More than 50,000 people from the Lingayat community, a dominant caste in northern Karnataka, gathered in Bidar on Wednesday to demand that Lingayatism be classified as a separate religion rather than a caste in Hinduism. The “apolitical” rally, attended by Lingayats from Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and other states, was organised as part of efforts to take forward a philosophy proposed by Lingayat intellectuals like writer-researcher M M Kalburgi, who was killed on August 30, 2015 by unidentified assassins.
The rally called for Lingayats to dissociate themselves from being identified as Hindus and Veerashaivas. They also submitted a memorandum addressed to the CM to take up their demand for a separate religion with the Centre. During a visit to Dharwad region on Thursday, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said he would recommend classification of Lingayats as a religion to the Centre if the demand from the community is unanimous.
“Lingayatism is an independent religion founded by Basaveshwara in the 12th century. It has never been part of Hinduism. It has fought Hinduism,” Shivalinga Shivacharya, Lingayat seer from Maharashtra, said at the rally in Bidar. “We want the status of an independent religion. The CM should a recommend this,” said Panchamasali Jagadguru of Koodalasangama Mutt.
“We have demanded constitutional recognition as a religion. We meet all the requirements. This has been a demand for long and it has been delayed due to lack of political will,” said Basavaraj Dhannur, one of the organisers of the rally.
According to retired professor Mahadevappa, a Lingayat scholar, “There is a misconception that Lingayatism is a sub-sect of Shaivism, which is a sect of Hinduism, and that Lingayats are Shudras. But the truth, based on textual evidence and reasoning, is that Lingayatism is not a sect or sub-sect of Hinduism but an independent religion.’’
“The Lingayats are strict monotheists. They enjoin the worship of only one God, namely, Linga (Shiva). The word ‘Linga’ here does not mean Linga established in temples, but universal consciousness qualified by the universal energy (Shakti),’’ he wrote in a paper that extensively references the writings of Kalburgi on Lingayats.
The Lingayats are known commonly as a Hindu Shaivite community. They are followers of Basavanna, who fought the Hindu caste system and sought equality in society. Lingayats make up 17 per cent of the 6 crore population in Karnataka — the single largest community in the state and are known to be firm supporters of the BJP.