Vira Shaivism is one of the most dynamic Shaivit Schools found in our modern time. It was spread by the remarkable Brahmin Sri Basavanna(1105-1157). The practitioners of this tradition drew the roots of their beliefs from the sages (rishi) of the ancient times.
The Vira Shaivits (“the heroic”) are also known as the lingamyat, the bearers of the lingam (phallus). According to the canons of this tradition, all the members should wear a small lingam, symbol of the Supreme Shiva , locked in a pendant they have on a necklace around their necks.
A contemporary practitioner stated for us “the Vira Shaiva style is the best form of worship because the shiva lingam worn on our body unites our soul with the Omnipresent Shiva. This way, we are in close contact with Shiva all the time, without being apart for even a second.”
Like in the case of the protestant rebellion in the XVI-th century against the Catholic authority, the lingamyat movement won the cause of the rebellion against the brahmanic system that promoted social inequality through a hierarchic system of castes, a system that condemned an entire social class as being impure.
Being against the current of “spirituality” of their times, the lingamyats have rejected the Vedic authority, the castes hierarchy, the system of the four dwellings, the multiplicity of gods, religious service, animal sacrifice, karmic bounds, the existence of the inner universes, the duality of Brahman – Atman (God – individual Self), the worship in the temple and the ritualistic tradition that emphasized pure and impure.
The Vira Shaivism tradition says that Basavanna was a meditative young man, as well as a fighter, who rejected the Vira Shaivism practiced during his days. He broke the sacred belt (yajnopavita) when he was only 16 and ran to Sangama in Karnataka.
He received shelter there and encouragement from Isanya Guru, a Shaivit Brahmin from the predominant kalamukha group. That is also where he studied the teachings in a monastery complex and later in the temple, for 12 years.
Here he developed a deep devotion for Shiva in His aspect of “Lord of the rivers’s confluence” – Kudalasangama. At the age of 28, Basavanna reached the conclusion that humankind is mostly based on the doctrine of a personal God, an individual God, in the form of istalingam – a chosen, exterior divine phallus.
This spiritual realization is the very core belief of Vira Shaiva, according to which the human body should be regarded as a living temple of God, which should be perpetually kept in a sublime and pure state.
When Basavanna was almost at the end of his studies, he had a bright dream, in which Shiva Kudalasangama gently touched his body, saying: “Basavanna, my son, your time to leave this place has come. Continue your work and build a just society.”
Receiving these inner signals, Basavanna traveled to Mangalavede, and joined the services of the king of those times, Bijjala. While rapidly climbing the social ladder, (chief officer of the royal treasury, minister) in this Shaivit country tested by Buddhist and Jainist intrusions, Basavanna promoted his revolutionary message about a new religious and visionary society.
Basavanna had two wives, strengthening his teachings that all practitioners can lead a holy life, not only those who renounce to the pleasures of life.
He would have speeches every night, denouncing the hierarchy of the castes, the magic practices, astrology, the building of temples and many other things. He was soon stimulating an increased numbers of listeners to begin to think rationally and to worship Shiva as the Divine within themselves.
Here, Basavanna lived and preached for 20 years, developing a powerful religious movement. This action of gathering people together for spiritual speeches became known as Shivambhava Mandapa (“the house of the Shivaic experience”).
At the age of 48, he moved together with the king Bijjala to Kalyana where his fame continued to grow for another 14 years. The man who would succeed him in the development of this movement, Allam Prabhu, also accompanied him.
Adepts of various paths gathered from throughout India to meet Basavanna. However, along the years, the opposition to his egalitarian community grew stronger within ordinary citizens.
Tensions reached their peak in 1167, when a Brahman and a sudra (woman from an inferior caste, considered impure), both lingamyats (adepts of the phallic cult of Shiva), got married.
The citizens, disgusted, went to King Bijjala, who had to give an order for the execution of the two people, in order to quiet the crowds. However, this proved to be a thoughtless gesture, which only made the situation worse.
The social situation, already unstable, worsened, and lead to the killing of Bijjala by a group of political opponents, or maybe by radical lingamyat. Basavanna also died at the age of 62, in Sangama, while in self-seclusion.
Despite the persecutions, the successful spiritual ruling left behind a cherished heritage, including a great number of holy women. If Basavanna was the social architect and the head of this belief, Allama Prabhu was the engine of mysticism and austerity.
The teachings of these two founders are contained in their lyrical prose, (vacana). The spiritual authority of Vira Shaiva derives from the lives and writings of these two remarkable people, as well as from the lives of other shivasarana (people who have abandoned themselves to Shiva).
Their writings all have a common note: they reject the Vedas, the ritual, the legends about gods and goddesses, considering all formal religions as an “institution” in which spontaneity, dynamism and the joy of living don’t really have a place.
As he often underlines, “doing right” – promoted by most of the religions of the day is not a good-enough method for reaching ultimate freedom. Allama writes about this: “feed the sacred, tell the truth, dig wells for the thirsty and build reservoirs for the city. You can go to heaven after death, but you will never find the truth of our God.”
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