Guru Basavanna was the author of an unique spiritual revolution that impacted the social life, literature, tradition, customs, religion, and economy of 12th century Karnataka, India. This spiritual revolution shook the very foundation of the prevalent social customs and religious practices. Accomplished yogis, great mystics, and spiritual aspirants from all over the country and neighboring lands joined hands in this revolution. The revolution resulted in transformation of hundreds of thousands of people into Sharanas – the great mystics who enjoyed the divine communion.
Guru Basavanna was born to a traditional Brahmin family in the small town of Bagevade in Karnataka, India. Rebelling against the futile customs, rigid traditions, untouchability, and caste system prevailantin the society, child Basava left home at the tender age of eight His quest for truth took him to the town Kappadisangama, where he sought refuge in the famous temple of Sangameswar.
His intense longing and devotion bore fruit after years of Sadhana when he was blessed with the divine vision of universal God and the ultimate truth that encompassed the entire creation and beyond. A new concept of deifying God in the form of Istalinga, a representation of the formless God in the form of the universe was brought forth by him. It is on the basis of this Istalinga that Basavanna laid a novel spiritual path that was open to all sincere aspirants. Immediately following this vision, Basavanna was bound by divine decree to proceed to the town of Mangalawede where he was welcomed by King Bijjala and appointed as a treasurer. Basavanna married Neelagangambike and eventually became the Prime Minister of the Kingdom. Kalyana, the capital city of the Chalukya Empire, became the focal point of his spiritual revolution. This revolution enabled social, economical, and religious reforms. He led an exemplary life that combined spiritual practice with the performance of his duty as a prime minister, householder, and citizen with equal zeal.
Guru Basavanna, born with the divine mandate of enlightening humanity with a new spiritual path, was an extraordinary personality that is unparalleled in human history. There are many documented cases of miracles performed by Guru Basavanna. He is said to have solved many thereto unsolved riddles & mysteries and also breathed life to the dead. He advocated a holistic approach to spiritual life that encompassed all aspects of human life. He led by example by leading a spiritual life that also balanced work, family, social service, and humanitarian endeavors. Despite all his power and status, Guru Basavanna practiced humility and tolerance towards all. He encouraged aspirants from all walks of life to shed their inhibitions and grow spiritually.
He encouraged people to realize God by self-experience and not rely only on blind faith, traditions, religions, scriptures, and beliefs. Contrary to the customary tradition requiring renunciation to achieve the highest spiritual goal, Basavanna preached and practiced the doctrine of living a productive life in the society. His thought provoking ideas and compassionate personality attracted thousands of saints and millions of followers from all over the country, Kashmir to Sri Lanka. He welcomed people from all classes, castes, gender, race, age, and religion. Under his guidance, millions of people from all walks of life treaded this path and achieved divine bliss in their lifetime.
Basavanna established Anubhava Mantapa, the Abode of Experience, in the city of Kalyana the center from where the ideas and notions of Sharana movement developed. Many Sharanas moved to Kalyana and participated in the activities of Anubhava Mantapa.
Basavanna faced relentless opposition from traditionalists, especially against the equality accorded to the lower caste people. He fought against this with grace and dignity and even converted many hard core fundamentalists by his compassion. Every act in his life, including his end, set examples for humans to follow. One such traditionalist who adopted Guru Basavanna’s path ventured to wed his daughter to the son of another Sharana originally from a Sudra family. As both the bride and the groom were spiritual practitioners under his guidance, Basavanna endorsed this wedding in accordance to his convictions of equality of all human beings. His adversaries used this incidence to incite King Bijjala and demanded that Basavanna denounce this wedding. Rather than going against his convictions, Basavanna refused, resigned from his post of the Prime Minister, and accepted the punishment of banishment from the kingdom. Having fulfilled his life’s mission of enabling spiritual experience accessible to all, Basavanna returned to Kappadisangama, where he merged with the Divine.
Basavanna was a ray of hope to the mankind groping in darkness. Radiating divine grace, he offered spiritual freedom to those long caught up in the clutches of traditions. He fought against the oppression that was in practice for centuries in the name of religion, social conventions, and customs. He succeeded in securing social, religious, and economic freedom that was denied to the majority of the society. He not only advocated that the Divine Grace was the birth right of every aspirantirrespective of gender, caste, creed, or occupation, but also gave practical guidelines to achieve it. Guru Basavanna is truly the Guiding light of the World.
The path given by Basavanna revolutionized the very idea of who and how people can enjoy the divine bliss. Shunning gender, age, caste, religion, and status based discrimination, Basavanna enabled all sincere aspirants to tread this path and reach great spiritual heights. Rather than confining the individual inner experience with the framework of scriptures, this path emphasized genuine experience tempered with true knowledge and right conduct. Individuals were able to cut the shackles of religion and rise to spiritual heights.
Socially, this revolution shattered the shackles of tradition binding people to the prevalent social practices of discrimination and abuse. It liberated many suppressed and downtrodden aspirants and presented them with an opportunity to lead a life of dignity. It fought against the rampant oppression exciting in the society resulting from caste and gender biases. It introduced an entire new lifestyle that brought equality, hope, and prosperity to one and all. Basavanna’s revolution empowered common folks in an unprecedented manner giving them choice in their spiritual pursuits as well as social living.
His notions, philosophy, and practices were universal and centuries ahead of the rest of the humanity. Even today, the breadth and depth of Basavaism escapes most. Guru Basavanna’s messages and path are truly universal that is not confined to place, time, and sect of people. When one tries to understand the social, environmental, humanitarian ideals of Basavaism, it is hard not to be amazed even today. The most advanced scientific theory and cosmological observations seem to follow the ideas presented in Vachanas.
Due to Guru Basavanna’s foresight, we find the first hand accounting of this incredible spiritual path that is Basavaism in Vachanas. If we learn to read and understand them, Vachanas will be the road map that will help us tread in the path of Basavaism and reach the ultimate goal of the enjoyment of the spiritual bliss.