BASAVESHWARA -THE PHILOSOPHER SAINT

Basaveshwara, the philosopher saint of Karnataka was a pioneer in starting a movement to work towards women’s emancipation, to propound the dignity of labour and to establish an egalitarian society free from caste distinction of high and low. He was born in a place called Bagevadi in Bijapur district of Karnataka in around 1131 A.D. His father, Madiraja or Madarasa was the chief of Bagevadi Agrahara, a place where scholarly Brahmins lived. As a boy Basaveshwara was dismayed by the caste inequalities which prevailed in the society and by the superstitious beliefs which people blindly followed. Basaveshwara started his career in the treasurer in the Kingdom of Bijjala II, the Kalachuri ruler ruling from Kalyan (Bidar district in Karnataka) and soon rose to the position of Prime Minister of the state.

Like Martin Luther who initiated the reformation movement in Germany against the corrupt practices of the clergy, Basaveshwara opposed caste system based on one’s birth, belief in meaningless rituals and offering of animals as sacrifice to please gods and goddesses. He considered only two classes among human being, the good and the bad and declared that a man’s worth should be judged not by his birth but by his thoughts and deeds, by his conduct and character. Unlike Martin Luther, Basaveshwara was not successful in his mission as the latter did not have the backing of the royalty and the masses. Also in Europe the renaissance movement had created a favorable atmosphere for Luther’s thought to spread and gain acceptance. In the case of Basaveshwara not only he had to face opposition from the orthodox and powerful royal family but also the ignorant and superstitious masses. But even then he was able to leave a lasting impression of his philosophy on the society that too four centuries earlier than Luther.

Way back in 12th century A.D. Basaveshwara had stressed the importance of performing manual labour by each and every individual irrespective of class. He was of the view that no occupation was superior or inferior to another and that it was honesty and sincerity which decided the merit of the means of livelihood. One should work with absolute detachment and it should fulfill the needs of both the individual and the society.  At the same time Basaveshwara did not consider material advancement as the final goal of mankind. His ideal was the establishment of an egalitarian society with high spiritual and ethical content.

Basaveshwara held women in high esteem. The debating society Anubhava Mantapa (which attracted hundreds of saints and spiritual aspirants from all over the country) that he had established at Kalyan had many women members whose used to voice their opinions on various issues freely. He allowed his sister and wives to participate in the proceedings at Anubhava Mantapa along with other male members which show his magnanimity. Basaveshwara was against animal sacrifice and a man of peace. He was a vegetarian and asked his followers to come out of the shackles of superstition. Instead of blindly following meaningless rituals, he asked them to lead a life of morality. Though born in a high caste family and raised to the position of Prime Minster in the court of the powerful Kalachuri ruler, Bijjala II, he freely mingled with the poor and downtrodden.

Many of Basaveshwara’s thoughts came forth in the form of Vachanas, a unique kind of poetic prose in Kannada literary tradition. The contents in this Vachanas are about love towards god, urge to lead a life of morality and opposition to caste inequalities and superstitious practices.

Ambedkar protested against the caste system as he himself had undergone sever humiliation under the system and denied his right to a dignified living. But in the case of Basaveshwara, being born in a high caste family and due to his scholarship and position in Bijjala’s court he was held in high esteem. Still he sacrificed his position and even his life for the noble ideals which held, viz abolishment of caste and establishment of an egalitarian society. Due to his support for an inter-caste marriage he had to face the wrath of the royalty and meet a tragic end. Thus Basaveshwara the messiah was the torch bearer for social reformers.

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