Vīra Śaivism


Vīra Śaivism

Vīra Śaivism
Qualified Monism
Bhakti to Śiva in form of Liṅgam,
Equality, Personal Worship
1105 CE in Bijapur district,
Karṇāṭaka, India
1167 CE Kudalasangama,
Karṇāṭaka, India
Famous in:
Philosophy, Religion, Social Reforms,
Śaiva Nayanars
7-11th century
Personal Devotion to Śiva,
refuted ritualism,
Equality of Castes & Women
Works About Vīra Śaivism:
1. Vīra Śaivism
2. Vīra Śaivism: History and Literature

The rich
will make temples for Śiva,
What shall I,
a poor man do?

My legs are pillars,
the body the shrine,
the head a cupola of gold.

O lord of the meeting rivers,
things standing shall fall,
but the moving ever shall stay.

— Basavanna 820

Basava Monument LondonBasava Monument in Central London


Vīra Śaivism

The findings of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa have proved the existence of an advanced stage of civilization of a people who flourished in the Indus valley.

They exhibit that the Indus people who belong to the Chalcolithic Age which goes as far back as 3000 B.C., are in possession of a highly developed culture in which little vestige of Indo-Āryan influence is to be found.

Sir John Marshall in his Mohenjo Daro and Indus Civilisation devotes one full chapter to the religion of the Indus people. Therein he concludes that those people worshipped Mother Goddess, Śakti and a male deity, Śiva.

He identifies the male deity with Śiva because of the pro­minent characteristic of the deity having three eyes and being a mahā-yogin, as represented on seals, images, carvings and other signs discovered in different sites.

They also worshipped, he says, linga, sun, animals, trees, etc.

Thus remarks Sir John Marshall:

“In the religion of the Indus people there is much, of course, that might be paralleled in other countries. This is true of every prehistoric and of most historic religions as well.

But, taken as a whole, their religion is so characteristically Indian as hardly to be distinguishable from still living Hinduism

or at least from that aspect of it which is bound up with animism and the cults of Śiva and the Mother Goddess—still the two most potent forces in popular worship."

These conclusions of Sir John Marshall regarding the religion of the Indus people are not considered to be very authoritative. Nīlakaṇṭha Śāstrin of Madras says:

“While Marshall's explanations appear conclusive in regard to the cult of the Mother Goddess, the phallic cult and the tree and animal cults,

his speculations on the male God, who, he thinks, was prototype of the historical Śiva, are rather forced, and certainly not so convincing as the rest of the chapter.

It is difficult to believe on the strength of a single 'roughly carved seal' that all the specific attributes of Śiva as Maheśa, mahā-yogin, paśu-pati, and Dakṣiṇā-mūrti are anticipated in the remote age to which the seal belongs."

It is thus essential that his conclusions should be further supported by the inscriptions being satis­factorily explained.

And this is exactly what has been done by Father Heras whose reading of the inscriptions proves undoubtedly that Śiva and Śakti were the chief deities of the Indus people.

In his lengthy and learned dissertation Father Heras very successfully unravels the network of the “Picto-phonographic inscriptions" of the Indus Valley. He raises the pertinent question as to the authorship of the Indus Valley civilization.

Though Marshall and his collaborators have definitely proved with a number of arguments that inhabitants of Mohenjo Daro were certainly pre-Āryan, they are not definite about their race.

Father Heras with his decipherment of picto-phonographic inscrip­tions proves that Mohenjo Daro people are definitely Dravidians in their race.

It is no wonder that some scholars assert that Dravidians were the autochthons of India and evolved a civilization of their own gradually in all evolutionary stages and ages of early man's life.

Govindācārya Svāmin observes:

“Hence we shall not be far wrong if we infer that South India gave a refuge to the survivors of the deluge that the culture developed in Lemuria was carried to South India after its submergence and South India was probably the cradle of the post-diluvian human race.

As the centre of gravity of the Dravidian people, as determined by the density of population, lies somewhere about Mysore, South of India must be considered as the home of these people, whence they might have spread to the North."

Dr. Chatterji says:

“It would be established, provided Hall's theory- of Sumerian origin be true, that civilization first arose in India and was probably associated with the primitive Dravidians.

Then it was taken to Mesopotamia to become the source of Babylonian and other ancient cultures, which form the basis of modern civilization."

The decipherment of the Mohenjo Daro inscriptions helps us to have a glimpse about the religion and philosophy of Proto-Indians or Dravidians.

The Self-existence of God is evident from the name of God, Iruvan, “The one who exists." The early idea of yogic discipline can be perceived from the images of the figure of Ān, the male deity, Śiva seated in a yogic posture.

The female deity is called Amma or Śakti; now Amma is the common word for mother in Dravidian languages and a good number of clay statues of Mother Goddess have been found in Mohenjo Daro and Harappa.

The conception of Linga among the Indus people was in the sense of union, the union of male and female principles of Śiva and Śakti.

Father Heras observes thus:

“Before ending we must refer to another link still existing from those ancient days between Mohenjo Daro and Karṇāṭaka:

The modern Ligāyats of the Kannada country depict a sign on the walls of their houses, the meaning of which does not seem to be known to them. The sign is X.

This sign is often found in the inscriptions of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa. It reads Kudu and means 'Union.' The sign very likely refers to the union of male and female prin­ciples which is so prominent in the religious tenets of the Vīra-Śaiva sect."

The conception of Linga as the union of positive and negative principles is conspicuous in the Śaiva Āgamas, the antiquity of which goes back to the period of Āraṇyakas.

The attempt to identify Śakti with woman and Śiva with man is a blasphemous error. As a matter of fact, they are neither male nor female nor even neuter:

For the Śaiva-Āgamas declare in unmistakable terms that Śiva is the sat aspect of Reality while Śakti is its cit aspect. Śiva and Śakti are, as it were, the transcendent and the immanent, the static and the dynamic, the impersonal and personal aspects of Reality.

But the Āgamic seers have endeavoured to resolve the perpetual opposition between these two aspects, not by taking these apparently incompatible aspects one after the other,

but by ascending to a height of spiritual intuition at which they are melted and merged in the unity and perceived as the completing opposites of a Perfect-Whole.

Linga is, therefore, the unifying principle of Śiva and Śakti, of sat aspect and cit aspect of reality.

The general bulk of the Śaiva-Āgamas from the Kāmika to the Vātula is twenty-eight in number. The latter portions of these Āgamas treat of Vīra Śaiva doctrines and rituals.

Most of them contain either special or mixed paalas in which may be found a detailed account of the charac­teristics of the Vīra-Śaiva spiritual discipline.

The fact that the latter portion of the Śaiva Āgamas contains much of the Vīra Śaiva matter makes one believe that the School of Vīra Śaivism probably branched off as a natural off-shoot from the same parent stem of the Āgamas which gave birth to the other Śaiva systems.

But it is unlikely that at that Āgamic period of remote antiquity, Vīra Śaivism existed as a full-blown system.

To develop Vīra Śaivism into a full-blown system, to give it an independent social status, to make it definitive and distinctive from Śaivism was reserved to the genius of Basava, a great hero of Karṇāṭaka, who flourished in the middle of the twelfth century.

There is a tradition which ascribes to the five great Ācāryas, whose antiquity is pushed as far back as prehistoric times, the foundation of Vīra-Śaiva religion.

These Ācāryas are not altogether mythical, but their devotees in their enthusiasm to make them and their religion hoary, have exaggerated facts about them to the extent of mystifying their personalities.

That there is a clear reference to them in Kannada literature, that some works in Kannada and Telugu are attributed to them, that they tried to propagate the religion, that the mahas, which they are reputed to have founded, are still in existence—these are some of the facts about them.

But with all this, that they are the founders of Vīra Śaiva faith is an exaggeration.

For the assiduous and impartial efforts of Kannada scholars in the direction of historical research have proved beyond doubt that these so-called Ācāryas are not the originators of Vīra-Śaiva faith since some of them are found to be contemporaries of Basava and others even later than he.

As Prof. Sakhare aptly remarks:

“The Ācāryas after Basava are real personages; the Ācāryas before Basava have no existence apart from his life.

In the kingdom of a Jain King, Basava in spite of his being the prime minister of that Jain King, founded the Vīra Śaiva religion and heightened its glory within a decade or so.

Whoever turns over the pages of Vacana Śāstra (the collections of the sayings of Basava and his colleagues), that rich and vast treasure of religious literature, cannot but feel that it is all original.

There is freshness and vigour about it which no borrowed literature can ever have. It pulsates with the life and spirit of the Saranas under the leadership of Basava. It was all inspired by Basava and Basava alone.”

Vīra Śaivism as a religion owes its birth to Basava. It gathered momentum from Śivānubhava-Mantapa, the religious house of experience, which was a spiritual and social institution.

Basava founded this institution about A.D. 1160 mainly to make man realize his place in the scheme of the universe; to breathe new spirit into the then decaying religion;

to give woman an equality of status and an independent outlook; to abolish caste distinctions; to encourage occupations and manual labour; and to countenance simplicity of living and singleness of purpose.

The institution, therefore, would bear eloquent testimony to the genius of Basava whose field of action was as varied as it was vast. It reveals not only his practical wisdom but also the happy blending in him of head, heart and hand. For it was he who freed Śaivism from the shackles of varṇāśrama and gave it a new orientation.

This School of Vīra-Śaivism is also styled Liṅgāyatism because its followers wear linga, the symbol of supreme Reality, on their person.

Wearing of linga on the body is a prominent characteristic of Vīra-Śaiva faith. It connotes not only the distinctive feature of Liṅgāyata religion but also it makes the Ligāyata community a distinct religious entity.

Religion in its purity is not so much a pursuit as a temper; or rather it is a temper leading to the pursuit of all that is high and holy.

Linga is a representative symbol of all that is high and holy; and Liṅgāyata religion is a pursuit that is characterized by a distinctive faith, path and philo­sophy.

Its faith is rooted in the divinization of life, its path is marked by a-sthala—a hierarchy of six psychological stages, its philosophy is designated Śakti-viśiṣṭādvaita.

Man is born in a variegated world of which he forms a part. He is aware of this world in its concrete actuality, long before he feels himself impelled to try and become aware of it in its abstract possibility. But this impulse nevertheless arises at a certain stage of man's development and the result is philosophy.

Philosophy may then be defined as an offspring of the conscious endeavour to reconstruct the given world of perceptive experience—the world found constructed in actuality— according to its possibility.

This problem, as a matter of course, exhibits a variety of aspects. The history of philosophy is but the history of these aspects as they progressively unfold themselves to the human mind.

The first aspect under which the problem presented itself in ancient times was that of being or existence. The aim and aspiration of the ancients was to discover the ultimate Reality of the phenomenal universe.

In the next stage the problem became more refined. It was no longer an ultimate cosmological principle that was sought for, but the psychological form of knowing that was the serious object of thinkers.

They apprehended for the first time that the possibility of formulating, much more of solving the problem of being of the sensible world, would presuppose the capacity of knowing.

Hence they comprehended that the first step in philosophy must be an investigation of the conditions under which knowledge arises.

In other words, they held that an examination of the capacity of knowing itself should engage the attention of philosophers. The philosophical labours of the Upaniṣadic seers in India, of Plato and Aristotle in Greece, were mainly occupied with this problem.

Man is a conscious being. Human consciousness is essentially self- consciousness. In the case of man even the simplest process of sense perception is not a mere change, but the consciousness of a change.

All human experience, in short, consists NOT of mere events psychological or physical, but recognition of such events.

What we apprehend, therefore, is never a bare fact but a recognized fact. This recognition or pratyabhijñāna, according to Kaśmīra Śaivism, implies a synthesis of relations in a consciousness which involves a subject as well as an object.

And this object with which we are in relation is not wholly alien to our minds since we succeed in knowing it progressively but, so far as we can see, without limit.

Thus knowledge implies the activity of the self or subject which intuits the presence of an intelligible reality, an ideal system, in short, a spiritual world.

And such a world can only be explained by reference to a spiritual principle which renders all relation possible and is itself deter­mined by none of them. It is an absolute and eternal self-consciousness which apprehends as a whole what man only knows in part.

This principle, the absolute and eternal self-consciousness, is God, which goes by the name of sthala, the self-existent conscious Being, in Vīra-Śaiva philosophy.

Sthala is defined by the Vīra-Śaiva philosophers as the source and sup­port of all phenomenal existence, as the ground and goal of all terrestrial evolution.

Empirical reality or phenomenal manifestation is the imperfect unfolding in time of an eternally complete and self-existent saṁvit or sthala.

Sthala, therefore, is the infinite and eternal rest into which all motion and dialectic are absorbed. The ultimate expression of this eternal Being is self-consciousness.

The Vīra-Śaiva philosopher declines to accept the statement that in self-consciousness the distinction of matter and form is abolished. For even in self-consciousness he distinguishes a material and formal side, a potential and an actual moment.

The potential and material moment of the Absolute he terms Śiva; the actual and formal moment of the Absolute he terms Śakti.

He does not visualize an incurable antinomy between Śiva and Śakti, between being and knowing, rather he effects a synthesis by saying that Śakti is the very soul of Śiva, that knowing is inherent in being. He envisages an integral association between Śiva and Śakti which he names Śakti-viśiṣṭādvaita.

For the Vīra-Śaiva philosopher the material rather than the formal becomes the determining moment in the synthesis of all and every reality. Viewed from this standpoint creation, or rather the process of manifesta­tion, is real and no illusion.

He summarily rejects Māyā-vāda or the theory of illusion and proves that creation is the result of Śiva's Vimarśa-Śakti that has the power of doing, undoing and doing otherwise.

He does not subscribe to the view of the unreality of the world. If the world is an illusive appearance of conscious Being, he says, the affected world will be a hollow unreality.