatest poets of Karnataka even though it was not his declared intention to write poetry. Vachanas of Basavanna along with those of his contemporary greats such as Allamaprabhu and Akkamahadevi started a new era in the history of Kannada literature. This note is confined his biography. His contributions to Kannada literature is delineated in the entry highlighted above.
It is very difficult to delineate an authentic biographical piece on Basavanna because one has to sift factual information from fiction, legends, and miracles accumulated over eight centuries about his haloed personality. Many inscriptions have provided information about his life. Those found at arjunavADa, cauDadAnapura, hiriyUr, and maraDipura are the more important ones among them. Many literary works are written with Basavanna at its nucleus starting from the 13th century poet Haihara’s ‘basavarAjadEvara ragaLe. ‘basava purANa’ by Bheema kavi and ‘VruSaBEndravijaya’ by Shadaksharadeva are some of them. The information about Basavanna available in the poems(vacanas) written by himself as also the dramatic reconstruction of that era called ‘shUnyasampAdne’ are invaluable sources. A judicious use of all this material gives us a life sketch of a revolutionary par excellence.
Basavanna was born at ‘basavana bAgEvADi’ a small village in Bijapura district at a distance of about 85 kilometers from the district head-quarters. He was born approximately in 1131 A.D. His caste is under dispute. However, it is evident that he did not believe in the cAturvarNa system propounded by Hinduism and he did not believe in caste hierarchy either. The statement by Harihara that he relinquished the sacred thread and other caste marks at a young age goes to prove it.
Basavanna moved over to Kudalasangama (kUDalasangama) at a young age and became a disciple of the sage jAtavEda. His stay at Kudalasangama contributed hugely to his intellectual and spiritual evolution. He must have developed very deep emotional attachment to Sangameshvara the local deity. ‘KUDala sangamadEva’ later becomes his signature name (ankita) in all the vachanas written by him.
Baladeva a maternal uncle of Basavanna was the treasury officer (bhanDAri) at the royal court of ‘kalachuri bijjaLa’ who was a feudatory king of the Kalyani Chalukyas at that point of time. Basavanna married Gangamibike a daughter of his uncle Baladeva and Neelambike a sister of Bijjaa. He became the treasury officer after the passing away of Baladeva.
moved over to ‘KalyaNi’ the capital city of
Basavanna was truly the founder of Veerashaivism irrespective of its historical antecedents if any, because the innovations made by him were revolutionary in every sense of the term. The entry to Veerashaivism was unrestricted and equality was assured after the entry. Earlier caste affiliations were not taken in to consideration at all. This was exemplified in the lifestyle of Basavanna himself. Secondly, the hegemony preached by the priest class was given a sudden jolt, because Basavanna rejected the very concept of temple and an intervention by the priest was not necessary. The concept of 'Ishtalinga' (ಇಷ್ಟಲಿಂಗ) worn on the body and worshipped privately, obliviated the necessity of any priestly intermediation. Basavanna carried this philosophical stand to inter personal and inter-community relations also. Consequently, inter-caste marriages among the followers of the new religion became automatic. Thirdly, adherents and converts to the new religion gravitated towards Kalyana and Basavanna became the nodal centre of a movement. Saints and admirers such as Allamaprabhu, Akkamahadevi, and Siddarama visited Kalyana during their meanderings all over Karnataka and its neighboring states and lent their support. The movement acquired a lot of momentum and became a force to reckon with. ‘Anubhavamantapa’ a congregation of saints and wise men became another centre of power. The passions of the traditional religions and castes were raised and atmosphere became volatile. The king Bijjala was torn asunder by clashing factions. Some of his decisions related to the inter-caste marriage between a brahman girl and a dalit boy lead to lots of bloodshed and the political turmoil resulted in the cessation of the activities of the Sharana movement in Kalyana and the death of Bijjala. It is said that Basavanna went back to ‘kUDalasangama’ and that his last days were spent there. However the religion formulated by him survived the shock and emerged as one of the major religions (castes) of Karnataka.
The fundamental precepts of Veerashaivism were formulated by Basavanna even though the philosophical core was given by Allamaprabhu. Basavanna is loved and admired, because he was not hesitant to take cudgels against the traditional religion. His teachings and life were extensions of one another and his humility was exemplary. His concern for the marginalized sectors of the society such as dalits and women went beyond mere lip service. His personality was very complex as revealed in his Vachanas. He did not really need any miracles to become a much acclaimed leader.
Further Readings and Links:
1. ‘Basavanna’ By M. Chidanandamurthy, 1972, National Book Trust, New Delhi.
2. ‘Basava: the dimension of Universal man’ By Hardekar Manjappa, 1966, Hardekar Manjappa Smaraka Granthamale
3. ‘Speaking of Siva’, A.K.Ramanujan, Thomas Wyatt, Anonymous, 1973, Penguin Books, Hammondsworth, U.K
4. ‘FOREVER SAINTS’ — Selected Vachanas of Basavanna, Allama and Akka Mahadevi: Translated with Introduction and Notes by D.A. Shankar; Jagadguru Sri Shivarathreeswara Granthamala, JSS Mahavidyapeetha, Mysore.
5. ‘Revolution of the mystics: on the social aspects of the VIrashaivism’ By Jan Peter Schouten, 1995, Motilal Benarasidas, New Delhi.