The revolutionary who taught that right conduct is heaven. He declared that work is worship and taught the ideals of simple living and the equality of all men. And he practiced what he preached.
Do not steal, Do not kill. Do not utter lies; Do not lose your temper. Do not detest others; Do not glorify yourself. Do not blame others.
This alone is purity within.
This alone is purity without, And this alone is the way to please our Lord Kudalasangama.
These words are very simple. But they contain the very essence of all the moral codes of the world and the religion of man. Our life must be pure both inwardly and outwardly. That alone is the way to win God’s grace. And God’s grace fills our life with joy.
The passage given above is called a Vachana.
Basaavanna wrote it. Kudalasangama was his deity. This name appears at the end of every Vachana as a mark of identity. Basavanna wrote many Vachanas.
Before the birth of Basavanna, it was customary to write religious and ethical texts in Sanskrit.
But Basavanna began to write them in Kannada.
This practice enriched Kannada literature.
Till then it was the custom of Kannada writers to compose poetry. Basavanna wrote in the Vachana form using prose. So modern Kannada prose could develop. Kannada became popular.
Several Shaiva Saints (Shivasharanas) followed the example of Basavanna and wrote Vachanas. These Vachanas spread among the people. They contained religious and moral ideas and explained how society should be built up. These ideas brought about an awakening in the people. They could now easily understand the moral teachings. A new social order came up. Basavanna preached that everyone should continue in his professional work and at the same time lead a virtuous and spiritual life. Any professional work that is done in this spirit, he said, was Kayaka (work which is worship). As everybody was obliged to take up some Kayaka, the country’s economy improved. Thus Basavanna brought about a great reformation in all fields – religion, morality, social life, economics, language, and literature. He worked for reforms of so many kinds all at the same time and was a truly great man.
Basavanna was modest and used to say, ‘There is none smaller than I.’ He used to say that he did not want to be praised. He would work with the people as one of them. He always addressed them, courteously in affectionate terms, as ‘father’, ‘brother’ and so on. He grew to be a great light shedding brightness not only over our motherland but also over the whole world.
Who is Basavanna?
Eight hundred years ago, there lived a couple by name Madarasa and Madalambike in a village called Bagewadi of Bijapur District, in Karnataka, (South India). They were very pious and deeply religious. There was a temple of Nandeeshwara in that village. The husband and the wife were devotees of Nandeeshwara. Madalambike was longing to have a son. She offered worship every day to God Shiva and prayed to him to fulfill her desire. One day after performing the worship she sat in meditation. A jasmine flower, placed on the Shivalinga as an offering, fell into her lap. She took it with great devotion, pressed it gently to her eyes and then wore it in her hair. The whole day she was beside herself with joy. At night she had a dream: Shiva from Kailasa had sent Nandi, the bull on which he rode, to this world. Nandi came to the house of Madarasa and Madalambike. Then there was light everywhere.
The next morning Madalambike revealed this dream to Madarasa. He, in turn, reported it to the Guru, a spiritual guide of the village. The Guru told him that it was a good sign. The couple would have a worthy son; he would exalt the entire family. He would also uplift and enlighten the whole world. The couple felt very happy when they heard these words of prophecy.
Bagewadi was a small village. Madarasa was its chief. Soon the news of Madalambike’s dream spread all over the village.
Over time, Madalambike gave birth to a son. It was a charming baby. Its face shone with brightness, not of this world. But strangely enough, it did not cry at all as babies usually do. It did not open its eyes. It did not move its limbs. It was still and silent like a sage in meditation. The mother was worried. The revered Guru of the family was in Kudalasangama. Madarasa decided to report this curious state of the baby to him.
Kudalasangama is a holy place where the two rivers Krishna and Malapahari meet. A temple of God Sangameshwara is there. The revered Guru of Madarasa’s family was in sole charge of the temple where he was running a Guru Kula (a school). By his devout meditation and scholarship, he commanded the respect of all and wielded much influence. To him came Madarasa with the news of his new, born baby and its curious state. The Guru immediately went with him to Bagewadi.
He realized that this was no ordinary baby.
He smeared its forehead with the sacred ashes brought from the holy Sangama. Only then the baby opened its eyes. The Guru tied the ‘Linga’ around its neck. He started smiling. Thus the Guru admitted the little infant into a spiritual order. This was something new to Madarasa and Madalambike. The Guru then said: “By the grace of God Shiva, Nandi (Vrishabha) himself has been born as your son. He will become a great man and will promote Dharma in the world. The welfare of the entire mankind will be accomplished by him. This indeed is your good fortune as also of this land. Name him as ‘Basava’.” Basava is the Kannada form of the Sanskrit word ‘Vrishabha’. As instructed by the Guru the baby was named ‘Basava’. Later, out of respect, people called him ‘Basaveshwara’. While working for the good of all his fellowmen, he showed great love for them and was very close to them.
So they began to call him affectionately ‘Basavanna’ (Basava, the elder brother). He was born in 1131 A.D.
Basavanna grew up to be a lovely boy. He was a feast to the eyes and hearts of his parents and all others in Bagewadi. He was known as the brightest student in Gurukula. He was very, very intelligent for his age. He was a very good boy. He was friendly to everyone. Even at such a tender age he would think for himself and form his views. The teachers used to teach things traditionally. But at every step this boy would ask them ‘How?’ and ‘Why?’
The teachers no doubt admired his boldness and independent thinking. But they found it difficult to answer his questions.
There used to be several religious ceremonies in the village. Basavanna would want to know the meaning of everything. But the elders couldn’t satisfy him. There was the traditional caste system; according to this, some were considered high and some low.
This seemed wrong to Basavanna. All should be treated as equals. All should be pure and devoted to God. Everyone should work. Liberal views such as these took shape in the mind of Basavanna even in his childhood. It was indeed God’s grace.
Basavanna completed his eighth year. Following the family, custom Madarasa decided to perform the Upanayana (investing with the holy thread) of his son. ‘What was the meaning of this ceremony? How did he need it?
Even as a baby he had been blessed by Guru Sangameshwara with a linga to wear on his body.
So he needed no other initiation, so thought Basavanna. He also told his father regarding the same thing. Madarasa was taken aback. He felt pained also. But Basavanna’s stand was clear and firm. How to break this family tradition was a big problem for Madarasa. Basavanna also thought over it a good deal. At last, he told his father:
“Father, you may respect this family tradition. But it is not for me. Let me not place you in a difficult position. I shall leave this house for good and continue my education at Sangama. I shall learn at the feet of the revered Guru Sangameshwara.”
However much the parents and the closest kinsmen entreated, Basavanna would not change his mind. Leaving his home once and for all he set out for Kudalasangama. This bold and firm decision of so young a boy amazed everyone. No doubt it was indicative of the great religious revolution that he was to bring about later in his life.
In those days religion had become mostly a matter of convention. People were rigidly bound down to certain rituals and formalities. The essence of religion was lost sight. People forgot that there is only one God and had created several lower gods and goddesses. In the name of religion, many castes and creeds had come to be formed. There were many blind beliefs. Birth and profession determined the status of a man.
Because of the desire for heaven, life in this world had taken a wrong course.
There is one God. All are his children. They must have equal opportunities in religion. All should live together in love. Kindness is the basis of all religions. It was very necessary to develop these ideas in the minds of people. It was at such a time that Basavanna was born. He took a daring step even in his very childhood. The child is the father of the man. He showed that he was born with a mission to fulfill in the future. Thus Basavanna as an independent thinker left Bagewadi in protest against the meaningless conventions.
When he came to Sangama he was most warmly received by the Guru Sangameshwara.
“Come, Basavanna,” said the Guru affectionately,
“I knew that you would come here. Brilliant students like you will surely bring credit to this school and make it more famous. Here you will be near Lord Sangameshwara; I am sure that your spiritual personality will blossom out. You will do great things in the future for the good of humanity.”
Basavanna had left his parents and come away. These sweet words of blessing spoken by the Guru were very soothing to him. He felt happy. His education began under the guidance of the Guru. A new chapter began in his life. Basavanna would get up before dawn. He would meditate on God for some time. It was his practice to gather flowers for worship, before sunrise. The sight of flowers always gladdened his heart. For he felt the presence of the divine in every flower. When he worshipped Sangameshwara he forgot himself completely. So exalted was his state of mind that he felt the presence of God everywhere and in all things – in the linga, he wore on his body, in the image of Sangameshwara and the entire world. All people admired his deep devotion and his worship of the Lord.
Worship was followed by studies. He studied the lessons of the day and also read several books connected with each subject. He had the same concentration in his studies as in the worship.
After reading the books he would discuss certain points with his teachers. Then he would go to attend the classes and to participate in other school activities. He enjoyed long walks on the bank of the river in the evenings.
His scholarship, devotion, modesty, and good behavior soon made him the beloved of all.
Smart and active, simple and frank, and always cheerful as he was, he was also of a serious reflective nature. Thus his personality was shaping itself most wonderfully. The Guru felt proud of it.
There were teachers of profound scholarship and deep religious convictions in that academy.
Students were given both worldly and spiritual education. It was not the type of education that trained the students to pass the examinations and get jobs. Education aimed to help the development of the inner self of the students and prepare them to achieve something great in life. Basavanna got the best out of the school.
Years rolled by. Basavanna made a study of all the branches of learning. He learned what he needed for his worldly life, and he also gained spiritual learning. He grew up with a sound mind in a sound body. What is the meaning of man’s life? What is its final goal? What is his duty? Basavanna seriously pondered over these questions.
Basavanna’s education in the school was coming to an end. Accounts of Basavanna’s remarkable personality had spread far and wide. Baladeva, a man of the same area, was a minister in the city of Kalyana. He too heard much about Basavanna.
Kalyana was the capital of the Chalukya kingdom. During Basavanna’s time, Bijjala of the Kalachurya dynasty was ruling. Baladeva was his minister. Baladeva had great reverence for Sangama and also for the Guru in Sangameshwara.
Hearing glorifying reports about Basavanna he made a trip to Kudalasangama. He was very happy to meet Basavanna. The Guru also spoke very highly of Basavanna’s personality.
Baladeva thought it would be a very good thing if a brilliant man like Basavanna held some responsible office in the court of Bijjala. He felt the prosperity and the fame of the kingdom would grow. He also thought that Basvanna was the best man to marry his daughter. The Guru also approved.
Basavanna had already thought deeply about his career and aim in life. The idea of entering service in the King’s court had never occurred to him. Nor had he thought of marriage. He believed that all this would not enable him to achieve his ideal. But his Guru advised him to agree to Baladeva’s proposal. He told Basavanna that it would later help his great mission of human enlistment. Basavanna could not go against the commands of his Guru. He thought that it might be God’s will. So at last, he consented.
A few days after this, Basavanna traveled to the city of Kalyana. The grace of Lord Sangameshwara, the blessings of his Guru and the best wishes of others went with him, it was about the year 1155 A.D.
A High Position
The coming of Basavanna to Kalyana paved the way for the welfare of mankind. Basavanna started his career as a junior officer in the state treasury of King Bijjala. He found the office in a mess. The officials were lazy. Basavanna spared no pains to set things right. The King admired his sharp intellect and administrative ability.
Once a copper plate containing an old inscription was discovered. The writing was in code language. No one, not even the language experts could read and understand it. But Basavanna with his extraordinary intelligence was able to understand it. He explained its contents to the King. Following its directions the King was able to find out a hidden treasure; this brought enormous wealth to the state treasury. Basavanna suggested several plans to the King so that this wealth might be used for the welfare of his subjects. Bijjala was greatly pleased with this. He appointed Basavanna as the chief officer of the treasury.
Later Basavanna married Gangambike, the daughter of Minister Baladeva, and Neelambike, the adopted sister of king Bijjala. So Basavanna had two wives and his family life was pleasant.
The new family and the new office increased his responsibilities. The field of work grew. He was young but already held a high place. So some people in the King’s court grew jealous of him.
Even at the time, he came to Kalyana, Basavanna had chalked out in his mind a program of spiritual awakening. Beliefs of high and low had broken the society into pieces. Meaningless rituals had become important. And there was no equality in the society; no social and economic justice. But Basavanna studied all this very well. The essence of religion had slipped to the background. Real devotion and virtuous life had disappeared. All did not have the right to perform ‘Puja’ (worship) or to receive religious education. So Basavanna made the principle of the equality of all, the basis of his religious life.
He formed a new spiritual institution on a democratic foundation. And that was ‘Anubhava Mantapa’. Anyone, whatever his caste by birth, could become a member. Women, too, were allowed to join it. Piety and good character alone were required of anyone who came to Anubhava Mantapa. Everybody was to take up some work or the other for livelihood. They were not to have any caste feelings or feelings of untouchability. These were some of the principles they were expected to follow.
Anubhava Mantapa soon became popular.
Many devotees from different parts of Karnataka and India came to Kalyana and joined the new order. These devotees were provided with food and facilities for puja in ‘Mahamane’. The residence of Basavanna. The two wives of Basavanna, his sister Akkanagamma, his nephew Channabasavanna and some other devotees were in charge of various arrangements both in the Anubhava Mantapa and in the Mahamane.
Discussions on religious and spiritual matters were held in Anubhava Mantapa. The number of participants increased every day.
People in the King’s court who were jealous of Basavanna got an idea. They reported to the King that Basavanna was feeding a large number of his followers the Shaiva devotees – out of the money taken from the King’s treasury. Bijjala asked Basavanna about it. Basavanna’s answer was clear: “The expenses of Mahamane are met by the earnings of several devotees. I am a devotee of Shiva and do not want other people’s money. If you have suspicions, well, I shall tender my resignation this very moment. Before that let there be a detailed inquiry about these charges.
The cash and all accounts of the treasury may be checked this moment.”
Upon this Bijjala he checked the accounts and the cash. Everything was correct.
Bijjala begged to be forgiven. He also requested Basavanna to continue as the chief officer. Thus the false charges made by the jealous courtiers only established Basavanna’s perfect honesty and increased his fame.
After the death of Baladeva, Bijjala made Basavanna his minister. Basavanna proved very efficient in this new office. He led his usual simple life. But his thoughts were always high and his heart was pure. His utterances were like a string of pearls. He was polite and civil, ‘with folded hands and bowed head’ while moving with the common people. In matters of justice, he was always firm and never yielded to personal considerations. He was fearless even in the face of great difficulty and danger.
Basavanna continued his mission for the formation of a new society, through Anubhava Mantapa. This work was based on certain noble principles. Some of them were as follows:
There is only one God. He has many names.
Surrender yourself completely to Him in devotion.
Compassion is the root of all religions. Treat all living beings with kindness. Live for the welfare of all. Do not live for selfish and personal interests.
Those who are acceptable in this world will be acceptable in the next world too. People should lead a proper life as householders, only then they will be fit for spiritual life. One need not give up the family and become a monk.
No man should be proud thinking ‘I give this’ or ‘I do that’. What a man does he should do out of devotion in his heart? It should not be for the sake of show or publicity, or even to win public praise.
True devotion and virtuous conduct should be given greater importance than the outward religious formalities. One should lead a clean and good life both within and without. A pure mind is more important than scriptures and conventions.
Al people should have equal opportunities for religious life. Birth, profession, position or sex should make no difference.
One should not eat or drink just to please the tongue. Food and water should be taken as ‘Prasada’ (the gracious gift) of Lord Shiva. Humility is God’s love. Never try to show off your power and position, and do not be vain.
Everyone should take up a fair and honest means of livelihood. No one should beg. Out of the daily earnings, one should take only as much as is needed for the maintenance of the family.
The rest should be offered, by way of service, to God for the benefit of others. Everyone should set right the crookedness of his mind. Everyone should try to rise to the level of Godliness through prayer and meditation. This is the goal of life.
These teachings were not just words in speeches or books. They were practiced in daily life by all the members of the Anubhava Mantapa. There were men and women of different professions and social ranks among them. Basavanna was a minister; Prabhudeva, a shining spiritual leader; Siddharama a Karmayogi (dedicated to work and service); Channabasavanna, a scholar of spiritual eminence; Akkamahadevi, a fiery ascetic; Machayya, a washerman; Chandayya, a ropemaker; Ramanna, a cowherd; Muddayya, a farmer; Remmavve, a weaver; constable Ramideva, oil miller Kannayya, physician Sanganna, carpenter Basappa, tanner Kakkaiah, cobbler Haralayya all these were there in the Anubhava Mantapa as brothers and sisters.
Basavanna, the minister of a state, himself first followed the great principles of the Anubhava Mantapa and then preached them to others and guided them.
One midnight Basavanna, disturbed by some noise, woke up from his sleep. Opening his eyes he saw a burglar attempting to remove the ornaments of his wife who was fast, asleep!
Basavanna wished that the thief should not be put to any trouble, so he removed the ornaments and gave them to the burglar. For he saw only God even in the thief.
Another time the cows of his house were stolen by some thieves. Only the young calves were left behind. They were hungry and crying for their mothers. Basavanna’s heart was moved.
So immediately he made arrangements to send the calves to the thieves so that they could be with their mothers.
This kind act of Basavanna made the thieves feel ashamed and sorry. They reformed themselves and lived honestly thereafter.
Thus Basavanna by his noble influence on several deceitful and cunning fellows changed the course of their lives. Many were his marvelous deeds.
The society of Shiva Sharanas (those who have surrendered themselves to God) formed by Basavanna and the high ideals it practiced brought new strength to the masses. Basavanna’s fame spread everywhere.
But some orthodox people did not like this new social system. They had been opposing Basavanna from the beginning.
They were waiting for an opportunity to harm him. And they got one such opportunity. Madhuvarasa, a Brahmin and Haralayya, a cobbler, had joined Anubhava Mantapa after being initiated and given a linga to wear as their god. So they were equals. Madhuvarasa’s daughter was given in marriage to Haralayya’s son. In those days of rigid caste system and orthodoxy, this was a revolutionary event. But the marriage had the approval of Basavanna and all others of Anubhava Mantapa.
The orthodox group rose in violent protests against this marriage. They raised hue and cry.
They said that their sacred religious system was spoilt by Basavanna. It was the duty of the King to protect and maintain the old religious customs and traditions. Therefore Bijjala should punish Madhuvarasa and Haralayya – so they strongly insisted. Yielding to their pressure the King sentenced those saintly persons to death.
Basavanna, deeply pained, at once decided to quit Kalyana which was rendered impure by such injustice. He resigned his ministership and returned to the holy Sangama, an abode of peace. He spent the rest of his life in prayer and meditation. Later in about 1167 A.D., he left this world and became one with God Sangameshwara.
Haralayya and Madhuvarasa died for a noble cause and became martyrs. This noble sacrifice only proclaimed to the world the great worth of Basavanna’s philosophy. The Shiva Sharanas who left Kalyana during these disturbances scattered all over the country and settled in various places, far and near. They spread the message and preaching of Basavanna everywhere. These preachings have been inspiring many people even today.
Basavanna’s Vachanas – Nectar
You have read at the very beginning of this book, the Vachana – ‘Do not steal, Do not kill,’ etc.
It is simple, beautiful and full of meaning. Great men express great thoughts in simple words.
‘Do not be angry’ is one of the commandments of the Vachana mentioned above. Anger is not good. In another Vachana Basavanna says: Why should one be angry with those who are angry with one?
What does one gain? What do those others lose?
Physical anger weakens one’s nobility. Mental anger weakens one’s Wisdom.
The fire burns, not the neighboring houses until it has burnt the very house where it was lighted.
O Lord Kudalasangama.
Why return anger for anger? It does no good to anyone, either to the angry man or to his opponent. It affects one’s dignity and dims one’s judgment. A raging fire first burns the very house where it is kindled and then it burns the adjoining houses; anger is like such a fire. Our anger first harms us and then harms others. The analogy of fire in this Vachana effectively brings home to our minds the evils of anger.
You have read also the episode of the cows stolen by the thieves. In that context Bassavanna says in a Vachana:
Please don’t say those thieves have taken the cows,
Please be so good;
please don’t raise a hue and cry, Please be so good;
Please don’t even talk of it, Please be so good; it is God Sangama who drinks milk there, as it is
He who drinks it here;
God Kudalasangama is the same.
Within us and the thieves, it is the same God who accepts the milk. The conviction that the same God is present in all human beings finds moving expression in this Vachana.
We should have such faith and conviction in the worship we offer and in all our actions.
Worship without this faith is like a figure in a picture; work without this faith is like the frame of a picture.
Driving home a lesson through homely simile and example is a unique feature of Basavanna’s Vachanas.
Some have a notion that building temples or arranging grand celebrations is being very religious.
But Basavanna says:
People who have money build temples what can I, a poor man, do?
My legs are pillars, my body itself is the temple, my head is the golden tower. Please listen 0, Kudalasangama The static has an end.
But the dynamic has none.
The rich can build temples. What can I, a poor man, do? But I build a different kind of temple.
My body itself is the shrine, with legs as pillars and head as the golden tower. The temple that is built is stationary. My body moves. It is with me wherever I go. That is why it does not perish. What is made of matter perishes? The soul, the spiritual, is everlasting. That this body itself should be made a holy shrine is a message of immense value. We should be able to see God in this temple of our bodies. Basavanna never attached importance to the outward form of worship, rituals, and religious observances.
About the worship and charities offered just for the sake of pleasing world Basavanna says: Some were doomed for deeds done unwillingly, some were doomed for charities given without sincerity.
If God’s grace is to be obtained, we should be true and sincere in action and giving. Referring to half-hearted devotees, he says: Going into a temple, one pretends to be offering salutation; But thinks only of his sandals and not of God.
How true! We leave our sandals outside the temple. So even while praying inside the temple we are worded about the safety of our sandals.
This is a common experience. Basavanna’s Vachanas are richly filled with experience.
Generally, everyone wishes to be praised. But Basavanna regarded ‘praise’ as ‘the golden stake’.
The stake is a sharp weapon. Even if it is made of gold it can still pierce and wound the body.
Basavanna did not want to be praised. He prayed to God, “Lord if you are good to me please come in the way of anyone praising me.” This is his real greatness.
Basavanna made it easy and simple even for common people to understand Dharma. Listen to his saying:
Heaven and man’s world are not elsewhere, my dears.
Speaking truth is heaven, Uttering lies is man’s world!
Righteous conduct is heaven, unrighteous conduct is hell …
Say ‘sire’, sweet and soft; heaven is there.
Say ‘you feller’, vulgar and rough; and that is hell.
Basavanna did not have any worldly desire.
Never do/keep by in-store one streak of gold or one
Yarn of sarees Desiring for today or tomorrow.
I swear this oath by you and your ancient devotees.
Basavanna here declares in the name of God and all His devotees of all times that he would never hoard gold or provisions in greed, expecting that he would need them someday.
He never begged or cringed before others for anything:
For fear of danger to my body shall not ask,
‘Please protect me’
For fear of losing my livelihood, I shall not ask, ‘Please give me”
‘As is the feeling so it happens.’
Come what may – pain or gain, I shall never deviate from you, Nor shall / beg men for anything. This / swear by your name Lord Kudalasangama.
I shall not beg of anyone to protect my body; nor shall I entreat anyone to give me this or that for my livelihood. What is destined will happen.
Whatever comes to my lot, pain or wealth, I accept it without liking or disliking it. O God, I shall not seek a favor even of you. Never will beg men for anything.
Basavanna was not afraid of anything; Let what is to come tomorrow come today.
Let what is to come today come this very moment.
Who is afraid of it?
Since he had completely surrendered to God and relied entirely on His grace he could be so fearless.
You are my father, you are my mother, You are my brother, and all my kith and kin are you,
I have none except you Lord Kudalasangama.
‘Dip me in milk or dip me in water, only Thy Will be done.’ Such was his firm stand. He saw God everywhere. He had realized by experience that the same God who was present in all cosmos was within him. Filled with such divine bliss, his heart sang:
My words are filed with you, Nectar-like name My eyes are filled with your image
My mind and heart are filled with thoughts of you
My ears are filled with the praise of your glory O Lord Kudalasangama
Your lotus feet are filled with me.
There is a deep sense of fulfillment in this Vachana. Speech finds its fulfillment in chanting His name. The eyes find their art seeing His lovely form. The mind or heart has its fulfillment in thoughts are feelings relating to Him only. The ears delight in listening to the praise of His glory.
The self, like the bumblebee sucking honey from a lotus, forgets itself in the ecstasy of being one with the Divine.
In the last line of this Vachana, there is a fine pun on the Kannada word ‘Tumbi’. In consonance with the easier lines, it means ‘filled’. Aptly associated with the lotus it means a ‘bumble-bee’.
Basavanna lived as a man of God. He showed others also the way to become godly men. Even after eight hundred years, the light that was lit by him continues to shine brightly. And Basavanna himself is such an effulgent light of life.