SOCIO-RELIGIOUS REVOLUTION OF BASAVA
So long as men do not question the set up in which they are involved, and accept quietly the age -old traditions and customs, there is no possibility of any change or revolution. But when a handful of men really think about themselves and their surroundings, and begin to question the authorities that guide their present way of life, then we may say that seeds of revolution are at work. Such few men play the role of leaders and they take their society or generation to a betterchange.
Basava is one such who really thought seriously in his times and brought about a change in the life of the people karnataka during 12th century A.D. He is believed to be a prophet and a reformer in the context of areligion called Veerashaivism, of which he was a renovator and a leader. This Veerashaivism is one of the major religions in Karnataka even today.
For a student of kannada literature basava is a pioneer of the very first renaissance that took place in 12th century. This renaissance which found expression in a simple prose-poetic form, known as vachanas, is a unique contribution to kannada literature. This form, being clearly anti-classical in spirit, diverted the very course kannada literature. The most interestingpoint here is, that this recognizable change in literature was not the result of a conscious literary movement but was a result of a socio-religious revolution. It is still more interesting to note that Basava and his followers who wrote vachanas, did never call themselves writers, nor they were aware of their revolt against a particular way of writing in the literary tradition. They were conscious of being participants in a greater religious change and they were conscious of establishing a better socio-economic order, and they gave expression in a most personal way, reflecting their inner conflicts as well as the conflict with external world. these expressions, or vachanas serve as an authentic source to reconstruct the personality of these men and the nature of socio-religious change they brought in.
The society from which Basava emerged was a strange mixture of tradition and revolt. There was Shaivism, religion of the past; there was Buddhism and Jainism which were the result of revolt against the Vedic religion. The Brahminism, which had concentrated upon rituals, and class distinctions, was the religion of the upper class of society. Jainism and Buddhism demanded rigorous austerity and looked down upon existence as compounded of misery and futility. These two religions banned women, as unfit for spiritual life. Jainism, however, granted a concession to women stating that a woman also may take to the path of spiritualism,provided she is born as a man in the forthcoming births. Brahminism also did not allow women to have equal share in religious and spiritual field, and insisted a women should see her God in her husband. Hence, these were the religions meant for men, and the talk of high ideals and equality,etc., remained as mere words. Besides there were a number of minor sects with many gods with their devotees and people were entangled in a mesh of superstitions.
The society was also divided according to the castes followed by people. On the whole upper class, mainly of Brahmins dominated the rest, because they were respected by the kings and other men. The Brahmins looked down upon other communities and they held the positions of high priests and thought themselves as the protectors and guardians of ancient tradition. They were the heads of temples also which were the center for exploiting the people in the name of religion. The condition of the lowerclass of people was still worse, and these people of lower class were called untouchables, who were made to reside at the outskirts of the towns and cities. Such a society awaited one who could revolutionize the whole system and recognize the life of people in a better way. Ans Basava, as a response of the aspiration of such a society, in 12th century, emerged and took the lead.
this was his attitude towards hoarding. He not only preached but also practiced. Let me narrate an episode, which is ascribed to Basava himself. One night a thief entered the house of Basava. Since Basava was known as the king’s treasurer, the thief perhaps thought he could make a good gain. As the thief silently advanced the dark, inside the house his eyes caught sight of the ear ornaments of Gangambike, the wife of Basava, which perhaps glittered in the dim light of the bedroom lamp. As soon as the thief stretched his hands towards the ears of Gangambike to snatch the ornaments, she woke up and cried for help. Basava also woke up and saw the situation. His reaction at this instance was unusual. He, instead of being angry at the thief, was angry with his wife and said:
‘Oh wretched woman,
give away those ornaments of yours
Lest the hands of the thief be pained
when a big theif enters the house of a small thief
Dont you understand that he is no other than the Lord himself.
Apart from his spiritual outlook, which considered everyone as God, this episode symbolizes the social philosophy of Basava very effectively. When a thief entered his house, Basava did not take the attempt of the theft seriously, but he reflected upon the cause for a theft as a sociologist and came to the conclusion that he himself was a thief! This looks rather strange logic. I wish to interpret this episode like this: a thief is one who stretches his hands for things possessed by others. Basava seems to have thought that such people are also thieves who possess so much of wealth, which makes the have-nots yield to temptation. Because Basava’s wife had such jewels as her ornaments, it was but natural for a thief to attempt a theft, and hence, Basava seems to have thought of himself a thief, and accumulation of wealth with a few in society as a sin. This episode clearly depicts the personality of Basava, along with his social philosophy. There are a number of such episodes woven round his personality, narrated by a number of poets in kannada.
There have been revolutions against the established religion in India now and then: but the socio-religious revolution of Basava in 12th century Karnataka, is a unique one. This was a revolution without prejudice to religion,which tried to establish a social order, surprisingly on the most modern principles.