(Last Updated on : 31/01/2011)
The Lingayat Community was founded by Basava in the 12th century AD. The Lingayats are Virashaivites or militant Saivite. The philosophy of the Lingayatas was influenced by the teachings of both Shankaracharya
. The followers of this sect gave great prominence to the Shiva linga and the Nandi
, the bull. This sect was characterised by an anti-Brahmanical sprit. Though they are predominantly engaged in agriculture, trade and industry has also been a lucrative occupation for them. The members of this community deal in grain, cloth, groceries and spices. Lingayats, in fact, play a dominant role in the economic, educational, social and political life of Karnataka
The Lingayat community regards Lord Shiva
as supreme and worship, hence they are called Vira Saivas or stalwart Saivas. Reverence is paid by the Lingayatas to the 63 Nayanaras of the Tamil country whom they regard as elders or Puratanas. They also honour 770 later saints among whom are included Basava and his chief disciples. They revere the Vedas to the hilt. They claim to be free from caste distinctions but caste is observed among them. They adjure sacrifices, penance, pilgrimages and fasts. Lingayat community also has several exogamous sects.
The cardinal principles of Lingayat philosophy are Shadsthala or the six-fold spiritual hierarchy, ashta-varam (the eight-fold spiritual aids to Lingayat faith) and the pancharas (the five-fold disciplines of life). They believe that God is real and that the goal of life is to attune oneself to the Divine and bring harmony into life. The metaphysical aspect of the Lingayat philosophy is known as Saktivishishtadvaitta, according to which the soul has the potential power to become God and the phenomenal world has its own importance and role to play in the spiritual evolution or growth of the atman. They believe that the body is the temple of the soul. All occupation is a means of worshipping the divine. Whatever there is, it is a gift of God to be used for one's salvation.
As far festivals are concerned the Lingayat community observes all major Hindu festivals such as Vijaya Dashami, Shivaratri
, Makar Sankranti
, Ganesh Chaturthi
. For the Lingayats marriage is a sacrament. In their community, marriage proposals either come from the boy's party or from girl's side. Most marriages are arranged through intermediaries. The marriage of a boy to his sister's or his maternal uncle's daughter is socially acceptable. Marriage ceremony is performed by a priest who chants mantras. There is no saptapadi in a Lingayat marriage. The consummation takes place on the following Wednesday or Saturday. In the first year of married life excessive indulgence is restricted by certain long-standing customs. They allow widow re-marriage and divorce. Lingayat community bury their dead and there is no mourning period nor are the yearly shraddh ceremonies performed as among the Hindus. The Lingayats believe in rebirth.
They have contributed to the different literatures of the country like Sanskrit literature
, Kannada literature
, Telugu literature
and Marathi literature
through ages. Vachana, a unique form in Kannada literature, has its origin in the Shivasasharanas of the 12th century. It gives utterance to liberal values such as the dignity of labour, liberty, fraternity and freedom from caste. The Vachanas of Basava are held in special esteem and the Surya Sampadana is the quintessence of Virashaivism. The rich literary tradition of the Virashaivites is being kept alive today by many writers.
Over 80 percent of the educational institutions in Karnataka are supported by the Lingayats as are many associations and societies that look after the educational needs of the people. Outstanding educationists from this community have played a special part in the spread of education. As rulers, ministers and soldiers, the Lingayats were moulders of the political scene in the past. The Kakatiya kings of Andhra Pradesh
, the Sangama kings of the Vijayanagar Empire
and others were all Lingayats. Lingayat queens like Rudrama Devi, Chennamma of Kaladi kingdom and others have made a mark in history by their heroism.