Basava founded Virashaivism religion in 12th century at Kalyana in northern Karnataka as a movement of rebellion and reformation. An alternate name for this religion is lingayat, derived from the distinctive practice of wearing the linga, the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva as an emblem of cosmic creative energy. Basava might have followed the teachings of five teachers (acharyas): Revana, Marula, Ekorama, Pandita, and Vishwa. Numerous pious companions like Allama Prabhu, Chennabasava, and Mahadeviakka helped Basava in his movement. Lingayat devotional prose-poems are called vachanas in Kannada language and they convey the central teachings: abolition of tribal and gender distinctions, nonobservance of Brahminical teachings and rituals, and emphasis on personal relationship with Shiva. Lingayat rituals emphasize veneration of peripatetic teachers and daily personal meditation of linga.
After Basava, the Virashaivism lost its main principle of abolition of tribal and gender distinctions and divided into various castes and sub-castes, e.g., Budigejangam, Bedajangam, Malajangam, Madigajangam, Urajangam, Ganayatajangam, Shivajangam, Itamukkalajangam, Pirikijangam, Lingabalija, Tamballa, etc.
Today the Virashaivism boasts a following of about ten million followers, mainly in Karnataka state, where it has become part of modern Hindu (Indian) way of life as a caste with political power and presence, while Virashaivism deteriorated in Andhra Pradesh due to the following probable reasons:
1) Telugu kings lost interest in Virashaivism and the loss of the kings’ support resulted in deterioation of the religion.
2) Reddi kings’ supported Visishtadvaita and Vedic teachings.
3) Vijayanagara kings imposed a tax on Virashiava beggars.
4) Islamic rule.
5) Brahmanism has textual support, where as Virashaivism didn’t have such textual support.
6) The tribal distinctions couldn’t be routed out entirely and various tribes and castes within Virashaivism claimed superiority over their non-Virashaiva counterparts and became divided causing further proliferation of castes/tribes.
7) Although, Brahminical rituals were prohibited, there was interest in following those rituals and the Jangam teachers (gurus) were not equipped and educated in Brahminical teachings to perform the Vedic rituals.
8) Jangalu didn’t follow their strict principles and deviated from their principles.
Sreenivasarao Vepachedu, October 7, 2001
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