The Vira Shaivism is one of the most dynamic Shaivite Schools of the modern times. It was spread by the remarkable Brahmin Sri Basavanna(1105-1157). The practitioners of this tradition drew the roots of their belief beginning with the sages (risi) of the ancient times.
The Vira Shaivites (“heroic”) are also known as the lingayat, the bearers of the linga (phallus). According to the canons of this tradition, all the members should wear a small linga, symbol of the Supreme Shiva, locked in a pandant they have on a necklace around their necks.
A contemporary practitioner stated for us “worshiping the Vira Shaiva style is the best form of worship because the shivalinga is wore on our body and unites our soul with the Omnipresence. This way, we are in close contact with Shiva all the time, without even a second of pause.”
As in the case of the protestant rebellion in the XVI-th century against the Catholic authority, the lingayat movement won the cause of the rebellion against the brahmanic system that promoted social inequality through a hierarchic system of casts, system that condemned an entire social class as being impure.
Being against the current of “spirituality” of their times, the lingayats have rejected the Veda-ic authority, the casts hierarchy, the system of the four dwellings, the multiplicity of gods, the religious service, the animal sacrifice, the karma-ic bounds, the existence of the inner universes, the duality Brahman – Atman (God – individual Self), the worship in the temple and the ritualistic tradition of the type: purification – impurification.
The Vira Shaivism tradition says that Basavanna was a meditative young man, also a fighter, who rejected largely Vira Shaivism practiced during his days. He broke the sacred belt (yajnopavita) when he was only 16 and ran to Sangama, Karnataka.
He received here shelter and encouragement from Isanya Guru, a Shaivite Brahmin from the predominant kalamukha group and he studied here the teachings in the monastery complex and in the temple, for 12 years.
Here he developed a deep devotion for Shiva in His aspect of “Lord of the rivers confluence” – Kudalasangama. At the age of 28, Basavanna reached the conclusion that humankind is mostly based on the doctrine of a personal God, an individual God, in the form of istalinga – chosen exterior divine phallus.
This spiritual realization is the very core of the central belief Vira Shaiva, according with which the human body should be regarded as a living temple of God, which should be perpetually be kept in a state of purity and sublime.
When Basavanna was almost at the end of his studies, he had a bright dream, in which Shiva Kudalasangama gently touched his body, saying: “Basavanna, my son, your time to leave this place has come. Continue your work of building a just society.”
Receiving these inner signals, Basavanna traveled to Mangalavede, and joined the services of the king of those times, Bijjala. Concomitantly with a rapid climbing on the social stairs, (chief officer of the royal treasury, minister) in this Shaivite country tested by the Buddhist and Jainist intrusions, Basavanna promoted his revolutionary message about a new religious and visionary society.
Basavanna had two wives, underlying in his teachings the fact that all practitioners can lead a holy life, not only those who renounce to the pleasures of life.
He would have speeches every night, denouncing the hierarchy of the casts, the magic practices, astrology, building of temples and many other things, stimulating increased numbers of listeners to come and begin to think rationally and worshipping Shiva as the Divine within themselves.
Here, Basavanna lived and preached for 20 years, developing a powerful religious movement. This action of gathering the people together for spiritual speeches became known as Shivambhava Mandapa (“the house of the Siva-ic experience”).
At the age of 48, he moved together with the king Bijjala to Kalyana where his fame continued to grow during the next 14 years. The man who would succeed him in the development of this movement, Allam Prabhu, accompanied him.
Adepts of various paths have gathered from throughout India to meet Basavanna. However, along the years, the opposition to his egalitarian community grew stronger within the ordinary citizens.
The tensions reached a peak in 1167, when a Brahman and a sudra (woman from an inferior cast, considered impure), both lingayat (adepts of the phallic cult of Shiva), got married.
The citizens, disgusted, went to King Bijjala, who had to give order for the execution of the two people, in order to quiet the crowds. However, this proved to be a thoughtless gesture, which only made the situation worse.
The social situation, already unstable, worsened, and lead to the killing of Bijjala by a group of political opponents, or even by radical lingayat. Basavanna died also at the age of 62, in Sangama, in self-seclusion.
Despite the persecutions, the successful spiritual ruling left behind a cherished heritage, including a great number of holy women. If Basavanna was the social architect and the head of this belief, Allama Prabhu was the engine of mysticism and austerity.
The teachings of these two founders are contained in their lyrical prose, (vacana). The spiritual authority of Vira Shaiva derives from the lives and writings of these two remarkable people, as well as from the lives of other shivasarana (people who have abandoned themselves to Shiva).
Their writings have all a common note: they reject the Veda-s, the ritual, the legends about gods and goddesses, considering all formal religions as an “institution” in which spontaneity, dynamism, and the joy of living can never find a place.
As he often underlines, “doing rightfully” – promoted by most of the religions of the day is not a reason good-enough for reaching the ultimate freedom. Allama writes in this sense: “feed the sacred, tell the truth, dig wells for the thirsty and build reservoirs for the city. You can go to heaven after death, but you will never be next to the truth of our God.”