I came in contact with the followers of Basava philosophy in Sydney four years ago. Last year I became a formal member of Basava Samithi, Sydney. I have attended Basava Jayanthi events and have taken part in many of their community events, including “Clean Up Australia” day events.
Basava philosophy takes the name from Sree Basaveshwara, who was born in 1134 in a Brahmin family in Karnataka, and was later the prime minister in the court of King Bijjala. He was also known as Basavanna, which means elder brother. He died in 1196.
He was a progressive leader and fought the caste system prevalent in India at the time. He was also against rituals in Hinduism. He preached the eradication of untouchability and the establishment of equality of all human beings, including gender equality. His vachanas (teachings) became an invaluable source of knowledge, and were instrumental in spreading social awareness. Veerashaivism, based on Basavanna’s teachings, has no place for, and fought against the caste system.
Sree Basava is regarded as one of the pioneers of the concept of democracy. He created a model parliament called the “Anubhava Mantapa,” which not only gave equal representation to men and women, but also had representatives from different socioeconomic backgrounds. He was a man ahead of his time. He believed that conflict should be resolved through debate and not violence.
He was a statesman who practised what he preached. An example of this was that he ignored societal rules associated with the caste system. He allowed untouchables to have lunch at his residence. He praised and supported the historic marriage of a Brahmin woman and an untouchable man. When King Bijjala asked Basava to agree with the caste system, and agree with the punishment given to the above-mentioned couple (Haralayya and Madhuvaras), Basavanna strongly opposed it, saying that they both followed Basava philosophy, and the rules of the caste system were not applicable to them. Basava chose to quit King’s Court in Kalyana, rather than accept caste based rules and punishment to the couple.
Basava philosophy is not based on Manu dharma, or its distorted current version, of Hinduism, which discriminates against people based on their birth. He spoke against rites and rituals, fasts and pilgrimages in contemporary society. The excesses of polytheism were deplored, and the idea of monotheism was encouraged.
Unlike prevalent beliefs in Hinduism, which permit only males to participate in the upanayana (christening) ceremonies, both men and women from the Basava community participate in these ceremonies. This practice was begun by Basavanna himself, who refused to undergo upanayana, because it discriminated against women. This is another example of practising what he preached.
He was a humble man. Using wit, he said that the cow does not give milk to the one who sits on her back, but she gives milk to the one who squats at her feet. He believed in humility and propagated humility.
He admitted high and low alike into his fold, without discriminating against anyone.
“Let them not say, O Lord Whose is he?,
Whose, O whose?,
Let them say rather, “He is ours, He’s ours, He’s ours,
O Lord Kudalasangama say that He is the son of Thy own house”
He declared that engaging in work itself is heaven, thus elevating the meaning and value of labour, without discriminating against any particular work or putting any special value on any type of labour.
It will not be out of place to quote what has been said about him.
Mahatma Gandhi said this in 1924: “It has not been possible for me to practise all the precepts of Basaveswara which he taught 800 years ago and which he also practised… Eradication of untouchability and dignity of labour were among his core precepts. One does not find even shades of casteism in him. Had he lived during our times, he would have been a saint worthy of worship”.
The Speaker of the British Parliament, Rt Hon John Bercowt said on 21 January 2013: “It’s amazing and extraordinary that Basaveshwara professed, campaigned and advocated genuine democracy, human rights, gender equality way back in the 11th century even before anyone in United Kingdom had even thought about it”.
In honour of Basava, President of India Abdul Kalam inaugurated Basaveshwara’s statue on April 28, 2003, in the Parliament of India in New Delhi.
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 only a few years ago.
The British Cabinet Minister for culture, media and sports has approved the plan for a statue of Basaveshwara along the banks of the Thames at Lambeth in London.
From his thought, actions and teachings, there is no doubt that he was a great philosopher, statesman and a social reformer.
Today, Basava followers constitute 17% of the total population of 61,130,704 (2011 Census) in Karnataka and are the largest community followed by the Vokkaligas in Karnataka. They are dominant in approx 100 of the 224 assembly seats in Karnataka, and nine Karnataka chief ministers have come from this community. Hon B. D. Jatti, Vice President of India, was from this community.
Basava philosophy is a progressive and philosophy, which is as relevant today as it was 800 years ago. It is relevant not only in Karnataka but also throughout India.
(This post from Dr Yadu Singh’s blog has been adapted for The Indian Sun)