Basava (also known as Basaveshwara (ಬಸವೇಶ್ವರ) or Basavanna(ಬಸವಣ್ಣ) 1134–1196) was a philosopher and a radical social reformer. He for the first time, in the Hindu society, created an awareness on discriminatory and exploitative nature of the prevailing social order called as caste system. Hindu society was divided broadly in to four categories known as varnas viz; Brahmin, Vysya, Kshatriya and Sudra. The sudras were subdivided in to touchables and untouchables; the untouchables were treated in a most inhuman way. He fought against this practice of caste system and some rituals in the Hindu society. He was single handedly responsible for putting in place, a more egalitarian social order called Veerashaiva Dharma or Lingayatha Dharma. Rather some believe this in itself is a religion which is oblivious to the caste system of presented hinduism. He is also called as "Vishwa-guru". His teachings and preachings go beyond all boundaries and are universal and eternal. He was a great humanitarian. Basava advocated a new way of life wherein the divine experience was the center of life giving equal opportunity to all aspirants regardless of the gender, caste, and social status. The cornerstone of his movement was the firm belief in a universal God. Basava has a proponent of monotheistic concept of God.
A true visionary with ideas ahead of his time, he envisioned a society that flourished enriching one and all. In addition to being a great mystic, Basava was the Prime Minister of the Southern Kalachuri Empire in South India and originated a literary revolution by introducing Vachana Sahitya. Basava is said to have been a mystic by temperament, an idealist by choice, a statesman by profession, a man of letters by taste, a humanist by sympathy, and a social reformer by conviction. Many great yogis and mystics of the time joined his movement enriching it with the essence of divine experience in the form of Vachanas (Lit. sayings - rational hymns in Kannada) that gave a rational view to Human living.
Basava's path later gave birth to a new religion (or "Sampradaya") called Lingavanta Dharma or Lingayata. Other synonyms for lingayata are: Basava Dharma, Sharana Dharma, Vachana Dharma.
It is believed that Basavanna was born into a Brahmin family residing in a small town of Basavana Bagewadi in Bijapur district of northern Karnataka, India in 1134 AD Basava, said to have grown up in an orthodox Hindu religious household.
Basava spread social awareness through his poetry Known as VACHANAAS. These are rational and progressive social thoughts coupled with established perception of God in Hindu society. "Brahminical thought" interpret the VACHANAAS as essence of vedic knowledge while attempting to explain the social revolution, Basava was able to bring in. But this theory however fails to explain why other well known religious leaders like Shankaracharya and Madhwacharya, who were very well acquainted with vedic knowledge did not address the issues, that Basava did in later part of the history in 12th century. Basava, like Gautama Buddha, did not preach people the intricate aspects of spirituality; but, he taught people how to live happily in a rational social order later came to be known as veerashaiva or Lingayatha Dharma. Tragically and Unfortunately, the lingayatha or veerashaiva dharma has turned out be another exploiting caste in Casteist Hindu society, washing away the efforts of Basava. Basavanna has been reduced to another deity though his revolutionary life was dedictaed to abolish the caste system.
Basava started his career as an accountant at Mangalaveda in the court of Kalachuri king Bijjala, a feudatory of the Kalyani Chalukya. When Bijjala acquired the power at Basavakalyana, by overpowering Tailapa IV(the garandson of Vikaramaditya VI, the great Chalukya king), Basavanna also went to Kalyana. With his honesty, hardwork and visionary mission, Basava rose to the position of Prime Minister in the court of king Bijjala, who ruled from 1157—1196 at Kalyana (presently renamed as Basavakalyana). There, he established the Anubhava Mantapa, a spiritual parliament to openly discuss Lingayatism, which attracted many saints from throughout India. He believed in the principle Kaayakave Kailasa one step ahead of Ravindranath Tagore's 'work is worship'. It was at this time that the Vachanas, simple and easy-to-understand poetic writings which contained essential teachings, were written. Below is one of the thousands of Vachanas that were produced:
Basava created much controversy by actively ignoring the societal rules associated with the caste system, which he wished to abolish. By allowing untouchables to have lunch at his residence and praising the historic marriage of a Brahmin woman and an untouchable man, Basava caused orthodox members of King Bijjala's court to go to the King with such stories, some true and some false. Bijjala, afraid of a possible uprising in orthodox society, ordered the newly married couple to be harshly punished. Before punishing the couple Bijjala asked Basava to agree with caste system; but Basava strongly opposed caste system and said, both Haralayya and Madhuvaras were lingayats and the rules of caste system of Vaidika Dharma are not applicable to them. With Vaidik influence, Bijjala did not agree Basavanna's ideas; and asked Basavanna to be silent and accept the punishment to couple or leave Kalyana. The "Being punished" Danda-gonda Basavanna left Kalyana with heavy heart and marched towards Kudala Sangama. He left Kalyana in 1195 A.D. for Kudala Sangama and en route to Kudala sangama, he preached the people about the humanity, morality, honesty, simplicity, and the dignity of labour, equality among all human beings, human rights etc. Being a perfect yogi he released the bonds of the body and soul and took nirvana (Lingaikya) in the year 1196 in response to the call from Almighty.
Basava said that the roots of social life are embedded not in the cream of the society but in the scum of the society. It is his witty saying that the cow does not give milk to him who sits on its back, but it gives milk to him who squats at its feet. With his wide sympathy, he admitted high and low alike into his fold. The Anubhava Mantapa established by Basava laid down the foundation of social democracy. Basava believed that man becomes great not by his birth but by his worth to the society. This means faith in the dignity of man and the belief that a common man is as good a part of society as a man of status.
He proclaimed that all members of the state are labourers: some may be intellectual labourers and others may be manual labourers. He placed practice before precept and his own life was of rigid rectitude. Basava brought home to his countrymen the lesson of self-purification. He tried to raise the moral level of the public life in the country, and he insisted that the same rules of conduct applied to the administrators as to the individual members of the society. He also taught the dignity of manual labour by insisting on work as worship. Every kind of manual labour, which was looked down upon by people of high caste, should be looked upon with love and reverence, he argued. Thus arts and crafts flourished, and a new foundation was laid down in the history of the economics of the land.
Basava formed people's committees representing various vocations such as agriculture, horticulture, tailoring, weaving, dyeing, and carpentry. All vocations were regarded as of equal value and the members belonged to all sorts of vocations. Thus Jedara Dasimayya was a weaver, Shankar Dasimayya a tailor, Madival Machayya a washerman, Myadar Ketayya a basket-maker, Kinnari Bommayya a goldsmith, Vakkalmuddayya a farmer, Hadap Appanna a barber, Jedar Madanna a soldier, Ganada Kannappa an oilman, Dohar Kakkayya a tanner, Mydar Channayya a cobbler, and Ambigara Chowdayya a ferryman. There were women followers such as Satyakka, Ramavve, and Somavve with their respective vocations. The curious thing was that all these and many more have sung the Vachanas (sayings) regarding their vocations in a very suggestive imagery.
The rich would put up shrines; What could I, a poor man, do? My limbs are pillars, the body the shrine,the head a cupola of gold; Listen, O lord of the confluent streams; material constructs would perish; while the evolving would persist.
The Lord of meeting rivers - his insignia of all his vachanas - Kudalasangamadeva in Kannada.
The movement initiated by Basava through Anubhava Mantapa became the basis of a sect of love and faith. It gave rise to a system of ethics and education at once simple and exalted. It sought to inspire ideals of social and religious freedom, such as no previous faith of India had done. In the medieval age which was characterized by inter-communal jealousy, it helped to shed a ray of light and faith on the homes and hearts of people. But the spirit soon disappeared after the intermarriage that Basava facilitated came to an abrupt end when the couple were punished for the same by the King. The dream of the classless society was shaken and Basava soon realised the meek picture and left for Kudala Sangama and a year later died. Many believe that it was through self-annihilation, because of the agony caused by the failure.
The movement gave a literature of considerable value in the vernacular language of the country, the literature which attained the dignity of a classical tongue. Its aim was the elimination of the barriers of caste and to remove untouchability, raising the untouchable to the equal of the high born. The sanctity of family relations and the improvement in the status of womanhood were striven for while at the same time the importance of rites and rituals, of fasts and pilgrimages was reduced. It encouraged learning and contemplation of God by means of love and faith. The excesses of polytheism were deplored and the idea of monotheism was encouraged. The movement tended, in many ways, to raise the nation generally to a higher level of capacity both in thought and action. However, the sect failed to bring about a completely classless society.
Basaveshwara is the first Kannadiga in whose honour a commemorative coin has been minted in recognition of his social reforms.The Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh was in Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka to release the coins.