Veerasaiva Saints And Their Vachana's

The Veerasaiva movement occupies an important place in the religious history of Karnataka. The movement was characterised by a rejection of many of the traditional beliefs and appurtenances of classical Hinduism the authority of the Veda-S; the legends and beliefs about various gods and goddesses; and the rituals and ritualism. The Veerasaiva saints who expressed their perception in vachana-s or poems born of bhakti and projecting bhakti, even rejected the theory that being good and doing good would lead one to moksha. Instead, they placed their faith in knowing and experiencing god and their only god was Siva.

The leader of this medieval movement was Basavanna, a government official who turned into a great devotee of Siva. Basavanna lived in the 12th century. He lost his parents early and was brought up by foster-parents. From early on, he was a Sivabhakta and even in his teens made up his mind to devote his life to the worship of his chosen God and to His service. Finding casteism and the importance placed on rituals stifling, he discarded his 'sacred thread', left his home and went to a place called Kappadisangama or Koodalasangama, a place where three rivers come together. There he received instruction on the Veda-s and other texts from a guru. It is believed that Siva appeared in his dream and commanded him to go the kingdom of one Bijjala. Basavanna accordingly went to Kalyana where he soon became a good friend of the king and succeeded his own uncle as minister to the ruler. His Sivabhakti became well-known and his fame drew increasing numbers of admirers and followers. He initiated many of them into a new faith which eschewed distinctions of caste and class. The growth of Veerasaivism in the kingdom brought in its train a number of opponents who, in a gradual process, turned King Bijjala against the sect. Soon the turn of events led to extremist behaviour on the part of the traditionalists. Failing in his efforts to curb this trend, Basavanna went back to Kappadisangama where he remained till his death.

 Basavanna's tenure in Bijjala's country saw the rise of Veerasaivism as a distinct faith with its own unique features, such as equality of all before the eyes of God and rejection of rituals. It also saw the establishment of a Hall of Experience where famous saints would meet and commune with each other.

Basavanna's vachana-s are great examples of this genre of poetry. Most of them refer to the 'Lord of the Meeting Rivers', the deity (Siva) of Kappadisangama. The vachana-s pithily project the ideals of Veerasaivism. In one of his vachana-s, for instance, Basavanna speaks of his inability, on account of being a poor man, to construct temples to Siva; and then declares that his own legs are the pillars (of the temple), his body is the shrine and his head the dome.

There were several other great saints who were contemporaneous with Basavanna, among them Allama Prabhu, Siddharama and Mahadeviyakka. Earlier, there had been Dasimayya, about whose life little is known definitively but whom legend credits with great powers gained through his devotion to Siva.

Allama Prabhu was the unquestioned leader of the Veerasaiva movement during his time. He was the 'Prabhu' or the master, while Basavanna was 'Anna' or elder brother and Mahadevi was 'Akka' or elder sister. About Allama Prabhu's life, too much of what is known owes itself to legend and tradition. It is believed that he lost his wife, with whom he was madly in love, very early. Then he stumbled on the dome of a temple hidden underground and excavated it. A yogi who was meditating inside blessed Allama and handed over to him a linga. This was the moment of Allama's enlightenment and thereafter he went wherever the voice of his Lord called him, proclaiming the greatness of Siva. For him God was the Lord of the Caves to whom he referred in almost all of his vachana-s.

Mahadeviyakka became a fierce devotee of Siva even in her childhood. She was more or less forced into a marriage with the local king, for whom she had no love. In her heart and mind, only Siva was her consort. Her vachana-s, all referring to her 'Lord' White as Jasmine' (Mallikarjuna) poignantly bring this out. Eventually, Mahadeviyakka left her husband and became a wanderer. She shunned material things which could be taken away by others; she discarded even her clothes and chose to cover herself only with her own locks of hair. She questions, in one of her vachana-s, the need for external coverings and jewellery for one already sporting Mallikarjuna's morning light.

Vachana-s have traditionally been recited, but those which lent themselves to musical phrasing, have entered the realm of music. Stalwarts of Hindustani music, like Mallikarjun Mansur and Basavaraj Rajguru, were noted for including vachana-s in their recital. Vachana-s have found a place in the Carnatic music repertoire too, as musicians render them to please Saivites among the listeners. However, Madhwa musicians generally avoid singing them.