Veera Shaivism became acceptable to masses of Karnataka – India, through a rebel leader, who has born at Bagevadi in Bijapur district (Karnataka), to a Shaiva Brahmin couple (Madiraja and Madamba) in 12th century.
The boy was named Basava and was brought up in the vedic tradition of Brahmins. The boy could not reconcile himself to many customs of vedic tradition like sacrificing animals in yagnas. He could not tolerate the injustice being heaped upon the lower caste of people by the upper class. The ignorance and superstition of the down trodden had created many bad spirits which were to be pacified by ridiculous practices. Women in general were always treated as inferior to men. Brahmanas were highly educated. They wielded enormous power both in political field and in the social set up. Young Basava had a natural urge towards equality of human race. Basava was quick to assimilate what ever he was taught. Parents celebrated his Upanayanam, a ceremony which promotes a boy to learn advanced brahminical knowledge, wearing Yagnopaveetha (a holy thread). Basava did not enjoy the ceremony which pushes him to cultivate a feeling of superiority over other castes. His unusual powers of comprehension helped him to learn fast and have good education. His view about the social condition around has invited bitterness between him and his parents, and also elders of the society, of the that day.
His parents passed away leaving him an orphan. The sorrow of parents death brought him even the freedom, to come out of the clutches of brahminical orthodoxy. He tore off the Yagnopaveetha (sacred thread), and went to Kappadi Sangama, a holy place at the confluence of the rivers Malaprabha and Krishna. A holy man named Shivaguru gave him shelter. Basava devoted himself in the worship of the Shivalinga there. He lived there for many years. Once Shiva appeared in his dream and commanded him to go to Mangaliveda and meet the King Bijjala. It was not easy for Basava to decide to leave Shivalinga and move far away from it. But it was Shiva himself who appeared in his dream and commanded him to go.
Bijjala of Kalachuri race was a governor of Chalukyas. He had gradually grown in power and had usurped the Chalukya kingdom during the period 1157-62 AD. Bijjala was impressed by the appearance of Basava and appointed him as an employee in the treasury under Siddha Dandadhipa. After the demise of Dandadhipa, Basava, now called Basaveswara, took over as the chief of treasury. He married Gangadevi and Neelalochana, daughters of two high ranking officers.
Wealth, power and even happily married life could not hold Basaveswara from worship of Shiva and serve Shiva Bhaktas. He served Jangamas and Shiva Sharanas (Jangamas are those who carry the message of Shiva Bhakthi to masses, and Shiva Sharanas are those who devote their whole life on worship of Shiva). Basaveswara’s generosity and hospitality attracted many people around him. All and sundry came to his house in the guise of Shiva Bhaktas. Basaveswara exercised a lot of patience in serving even them as real Shiva Bhaktas.
After some time, Basaveswara shifted to Kalyan, the capital of Bijjala. There he founded an institution called Shivanubhava mantapa (a house where people experience the grace of Lord Shiva). This Mantapa brought about great social revolution. Caste was not a barrier for becoming member of this mantapa. Women enjoyed equal status, while honest physical labour was an integral part of religious or spiritual life. Shivanubhava mantapa was the birth place of Veera Shaivism of today.
Vachanas or poetic prose of Basaveswara and his followers guided people to lead a life which pleased Shiva. His philosophy of life was taught through Kannada Vachanas which could be easily followed by common man.
For Example let us see his most popular vachana, which conveys great philosophy in simplest language:
Steal not, kill not,
Never utter untruth.
Boast not, malign not.
Never feel disgust at others
This is how you clean
Your inner self and
This is your external cleanliness
This is the way to
Gain the favour of God
Koodala Sangama Deva
For those who aspire for divine abode, he said ‘Kaayakave Kailasa’ which means honest physical labour is itself the abode of God (Kailash)
Shivanubhava Mantapa, organized by Basaveswara and presided over by Allama Prabhu, became a nucleus round in which people of all ranks and professions gathered. Women also took part in the discussions that ranged from great spiritual truths to social problems. The popularity of Shivanubhava mantapa and the great social revolution brought about by it could not be tolerated by people, who were inimical to Basaveswara. They plotted to ruin the relationship of Bijjala with Basaveswara, whose honest work and efficiency were well established. They complained to the king that Basaveswara misused the state funds for entertaining his personal guests. Though Bijjala did not heed to the complaints in the beginning, rumours floated by harmful people were so bad as to gradually sour his relationship with Basaveswara.
The social revolution initiated by the movement had developed into gigantic waves resulting in the marriage of a Brahmin girl to a harijan (untouchable) boy, since both families had embraced the Veerasaiva cult. The commotion and social unrest was so bitter, as to force Bijjala to pluck out the eyes of the fathers of the boy and the girl. The followers of Basaveswara could not digest the cruel act of Bijjala. As a reaction they attacked Bijjala and assassinated him. In the melee that resulted, Basaveswara escaped to Kappadi Sangama, but the cruelty of Bijjala and that of his followers bitterly haunted his thoughts. He voluntarily drowned himself at the confluence of the rivers there.
Basaveswara, as a young man had a natural urge towards social equality. He came out of the clutches of caste superiority and went to Kappadi sangama. His devotion to Koodala Sangama Deva made him to rise to saintly heights. He used every thing he had, wealth, power, good name in the service of his Lord and his devotees. But the caste system of the day caused his decision to end his life. His vachanas in common languages of the masses, dealing with deepest philosophical thoughts and also simple ethics of day to day life, are yet a class of kannada literature which elevates man to live an ideal life.
Basaveswaras teachings were carried on by more than 300 saints like Allama Prabhu, Channa Basavanna and Akka Maha Devi. Veerashaivas or Lingayats believe Shiva as the supreme God. Linga is the sole emblem of Shiva. Panchakshari Manthra ‘Namasshivaya’ is the spiritual formula.
The social revolution part of the movement has gradually fizzled out, due to rigidity of caste system that has still a way over Hindu society. But its religio-philosophical system has enriched Hinduism.