life history of Basavanna

Basavanna was born in Bagewadi, a town in Hungund taluk in Bagalkot district (former Bijapur district) of Karnataka. Bagewadi is 20 kilometer away from Hungund. Some historians opine that Basavanna was born in Ingaleshwar, the parents’ place of Madalambe.
Madaras and Madalambe were parents of Basavanna. Madaras was town president of Bagewadi. He belonged to Kamme Brahmin community. Kamme Brahmins are also called Aradhyas and Smartha Brahmins. They are half Brahmins and half Veerashaivas. It is definite that Basavanna was born in Veerashaiva Brahmin family. Veerashaiva Brahmins are worshippers of Personal Linga (Istalinga) but they do not wear Linga on their person but keep their Linga in the pooja room. Madaras and Madalambe were of Veerashaiva-Brahmin community.

Lakkanna Dandesh said, Basavanna was born at mid-night on Monday, Kartik Shudda Purnime of Hindu year ‘Shiddarthiama Samvatsara’. This Hindu year coincides 1131 A.D. Researchers have concluded that Basavanna was born during 1131 in Bagevadi/Ingaleshwar. Every year, ‘Bssava Jayanti’ is celebrated on Vaishaka Shudda Tritiya, Rohini Nakshatra.

Nagamma was the daughter of Madaras and Madalambe. After her birth, Madalambe did not bear children for long period. She worshipped Nandikeshwara and bore Basavanna. Nagamma was elder to Basavanna by 12 years.

Madalambe was a chaste woman. Madarasa observed rite of single wife. He was a religious and kind person engaged in charity and was a philanthropist. He was very popular in the society. When Basavanna was born to the couple, the new-born baby was still without any movement. The baby did not cry even. The parents were surprised and were worrying. In this situation, godly saint Jatavedamuni (Eeshanya Guru) accidentally happened to visit Madaras’s house. He welcomed the Guru with devotion. The Guru sat by the side of the baby, looked sharply at the baby and smiled. He breathed with satisfaction saying okay. He wiped the face of the child with a cloth dipped in warm water, applied bhasma on the forehead, tied rudrakshi and Linga around the neck. Further, the Guru pronounced Panchakshari hymn in the ears of the baby and called, “Come on Basava, come on.” Hearing the call, the baby was awakened, moved sidewise, opened the eyes and smiled at the Guru and the parents.

The parents jumped with joy seeing their child activated, the mother lifted the child to her lap and breast-fed. They placed the child at the feet of the Guru and uttered, “We dedicate the child to your grace.” The child was named ‘Basava’ as pronounced by Guru.

The boy Basavanna grew in the company of his elder sister Nagamma all the time. Nagamma was not only sister of Basvanna, but she was the catalyst of his revolutionary ideas and moulded him for the mission in his life. It would be proper to call her as his first guru. That was a dark age for women; Nagamma could not advance herself with her thoughts. She prompted her brother who was like a ball of fire to implement her aim.

In those days it was the custom that the girls should be married at the age of 14-16 years. Accordingly, Nagamma was married with Shivadev (Shivaswamy), younger brother of Madalambe. She moved to her husband’s place Ingaleshwar, when Basavanna was 4 years boy. He started to whither with the separation of his beloved sister.

As per the religious tradition, Madaras performed Uupanayan of Basavanna at his age of 8 years. Upanayana was held against the wish of Basavanna. He could not tolerate it and cut threw the Janiwara put on his body during upanayana. With Linga in his neck blessed by the Guru at the time of his birth he ran away from Bagewadi. He joined Gurukula at Kudala Sangama..He did not like to stay with the people floating in the stagnant water of blind beliefs and immoral customs and had migrated to Sangama.

Eeshanya Guru was the head of Sangamesh Monastery at Kudala Sangama. He was the head of free education centre there. He liked to reform the society including religious heads. He was a highly learned personality engaged in rendering free education, free food and free medicine. without distinguishing between people of his own or outsider, of his religion or other religion. Basavanna spent about ten years in the splendid company of the Guru and turned to be a matured man. He was capable of rescuing the old Hindu religion from the peril of all superstitions.

Madaras and Madalambe visited Kudala Sangama to meet their son Basavanna and to persuade him to return to Bagewadi. But they failed in their efforts. Basavanna comforted his parents and advised them to return to Bagewadi. Disappointed parents entrusted the responsibility of taking care of Basavanna to their daughter Nagamma before their return. To fulfill the desire of the parents, Nagamma shifted to Kudala Sangama with her husband Shivaswamy and her child Channabasava.

Basavanna spent ten years with his Guru in Kudala Sangama. He was a youth of 18 years age. He had completed study of Vedas, Puranas, Shastras etc. He had thorough knowledge of Sanskrit and Kannada languages. He was disgusted to see ill-culture in the name of God and felt pity for the illiterate innocent non-Brahmins being deceived in the name of God. Brahmins though literate were committing the same sins like ill-literate non-Brahmins by offering goat as sacrificial animal. Basavanna decided to reform the society to bring an end to such violence. Superstitions should be eliminated. Division of the society on the base of castes is injustice. He had several such ideas in his mind. To achieve his goal he had decided to remain bachelor.

Ingaleshwara was parents’ place of Madalambe. She had three brothers, Siddaras, Baladev and Shivadev. Last brother Shivadev had married her daughter Nagamma. Another brother Baladev was minister in the court of Bijjala in Mangalawad. Baladev had a daughter, Gamgambike. Gangambike had lost her mother and was brought up as an affectionate daughter of Baladev. She had studied Sanskit, Kannada, Music, Sward-fighting, and Archery. She had reached marriageable age. Baladev was in search of suitable groom. He had heard the praise of Basavanna from the people who attended the fare at Kudala Sangama.

Neelambike, poster sister of king Bijjala was intimate friend of Gnngambike, They used to be together all the time. They played together, ate together and were together almost all the time. They desired to be together throught whole life, but how it is possible. It is possible if they married a single person. Neelambike was also of marriageable age. Gangambike had openly expressed her desire to her father when he began the search for the groom.

With a proposal to marry both Gangambike and Neelambike to Basavanna, minister Baladev visited Kudala Sangama to meet Eeshanya Guru. Guru welcomed the minister and heard the proposal from him. Guru thought for a while silently. He knew the decision of Basavanna to remain bachelor dedicating himself to the service of society. Guru felt it would be easy for Basavanna to achieve his ambition with political support. He called him and suggested to marry both Gangambike and Neelambike. Basavanna was not a man to hurt Guru and bowed his head to the suggestion of the Guru. Baladev felt very happy with the success of his mission. He humbly touched the feet of Guru, had Prasad in the monastery and returned to Mangalawad. Polygamy was a common practice in those days.

Marriage of Basavanna with Gangambike, daughter of the minister and Neelambike, sister of the king was celebrated magnificently. With the blessings of Guru, Basavanna shifted from Kudala Sangama to Mangalawad. He stayed in the house of his father-in-law; Baladev. Basavanna who believed in hard work was not comfortable to spend idle time luxuriously in the minister’s house. He secured a job of Karanik (clerk) in the court of Bijjala and settled separately with his wives, His sister Nagamma had also shifted from Kudala Sangama to Mangalwad.

Bijjala was ruling in Manglawad as subordinate of Chalukya king of Kalyana. Basavanna was staying with his family in Mangalawad working as karanik in the court of Bijjala. He had started his program of social reform slowly in Mangalawad. Chalukya king Tailapa in Kalyana was a very weak king. Bijjala, being an ambitious person took advantage of weakness of Tailapa and gained administrative powers of Chalukya kingdom in 1154. After the death of Tailapa, he declared himself as the emperor of Chalukya kingdom. Basavanna shifted to Kalyana in 1155 to continue to work as karanik in the court of Bijjala.

A copper plate was traced in the palace of Bijjala. None of the scholars in the court could read the script in the plate. But an ordinary karanik, Basavanna could read and explain the secrete contents in the plate to the king. As per the important message contained in the plate which was confidentially revealed by Basavanna, Bijjala could get huge wealth of sixty-four crore gold coins buried under the throne. Bijjala appreciated the intelligence and honesty of Basavanna. He got married his sister Neelambike to him as opined by some historians. It means that only Gangambike was married to Basavanna earlier. After the death of Baladev, Basavanna was elevated as Mahamantri.

Basavanna was now brother-in-law of the king and Mahamantri. He was an important person in Kalyana deriving respect from every one and every where. His program had already started in Mangalwad. He continued it in Kalyana vigorously. Basavanna was youth of 24 years. His attractive personality, his nature of selfless service, his attitude of receiving everone with respect were arrtacting the mass towards him like magnet attracts iron. Basavanna was born in the Veerashaiva Brahmin family. He was adorned with Istalinga by the Guru on his birth. He gave the covering touch of Veerashaiva Religion to his aim of creating a self-complete, all-round decorative community.

The sanatan (ancient) Hindu religion is based on Karma Doctrine and sanctions Varnashram System i.e. caste system dividing the society into four groups, Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Shudra. Brahmins ware considered high born and Shudras as low born. It corrupts human springs.It does not speak with one voice to all human beings. Basavanna overruled caste system. His Bhakti Doctrine denounces the notion of high born and low born; all are equal enjoying equal religious rights.

Till then, area of activity of women was restricted to kitchen and bed-room. Women were treated as personal slaves in every family. Even in that dim age, Basavanna advocated for equal social and religious right for women.

Basavanna eliminated blind beliefs and superstitions. He disliked exploitation of uneducated low born innocent people by educated high born Brahmins under the pretext of meaningless religious rituals.

Basavanna denounced penance or atrocious ordeals to body to obtain grace of God. Only zealous devotion can lead to the grace of God.

Basavanna’s concept was, God is impersonal and supernatural power. God is as large as universe. His size can not be measured even in terms of light-years.

Different religions call God by different names. Basavanna passionately held a conviction of ONE GOD. ‘Names many, God is but ONE’.

Basavanna questioned which religion does not believe in Kindness. Kindness is the base of all religions, he advocated.

‘Kayakave Kailas’ (Work is Worship) is the slogan of Basavanna. He salutes the devotee who follows an occupation, however humble. The spirit of Kayaka implies that the work should be done well with a sense of dedication and should be done to the glory of Shiva (God).

The following seven Commandments form the part of code of conduct of the followers of Basavanna:

1…not steal
2…not kill
3…no falsehood foul thy tongue
4…not anger burn thy brow
5…bear with one another
6…suffer all men
7…stand not high in thy own esteem.

Since hundreds of years, Shudras were subjected to suppression by Brahmins.They were ill-treated and were serving the high born, only for two square meals of the day. The message of social reform aired by Basavanna awakened their hopes. They felt like birds let out of the case into the free air. They surrounded Basavanna to follow the path showed by him.

Lakhs of people were visiting Basavanna’s house every day. His house was called Mshamane (Great House). Free food was served to the guests everyday. Gangambike, Neelambike and Nagambike were looking after the management in the Mahamane.

Basavanna wished that his teachings should reach the lettered and unlettered. The corpus of his teachings is embodied in simple verse-form known as Vachanas, composed in common man’s language Kannada. ’Kudala Sangama Deva’ is the ankitanama of the vachanas of Basavanna. Vachanas can be read as prose as well as can be melodiously sung. Neelambike used to sing Basava vachanas in musical form.

Vachanas have home-some quality, are simple, direct with metaphors and analogies drawn from folkways and full of homely wisdom of people usually from the most realistic sources. They are deep sprung with spiritual insights and charged with mystic overtones. They are potent and evocative rather than dry matter statements. Vachanas convey a supernatural experience in the language of everyday visible things. They are capable of connecting up the minds of hearer with reality.

Basavanna organized ‘Anubhava Mantapa’ (Spiritual Academy). Allama Prabhu, a great scholar saintly-guru was the first president of Anubhava Mantapa. Spiritual issues were discussed there. Like Basvanna, many of his followers composed vachanas with their ankitanama. All vachanas were supposed to have been first inaugurated before Anubhava Mantapa, discussed and received imprimatur before propagation.

The proceedings in Anubhava Mantapa were quenching the philosophical thirst of spiritual people. Apart from Allama Prabhu, there were several great sharanas like Akka Mahadevi, Siddaram (from Solapur), Madivala Machayya (washerman), Hadapada Appanna (barber), Madar Channayya (harijana), Samagara Haralayya (cobbler), Nuliya Chandayya (weaver), Dohara Kakkayy (holeya), Ambigara Choudayya (boatman) etc.

Anubhava Mantapa was a new democratic experiment, There was no autocracy of anybody there. It is similar to our parliament in New Delhi today. Only difference is, only political issues are discussed in the parliament and only religious issues were discussed in Anubhava Mantapa. It is a matter of pride that democracy was born in twelfth century only, in Kannada Nadu, first in the world world.

Basavanna’s vision of faith awakened the hearts of millions of the followers to the new conception of God. They felt spiritual fulfillment. His teachings assumed the magnitude of powerful movement and became irresistible for all those who had turned away from old faith. Anna Dasoha (serving free food) was going on in Mahamane and Gnana Dasoha (serving of knowledge) was going on in Anubhava Mantapa. Name of Basavanna was the talk of town in Kalyana.His name had spread far and wide. Popularity of Basavanna was at its zenith.

For any popular work being done, there would always be people to criticize it. They criticize for the sake to criticize. Purohitshahi Brahmins feared that their supremacy in the society would be lost by the social reform program of Basavanna. They planned a machination. They made an allegation to king Bijjala that Basavanna is plundering treasury for anna-dasoha in his Mahamane.

Bijjala was an ambitious person, an egoistic man. He could not tolerate the popularity of his minister. He desired, people in his kingdom should praise only him, nobody else. Basavanna may be his brother-in-law, then what? He was feeling jealous of his growing popularity. He immediately took action when he received complaint against Basavanna for misappropriating funds from the treasury. He ordered to lock and imprint Mahamane. Sharanas did not sag by the order of the king. They made alternate arrangements, continued Anna Dasoha as usual. Basavanna declared, “Nanu Bijjalaniganjuvene?” (Am I afraid of Bijjala?) He continued his work of social reform.

Basavanna celebrated the marriage of Sheelavanta, son of Samagar Haralayya (cobbler) with Kalavati, daughter of Madhuvaras (Brahmin). Both Haralayya and Madhuvaras belonged sharana community. The marriage was quite normal in Sharanas tradition. But it appeared to be an inter-caste marriage between a Brahmin girl and cobbler boy to Purohit Brahmins. Their eyes were already red and waiting for suitable opportunity to finish off Basava movement.. They aimed to push him out from Kalyana, Kalyana should be cleaned from sharanas and Vachana literature should be destroyed. They planned a stratagem. A large deligation approached Bijjala carrying tale against Basavanna:

“Basavanna’s popularity is growing fast day by day. People may revolt against you to dethrone and he may replace you. Better, you must take precaution now. Please deprive ministership from Basavanna and deport him from Kalyana.” Already Bijjala was burning with jealousy against Basavanna. The tale carried by the Purohits added fuel to the fire. He called Basavanna to his court, reprimanded him, asked him to resign from the ministership and to quit from Kalyana forthwith.

Basavanna was not deterred by the arrogant order of Bijjala. He lost no time to remove the crown of ministership and placed it before Bijjala. Be thanked him for his co-operation till then, He left Kalyana straight from the palace of Bijjala, without informing any of his associates, even his wives. This happened in 1167. Twelve years’ stay of Basavanna in Kalyana came to an end.

Basavanna had left from Kalyana abruptly. He was undecided about where to go. He came to Kudala Sangama to call on his Guru. To his misfortune, his Guru was no more; he had already merged with Linga. Basavanna was in great distress. The man who was among lakhs of people till now was lonely now. He had left Kalyana without informing even his wives, he felt very sorry. He asked Hadapad Appanna to proceed to Kalyana to bring Gangambike and Neelambike to Kudala Sangama.

The situation in Kalyana was dreadful when Appanna reached Kalyana. The eyes of Haralayya and Madhuvaras were cut removed to make them blind and they were tied to the leg of an elephant and dragged till death. Both were executed in a brutal manner. Sharanas community was already in great distress by sudden separation of Basavanna. They felt great trauma when Haralayya and Madhuvaras were executed brutally. They could not further tolerate when they came to know about the efforts to destroy Vachana literature. They revolted. Bijjala was murdered. Sharanas were accused of the king’s murder. Bijjala’s son ordered his military to kill Sharanas. Kalyana was looking like battle-field.

Sharanas were preparing to vacate Kalyana, Ghana Lingi Rudramuni Swamiji had built a small army for protection under the leadership of Madiwala Machayya and Channabasavanna. Gnngambike was trained in warfare during her childhood. She felt, it was her duty to look after the safety of Sharanas during the journey. She refused to accompany Appanna to Kudala Sangama. Neelambike who was in great distress by the separation of Basavanna was in contemplation, visualizing her husband in her Linga in hand. She also did not accompany Appanna.

Appanna returned to Kudala Sangama alone. He narrated the situation in Kalyana to Basavanna who was stunned on hearing the tragic news. He was under great shock to hear the murder of Bijjala who was his friend apart from being his brother-in-law, atrocities on Sharanas and the efforts to destroy Vachana literature. He could not tolerate the catastrophe. There was nobody around him to console. He could not do any thing. Pronouncing “Saku madai thande lokadatavaninnu” (Oh God, please end my role in this world) he sat for meditation rejecting food and water at the place of confluence of Krishna and Malaprabh rivers. He never got up again, he died. Pull of womanhood overtook the pull of philosophy on Neelambike at Kalyana. She abruptly left for Kudala Sangama to join her husband. But it was too late. She could get only the lifeless body of Basavanna sitting in meditation mood.

Some selfish hypocrites were responsible for the loss of a precious life of Kannada Nadu. If Bijjala had cooperated with Basavanna in his brave efforts to reform the society, caste system would have been totally eradicated in Karnataka. Bijjala’s name would have been recorded in the history with Basavanna if he had dared to advise a few people to mend their behavior and Karnataka would have been a model state in the whole country without any castes. Even in today’s society, every day we come across the hypocrites similar to those in Basavanna’s time. One should be cautious about them.

Realizing the importance of ‘Kalyana Kranti’, statue of Basavanna has been erected in front of parliament in New Delhi.

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