Updated: March 28, 2018 9:28:25 am
S M Jaamdar, leading Lingayat scholar, is one of the most influential advocates of the movement for minority status to Lingayats. Last year, soon after Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah agreed to consider the demand for an independent identity, Jaamdar’s articles in Kannada journals gave intellectual legitimacy to the movement. In this interview, the former IAS officer, who retired as principal secretary in Karnataka, speaks about the differences between Veerashaivas and Lingayats, the anti-caste roots of 12th-century statesman-poet Basava’s teachings and the BJP’s role. Excerpts:
What do you have to say to those who say the government’s recommendation that believers of Basava-tattva (or Basava’s philosophy) be recognised as a religious minority is a ploy to divide the community into Lingayats and Veerashaivas?
The government is not dividing a community. The division is being acknowledged. [Former Lokayukta] Santosh Hegde has criticised this by calling it similar to dividing Shias and Sunnis, Protestants and Catholics. But Shias and Sunnis are Muslim factions, both of them believe in the same Quran, in the same Prophet, go to the same Haj, fast on Ramazan. But Veerashaivas and Lingayats are different. Our founders are different, our holy books are different. Veerashaivas don’t consider Basava their founder, but his contemporary Renukacharya. For one child, how many fathers can there be? For us, the holy book is the Vachanas, for them it is the Siddhantashikhamani. Unfortunately, Veerashaivas also consider themselves superior to Lingayats.
What is the relation of Lingayats and Veerashaivas with Hinduism?
There is no difference between a Veerashaiva and a Hindu, in fact the former is more orthodox and puritan. We are the exact opposite of that.
First, we are not supposed to go to temples or worship images, including the Shiva linga. We worship the ishtalinga, a small icon that even looks different from the linga in temples. Lingayat is a proselytising religion. You are not born into it, you have to be initiated. Even in death, we are different. Our dead are buried, in the sitting pose, stark naked, with the ishtalinga in the hand. We don’t believe in hell and heaven, there is no rebirth for us. The word for death is linga-aikka, to merge with the linga.
In death, you are united with god. Most importantly, Lingayat offers a strong critique of the Vedas. You should read the report of the Nagamohan Das committee, which includes many of the Vachanas – how harshly they criticise the Vedas, the Puranas, the shastras. They say it is bull***t. In other vachanas, they use harsher words. The Vachanas also totally reject caste. In Lingayat, an untouchable and a Brahman are equal. Basava was a Brahmin, the son of the leader of a Brahman Agrahara. But even as a child, he questioned the practice.
He refused an upanayana, because his sister was not allowed a thread ceremony. He played with children of the lower castes. For all of this, he was excommunicated. He left home at the age of eight and studied the Vedas till the age of 22.
What has led to this current agitation?
This is the fourth time in the last 150 years that this demand has been raised. And this is the final time. It began one year ago. No one had planned it. Siddaramaiah renamed a women’s university in Vijayapura as Akka Mahadevi University. He made it compulsory for Basava’s photo to be in every government office. That is because Basava is not a religious icon but an icon of democracy and equality. So, the community, including the Veerashaiva Mahasabha, organised a felicitation for the CM, where they made this demand of an independent status. They clearly said that they wanted minority status and that they were not Hindus. Now they are going against it. When Siddaramaiah said he would endorse their demand, a debate started in newspapers and journals. I wrote in Prajavani, and then again a 20-page article which was carried in many journals, including Gauri Lankesh Patrike. Then a swamiji in Bidar organised a discussion: two lakh people gathered. That was the first rally. The Lingayats are a highly organised, literate and clannish community. And so these discussions took off and became an agitation.
Why has the Mahasabha changed its stand?
That is because the government has said the minority status should be extended to those who swear by Basava-tattva. That automatically excludes the Veerashaivas. There are two separate ideologies. One that follows Basavanna, which believes in a totally egalitarian system, where women are not discriminated against in religious or social matters. And the other that is followed by the Veerashaiva pancha peethas, which was founded by Brahmins from Andhra Pradesh, and which follow elements of Hinduism. The Mahasabha is not our institution. We disown them. They cannot represent us.
What has been the role of the BJP, which is considered a party favoured by the Lingayats, in this?
The BJP has totally misread the situation. B S Yedyurappa is a media creation, he was nobody for Lingayats. By accident, he became the CM. Had Deve Gowda given him the chance to become the CM for 20 months in 2007, as per the mutual agreement between the JD(S) and the BJP, he would have made a fool of himself much earlier and got out of power. But because Gowda denied him his right, it became a Vokkaliga vs Lingayat issue. Lingayats felt that their man had been cheated and they voted for him. In 2013, he signed a memorandum asking for an independent religion and is saying the opposite now. On the ground, at the taluk and district levels, especially in Gulbarga, Belgaum, Hubli, there is no difference between the BJP and the Congress. Everyone has supported and taken part in these rallies. For the
Belgaum rally, the second-biggest rally, with 5 lakh attending, the BJP MP Prabhakar Kore gave his grounds. Other leaders have organised the food, and some have arranged vehicles.
What was Hinduism like when Basava wrote the Vachanas?
It was not Basava alone. As the prime minister of the Chalukya empire, he used his clout to spread his thoughts. He organised the anubhava mantapa, the first parliament, where people from across the country came, people of all castes and religion and gender. There, about 20,000 Vachanas were written by hundreds of sharanas. Those sayings are totally contrary to the Vedas and Puranas. They reject all Vedic practices. This was a time of a highly strident Hinduism. The Sankacharaya had spread Hinduism in the south in the 9th century. There was great inequality and suffering of the lower castes. When the sharanas began practising what they preached, trouble began. Basava set up a marriage between a Brahmin girl and an SC boy. The couple was trampled to death by elephants, their parents’ eyes gouged out.
The followers of Basava ran riot, killed the king. Basavanna left the place, and enormous bloodshed followed. This brutal end came because of the rejection of the caste system and the Varnashram, because they preached against inequality. That’s why we were telling these guys: don’t tell us we are Hindus. We are not anti-Hindu, we are different. Recognise that.
What do you think is different this time? Why do you think your demand will be met?
The media and the awareness it has created. There is also a much greater awareness of Basava’s teachings now. In the last 50 years, at least 10,000 statues of his must have come up. About 200-300 years ago, the spirit of egalitarianism was eroded by Brahminical influence. But the core beliefs have not disappeared. It will be easier now to go back to a purer form of religion.
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