Vachanas: A Source of Law

1. Sources of law in General Jurisprudence

The expression source of law (fons juris) has several meanings which it is necessary to distinguish clearly. Sources of law under general jurisprudence are divided into formal and material sources. A formal source is that from which a rule of law derives its force and validity. The material sources, on the other hand, are those from which is derived the matter, not the validity of the law. The material source supplies the substance of the rule to which the formal source gives the force and nature of law. The formal source of the whole body of the civil law is one and the same, namely, the will and power of the state as manifested in courts of justice. Whatever rules have the sanction and authority of the body politic in the administration of justice have thereby the force of law; and in such force no other rules whatever has any share. The matter of the law may be drawn from all kinds of material sources, but for its legal validity it must look to the tribunals of the state and to them alone. Customary law, for example, has its material source in the usages of those who are subject to it; but it has its formal source in the will of the state, no less than statutory law itself.[1]

Though formal source is only one, material sources are further classified into legal and historical. Historical sources are remote and not legally recognised. Legal sources of law are authoritative, the historical are unauthoritative. The legal sources are the only gates through which new principles can find entrance into the law. Historical sources operate only mediately and indirectly.

Legal sources are mainly Legislation or enacted law, Custom or customary law, Precedent or case-law, Professional opinion or juristic law and Agreement or conventional law.[2] Legislation is the declaration or enunciation of a principle by some adequate authority in the body politic. Custom is the realisation or embodiment of a principle in a uniformity of practice. Precedent is the judicial application of a principle to its appropriate facts. Professional or expert opinion is the approval or recognition of a principle by the general voice of those whose business it is to know the law. Agreement is the adoption of a principle by the consent of those whose interests are affected by it. Such declaration, realisation, application, approval, and adoption determine in each case the judicial recognition as law of the principle so dealt with, and therefore constitute the sources of the law.[3]

There is the classic debate over the appropriate sources of law between positivist and natural law schools of thought. Positivists argue that there is no connection between law and morality and the only sources of law are rules that have been expressly enacted by a governmental entity or court of law. Naturalists, or proponents of natural law, insist that the rules enacted by government are not the only sources of law. They argue that moral philosophy, religion, human reason and individual conscience are also integral parts of the law.[4]In this sense vachanas were of immense value in building the socio-legal framework.

2. Emergence of Vachanas

The basic meaning of the word vachana is ‘speech/utterance’. Vachanas are oral expressions of the 12th century followers of Lingayat religion and part of Lingayat movement.[5] The term vachana indicates prose passages that are different from metrical language or verse, i.e., descriptive prose passages which serve as linkers between two separate verses. Vachana, as a genre, evolved into a distinct mode of expression during the later half of the 12th century. The vachanakaras bid adieu to then existing long narrative style and began their personal reactions to this worldly life in brief utterances. Vachanas evolved as a distinct mode of expression as part of the Lingayats’ desire to propagate a new philosophy, and through it effect a social change, in the process foregrounding their subjectivity and personal experience in their utterance.[6]

The Lingayat religion considers the Vachanashastra as a scripture. During the 12th century, Karnataka witnessed a renaissance in Lingayat religion and literature. After 12th century heyday glory the vachanas of the sharana mystics somehow managed to live and breathe in the twilight of negligence. It was only in the beginning of 20th century that Dr. P. G. Halakatti, popularly known as the father of vachana literature, who discovered the vachanas and gave them a new lease of life to be noticed by the modern world. During the last six or seven decades a lot of work in recognition of the enduring merit of the vachanas has been turned out especially in the areas of research, evaluation, critical assessment and commentary.[7]

These vachans express the struggles of the vachanakras with themselves and their environment. They give us an impression that they were engaged in a stupendous task of bringing about a social regeneration, and tha they started an intense campaign against the “Doll’s House” of conventions and traditions to create a new society.[8]

The leading figures of this renaissance were Basaveshvara and Allamaprabhu. Almost every saint has sung his saying on various topics in various strains. The saints, both males and females, who emerged from the lowest social orders, spoke in a style comprehensive and intelligible to the common masses. About 15,000 vachanas of 130 vachanakras, including about 30 women, have come to our times. Barbers, actors, scholars, peasants, boatmen, washermen, cowherds, shepherds, sex-workers and saints, a variety of people with different social and econnmic backgrounds have expressed themselves in these vachanas using their every-day experience to communicate their thought on religion, philosophy and society.[9]These vachanakaras include Madivala Machayya, a washerman; Medara Kotayya, a basket-weaver; Ambigara Chaudayya, a ferry man; Hadappa Appanna, a barber; Dakkayya Bommanna, a drummer; Turugayi Ramanna, a cowherd; Sunkada Bankappa, a tax-collector; Kinnari Bommanna, a gold-smith; Vakkalu Madayya, a farmer etc. and a host of women mystics such as Satyakka, Muktayakka, Lingamma, Rammevve and Kalavve. It is learnt from the early Lingayata works that men and women of various faiths flocked under the banner of Basaveshvara, from countries like Panday, Cola, Chera, Gurjara, Orissa, Bengal, Kashmir and Nepal. These popular philosophers approached the problems of life from the view point of a commoner and gave it a practical turn. Their spirit was free from superstitions and rigidities which caused stagnation among the classical Indian schools. Against the sterility of the orthodox systems, the new popular appeals awakened a fresh spiritual fervour and let loose great creative power which until that time lay dormant. A new philosophy based on human values sprang forth and began to blossom, founded on the latent divinity of the human soul, on the universality of love and respect for all, and on the Divine Will and Power of emotions emanating there from. It released powerful spiritual energy hitherto pent up by social barriers among the dumb millions of the soil. Naturally, the call and the response were reciprocated by the poor and the neglected, illiterate and innocent victims of the caste system. The new masters, in spite of their humble birth and position, rose to the height of the social esteem and popularity. The popular religion spread over the entire spectrum of the society – the rural opera, the minstrealy, the nursery rhymes, the festive folk chorus – all bore the same touch. The Lingayat saints and mystics continued their low vocations side by side with their holy mission. They believed in the honest, productive, useful and devout life of a householder. They had no pretensions to any standard education or to any literary techniques and requirements. Yet their pithy sayings penetrated into the hearts of the people, lifted from their soul the inertia of the daily chores and sowed the seeds of the new popular religion.[10] Vachanas (poetic prose) depict a rare combination of individual insight of a bhakta and sheer poetic exuberance.[11]

The Vachanashastra is considered to be the scripture of Lingayat religion. The Sharanas who were also the Vachanakaras were free thinkers. Though they had respect for the authority, they did not hesitate to differ from the Agamas whenever circumstances demanded it.[12] The Vachanakaras have maintained that all persons irrespective of caste, creed, color, rank, position, and sex become equal the moment they get initiated. No distinctions of any kind do they countenance among the Lingayats. The Vachanakaras vax eloquently on the saying that work is worship, that Kayaka is Kailas. A respectful yet unique and unparalleled place is given to labour (kayaka) in the vachanas, while the Agamas are content by merely referring to it.[13] Devotion in metaphysical way, social criticism denying discrimination of caste, profession and gender, metaphorising personal experiences, socialising ecumenicalism - such were the paradigms we find in vachana literature.[14] The vachanas are said to be like the Upanishadas in poetic fervour and profoundity of meaning. They are very telling, soul-stirring and unfailing in their effect. The vachana literature is voluminous now coming gradually to light and immensely appreciated. Whoever turns over the pages of the Vachanashastra cannot but feel that it is original.[15]

The Vachanashastra has absorbed several elements from the Trika, the Shaiva Siddhanta and other Indian schools of thought, but the assimilation of all these elements into an entity that is Lingayatism is in itself an original achievement. Democratic in spirit, puritanical in fervour, with service as its watchword and Shatsthala as its signpost, Lingayatism blends together man’s spiritual and social ideas and teaches him the art of the righteous living. Since all these elements are fully mirrored in the Vachanas the scholars are delighted to admit the Vachanashastra as the basic literary form not only of the Lingayat religion but also of the Kannada language.[16] Every scholar (Sharana) wrote vachanas with his own signature name. Basaveshvara used ‘Koodalasangamadeva’ as the ‘ankita’, the signature-word of Basaveshvara. ‘Ankita’ ‘was a name of a personal god or deity of a saint-poet (vachankaara), which normally appears at the end of each vachana.[17] Basaveshvara’s vachanas blend the concept of devotion and reformation, thereby making them very much relevant in the contemporary society.

The Vachanashastra is the fruit of deep meditation, containing true sublimity, exquisite beauty, pure morality and fine strains of poetry. It is found to be a gold-mine and treasure-house of knowledge and virtue. The more deeply one works, the greater and more abundant one finds the ore. More light continually beams from this Scripture to direct the conduct and illustrate the work of God and ways of men. As all the Scriptures of the world, it teaches us the best way of living, the noblest way of suffering and the most comfortable way of dying. The importance and value of the Vachanashastra cannot be too greatly emphasized in these days of uncertainties, when men and nations are prone to decide questions from the standpoint of expediency rather than in the light of eternal principles.[18]

3. Structural Features of Vachanas

Vachanas are characterized by a variety which exhibits the richness of the wisdom and the wealth of knowledge in an incomparable manner. Its structural features can be explained as under.[19]

4. Enigmatic

Firstly, there is a variety of enigmatic saying which occur in the vachanas of almost all the saints and more than half of the vachanas of Allama Prabhu are enigmatic; the spirit of detachment and idealism is obviously manifested throughout his vachanas whose cryptic expression expresses in a way that Carlyle in his Sartor Resortes, Shakespeare in his Sonnets and Tennyson in his In Memorium. The crystallization of the philosophical truths in aphorisms and riddles is a specialty of the brilliant Indian thinkers. The same tradition Allama Prabhu presents in his sayings and in the Shunya-Sampadane. His, vachanas abound in riddles and aphorisms. His style is precise and direct. He does not mince words. He expresses his opinion forthrightly and freely. There is an indescribable beauty and charm in such an expression. A Vachana can be quoted as an example:

“A merchant of Jambu Isle
Gathering his bales and bundles;
Sets up his stall
In the womb of Mother Earth
Stricken with a crazy thirst
He drank up the seven oceans
Until to his own dismay
At the unquenchable thirst
He sucked the ooze itself
An infant carries his mother’s corpse
Upon his back and goes
Mumbling her name
Behold a globe-like icon
Has swallowed the glory of Guheshwara!

In another Vachana, he says:

On Heaven’s expanse
A strange parrot was born;
And she built her a house
In vain glorious pomp.
But of that one parrot
There are born five and twenty
Brahma was the parrot’s cage
Vishnu his victuals;
And Rudra his perch
Whe she swallowed her young ones
In front of those three
Behold! Oh! Guheshwara
The phenomenal play cease to have its sway.”

5. Aphoristic

Secondly, there is a variety of aphoristic sayings, which are pregnant with thought, though terse in style. “Is there any room for lust in a lover of God?” “How can I call him an immaculate whose body is subject to disease and decay”. The vachanas of the sharanas are teaming with brief but brilliant utterances.

6. Etymological

Thirdly, there is a variety of etymological sayings. Channabasavanna has given the etymological meaning of Linga: In the term Linga, there are three words: Li, zero and Ga. Li represents the Infinite while Ga stands for the finite and it is a zero that unites the finite and the Infinite. He who knows this secret is a real mystic.

7. Dialectic

Fourthly, there is a variety of dialectic sayings which are resorted to very often in the vachana literature for the purpose of inculcating moral excellence. Basaveshvara advises a Sadachari thus:

“Steal not, kill not,

speak no untruth,

be not angry,

show not contempt for others,

do not pride upon thy virtue,

do not speak ill of others.

This is the way to internal purity,

this is the way to external purity,

this is the way to win God’s favor”.

8. Analogical

There are variety of analogical sayings characterized by similes and metaphors. It is a belief of the mystic that God dwells in the heart of men, in the soul of his being. The relation of God and soul, or the Divine and the Devotee is often expressed by simple yet sublime similes. The Pinda-sthala of the vachana literature abounds in the analogical sayings. A saying of Basaveshvara runs thus:

“As submarine fire is hid in the waters of the sea,
As a ray of ambrosia is hid in the moon
As fragrance is hid in the maiden
So God is hid in the heart of the Sharana
Oh! Lord of the Spiritual Unification 

O Kudala Sangamdeva.”

9. Dialogic

There is a variety of dialogic sayings. The entire Shunya-Sampadane is an illustration of the dialogic method which involves the symposium of the various sharanas.

10. Satirical

Seventhly, there is a variety of satirical sayings. Satire is a form of literary composition in which vice or folly of a person or a community deemed as guilty, is held up to ridicule. The sharanas have condemned the outmoded religious practices, archaic and unworthy disciplines in a strong language. They did not hesitate to hold up to ridicule a person or community guilty of any vice, folly and profligacy.

11. Symbolic

Lastly, there is a really existing thing which stands for and images forth a greater reality of which it is itself an instance. Symbolism often involves allegory which is the interpretation of experience by means of images. The Vachana literature is prolific of the symbolical sayings which are characterized by vivid imagery and vital truth. The saying of Shanmukhaswami bears testimony to this fact: “Behold the same thing! The husband – preceptor touches the wife-disciple. The contact releases the six-lettered mantra, which is deposited in the matrix of the ear of the wife-disicple. Then the mind becomes impregnated and son-linga is born of the uterus-eyes. The son-linga is placed on the palm symbolizing cradle and a lullaby of the suspicious hymn is sung naming him Akhandeshvara. Oh! Lord thou art therefore, my child and I am Thy mother.”

12. Broad Classification of Vachanas

Vachanas can be broadly classified into two groups: experiential and explicatory.

a. Experiential

Experiential vachanas make extensive use of metaphors and paradoxes. These tropes also seem to indicate the worldview of the concerned vachanakara. While Basaveshvara, for instance, makes use of metaphoric mode Allama operates through paradoxes. The metaphoric vachanas compel the reader to look at the familiar world from a different perspective and forge new relations of meaning. The paradoxes of Allama tend to reject everyday logically, and downplay the role of the intellect to compel the reader or listener to probe his/her own experiences and arrive at a meaning that will always be tentative.

b. Explicatory

The explicatory vachanas contain vachanas of proposition, its rejection, its explication and vachana of practice. Vachanas of proposition tend to propagate a particular moral stand, a desirable behavior, or a set of values. Vachanas of rejection question and reject many accepted positions and values as not facilitating individual or community welfare. Vachanas of explication intend to explain and stabilize the new concepts of vachanakaras. Vachanas of practice tend to preach how the sharana should incorporate certain personal, social and religious practices in his/her everyday life.[20]

13. Classification of Vachanas Based on Content

Vachanas are classified by literateurs into three broad groups on the basis of their contents.

a. First group of vachanas are written with the exclusive purpose of presenting the doctrine of Liingayatism.

b. Second group, while teaching the Lingayat philosophy, these vachanas cater to the aesthetic need of readers.

c. Thirdly, there are vachanas that are enjoined with action, and contain social philosophy.

Vachanas: Source of Law

a. Main Source

The third catgory of vachanas stated above could be viewed as the source of law. These are bold expressions of independent thoughts of men and women who were engaged in the task of bringing about a social change in the tradition-ridden society. These vachans are protestant in character but catholic in outlook.[21]

Vachans, which could be considered as the source of law, can be further classified into four categories:

1. Eradication of Discrimination: Annhilation of Caste;

2. Eradication of Discrimination: Annhilation of Birth Superiority;

3. Eradication of Discrimination: Attack on Scriptures; and

4. Eradication of Discrimination: Between High and Low, Purities and Impurities, Fit and Unfit. The last category can be further divided into:

a. Between Man and Woman,

b. Between Man and Man,

c. Between Guru-Lnga-Jangama and Bhakta,

d. Between ‘I’ and ‘You’, and

e. Between Heaven and Hell.[22]

All these categories of vachanas reflect the legal characteristics and therefore can be viewed as the sources of law.

Vachana literature was a byproduct of a great socio-religious movement led by Basaveshvara to build a casteless society on the cardinal principles of democracy – liberty, equality and fraternity.[23] These principles are found thoughout the vachans. Because the vachanas highlight religious aspects, it is very difficult to cullout the legal aspects.

14. Vachanashastra: A Source of Divine Law

The truisms of the vachanashastra have the power of awakening an intense moral feeling in the human beings. They send a pulse of fellow-feeling through all domestic, civil and social relations and teach men how to love the righteous things and deplore the wrongs. They seek each other’s welfare in the right sense of self-sacrifices but not in the shadow of enlightened self-interest. They control the baneful and bastard passions of the heart and thus make men proficient in self-government. Therefore the legal characteristics of vachans are unique and unparallel.

The Vachana shastra exhibits the unity of the three-fold nature of the wisdom known as Siddhanta, Sadhana and Sampadana. Siddhant or Tattva is the philosophic apprehension of Linga; Sadhana or hita is the moral and spiritual method of knowing it; sampadana or purushartha is the realization of God or Linga which is the summum bonum of life. Tattva is a consideration of the reality under the aspects provided by the three regions of the philosophic knowledge, namely epistemology, ethics and aesthetics, considered under these aspects, God is the Sat without a second, that wills the many and the will differentiates into the manifold of sentient and non-sentient beings. The Sat is the all-inclusive unity or the Absolute that imparts substantially to all beings and thus sustains all existence and value. Though God is the cause for all changes, He by Himself does not change. However, change is the essence of the universe. Every atom in the universe is in constant motion. All things without exception, even the so-called fixed stars move perpetually and nothing stays put in one place. The very earth which we inhabit is speeding through space with a velocity of about nineteen miles per second. One Being in the universe, however, is without change and that Being is God. Though absolutely immutable, the Being is the cause of all motion, the same yesterday, today and forever. It is this reason that Ling or Being is defined as the real of the reals. It is likewise termed greater than the greatest for it is the abode of all eternal values. Linga is again defined as the light of lights, for it illumines the suns and the stars and is the inner light of the individual self.

The idea that God is the cause of all things does not imply that creation is an act having a beginning in time. The universe of the living and the non-living is an eternal cyclic process with pralayas, dissolution and sristi, creation alternating with each other. In pralaya the world remains latent as a real possibility and sristi is the actualization of what is possible. The entire creative process is the self-expression of God. Hence the logical idea of the cause cannot be sundered from the ethical concept of the purpose. The process of nature and the progress of man can be explained only as the self-actualization of the divine will. The philosophic intellect strives to reduce the entire experience to a single unity but it fails to satisfy the demands of the moral consciousness. The Sat, without a second may be the logical greatest but it is indifferent to the deeper ethical values of human life. The definition of God has therefore to be restated in the language of moral philosophy involving such terms as the ruler and the redeemer, when restated the definition of God takes the form of Shakti-vishistha-advaita, for Shakti or divine will implies purpose and the purpose of the cosmic process is to provide an opportunity for the individual soul to realize its divine destiny. To the logical intellect refers to the transcendental eminence and holiness of God. God is the righteous ruler of the world, dispensing justice according to the deserts of each soul. The goodness of God as the ruler and redeemer functions through the moral freedom of man and hence is no contradiction between the infinite power of God and the moral freedom of man.

This moral freedom of man presupposes the law of Karma. Karma is the application of the law of cause and effect to moral experience. The recognition of Karma is indirectly the recognition of the cosmic law and order. The cosmic order is just and properly maintained. Cosmic justice demands that there should be the strict and equitable retribution in nature. Thus no action can escape the good or evil consequences of man’s deeds accruing to him. Psychologically, Karma implies that every action must have its effect in the form of Samskaras, good or bad according to the law of retributive justice. But in its ethical aspect the law of Karma affirms the freedom of the soul, for freedom is a real possibility and the soul can train its instinctive urges, subdue them and sublimate them. On the religious level the law of Karma is not all powerful, for the grace of God transforms the righteous law and it becomes the ruling principle of religion. The contradiction between Karma and Kripa is negated simply because redistribution and redemption do not coexist. Karma then becomes an attitude of surrender to the Divine Will. The fruit of man’s actions belong not to God and himself or rather it belongs to God in him. Then his will become a true Will: “it does its share, it leaves its quota, it returns to its Master with its talent used or increased.” The surrender of the human will to the Divine Will will redeem the soul from sin and suffering. Redemption is the central motive of the divine grace. Moksha or liberation consists in the attainment of freedom from the shackles of Samasara by seeking the redemptive love of God.

15. Vachanas: A Source of Customary Law (12 Practices)

Vachanas make frequent reference to achara. When vachanas speak about achara, they refer to the set of 12 practices of Lingayatism. The concept informing these practices is that it helps to integrate the individual with society. These 12 practices are lke 12 commandments that every Lingayat should practice. It is a code of conduct, a sort of law of those days. The first five acharas are related to the social sphere. The remaining is related to the individual’s practice. The 12 Practices are as follows:

  1. Lingachara: it means not worshipping anything but the ishtalinga given by the guru, and rejecting even all the installed lingas. The concept of ishtalinga or personal god could be read as being against the stagnant religious practices prevalent then, and blended monotheism with the possibility of having various personal gods as the manifestation of one god. This practice also helped to make religious experience a personal experience.
  2. Sadachara: A bhakta should engage in truthful and honest occupation and keep in mind the good of all living beings. This concept helped in upholding the dignity labour and the ideal of equality. It accords respect to physical labour and relates labour with religion.
  3. Shivachara: It means not discriminating among the Shiva bhaktas. The concept has helped in eliminating caste hierarchy, atleast among Lingayats.
  4. Ganachara: It means avenging the ill-treatment meted out to the Lingayats by others, and indicates the militant aspect of Lingayatism.
  5. Brityachara: It refers to humility in everyday life.
  6. Kriyachara: It insists on the importance of initiation and sublimating everyday activities.
  7. Jnanachara: It refers to the need of intellectual discipline that can be obtained by contemplating on vachanas and correcting one’s path.
  8. Bhavachara: It is the practice of cleansing unnecessary and harmful feelings and emotions, thus upholding religious morality.
  9. Satyachara: It is the practice of committing one’s self to one’s statements and upholding the virtue of truthfulness.
  10. Nityachara: It is the practice of considering everything that one gets as the grace of God.
  11. Dharmachara: It means following one’s own Dharma, i.e. Lingata Dharma.
  12. Sampathinachara: It is the practice of considering the soul’s wealth as superior to worldly riches.

16. Legal Concepts in Vachana Literature

We have noted that there are atleast two kinds of sources of law in Vachana Literature. One is divine and the other is customary. But vachanas have another dimension also.  They are the dictions od code of conduct. If we proceed on this argument, then we can state that vachanas have a lot of legal material. As noted earlier vachanas are a rich tributary of knowledge based on real time experience of the people who authored them after thorough deliberations. Vachanas are the bases for number disciplines of learning and human knowledge. Vachanas have enriched our knowledge in many fields including religion, spirituality, philosophy, ethics, logic, language, literature, arts, science, environment, management, sociology, politicalscience, economics, psychology and law. Its contribution in the field of law is exemplary. It is surprising to note that the legal ideas, concepts and norms built by the vachanakaras under the leadership of Basaveshvara were relevant for their times but are relevant even today. The legal concepts such as democracy, secularism, liberty, equality, freedom, etc. developed in the 20th century as after-effect of European renaissance were already developed and practiced in 12th century in Karnataka. Because of language barrier, these ideas did not cross the borders of India and reach the Western world. A brie note on these legal conceptions of 12th century would reveal the quality of jurisprudence of those times transcending the time and space.

17. Democracy

Greatest achievement of the western world is establishment of democracy. This happened in the West as a result of renaissance. It is brought onto the East including India by them along with the colonization of eastern countries.

Basaveshvara built a society which is not just democratic in political sense but democratic in all other aspects of the society. He established Anubhava Mantapa, a platform for intellectual, spiritual, social and cultural discourse. This was a democratic institution where all were welcome. There were 770 members in the Mantapa meeting and discussing on all live issues pertaining to all walks of life. Therefore, this institution is holistic in representing the democratic tradition. It is astonishing that such a forethought was their amont the thinkers of 12th century led by Basaveshvara.[24]

18. Welfare State

Basaveshvara dreamt of establishing a welfare state and developed his new philosophy of socialistic idealism to achieve this end. According to some wrtiters who are experts in the study of Basaveshvara philosophy sharanas were all one with their leader in achieving this goal. The views of sharnas about the welfare state and the casteless society are not only original but also unique, and carry a ring of authenticity.[25]

19. Secularism

Lingayata philosophy advocates secularism. People of all religions, castes and creed should have equal status and opportunity to develop and live a peaceful life. Basaveshvara dreamt of a society in which all live together like one family. In a vachana, Basaveshvara sas:

Know their conduct

And know their mind.

The jangama-stage is linga, look.

There is no difference of caste

Nor is there impurity of any sort.

The unborn is without caste.

If you do not do as you say

Lord Kudala Sangama

Will not be pleased.

A vachana by Madara Chennayya is equally elegant in presenting the secular system of their society:

The races of mankind are many

But all are from the woman’s womb born.

So also are castes, creeds and communities.

Day and night are distinguished

By light and darkness only.

Strength is masculine though varied

With feminie is another source.

The views that appear to the eye

Are varied and many.

But who can hear or see beyond

His own capacity?

The pupil is the same to see

Water, the earth, the sun and the moon.

As the eye sees things varied

Fair and lovely,

So if one knows the secret

There is no impurity of castes.

Do not be a sole to the footwear

Subject to the awl in hand.

Know Nijatma Ramanatha.[26]

20. Equality

The concept of equality[27] is like a golden thread running through vachans of almost all sharanas writing vachans. Demolishing the old order of the society divided on the bases of caste, birth, gender, etc. Basaveshvara and his followers reconstructed it based on equal opportunities to all: men and women, low-caste and high-caste, rich and poor. In a vachana, this is illustrated by Basaveshvara as under:

Oh Lord, Oh Lord, list my appeal

From the socalled highborn Brahmin

Down to the last untouchable.

I consider all as equals

When they become the devotees of Siva.

Beginning with a Brahmin

And ending with an untouchable.

I consider all of them as one

Who are not devotees of Siva.

This is hoe I look at it.

If there is the slightest doubt

In my understanding of this,

My nose be mutilated Lord Kudala Sangama![28]

21. Freedom

Sharnas taking part in the epochmaking movement started by Basaveshvara were bold and free thinkers endowed with intellectual abilities to carve out vachanas out of their personal experiences with courage of conviction. All the members of Anubhava Mantapa, the Parliament of free thinkers enjoyed freedom of thought and expression. Women too thought independently and expressed their views freely at the Anubhava Mantapa. Vachanas written by the Sharnas stand as a testimony for their freedon in thinking and also building a democratic set uo with freedom for all in a socialist system of equality, liberty and fraternity.[29]

22. Liberty

In tradition ridden India womwn and shudras were not given certain basic rights. Basaveshvara argued that these people should be given the liberty so that they are made entitled for the basic rights. He syas thus in a vachana:

Why fear that you are made slaves?

Why feel shy that you are denied access to God?

Whoever you are submit to God

Thinking that you do not know any thing

Do not remain silent,

Feel free in the presence of Lord Kudala Sangama![30]

In this vachana, Basaveshvara questions his followings as to why they fear that they will be made slaves or denied access to God. He tells them to shun the feeling that they do not anything and therefore remain silent. He insists that they should feel free in the presence of God.

23. Dignity

Human dignity is one of the paramount concerns of Basaveshvara. All human beings irrespective of their caste, creed and status should be treated with dignity. This is reinforced in a vachana regarding a washerman:

It is Madivala who purified my body;

It is Madivala whocleanse my mind;

It is Madivala whoilluminated my inner self;

It is Madivala who freed me from

the trammels of worldly exostance;

It is Madivala whomade me worthy of Thee,

O Lord Kudala Sangama![31]

24. Fraternity

India was a highly stratified and awefully divided a society, when Basaveshvara took up the move ment of resurrection. His dream was to build a society with social unity and integrate people and inculcate a sense of oneness and belongingness. Lingayata society that Basaveshvara built was a well knit society characterized by total integration of its constituents. His famous saying which is repeatedly quoted even today is:

them not say, O Lord,

Whose is he, whose, O whose?

Let them say rather,

He is ours, He’s ours, he’s ours!

O Kudala Sangama Lord, let me be

Ason of Thine own house![32]

In another vachana of his, Basaveshvara cites the example of crows and hens to build human fraternity:

If a crow spots a grain

Will it not call all its relations?

If a hen sees a morsel

Will she not call her whole clan?

Being Shiva’s devotee

If we do not stand by the bhakta fraternity

It’s worse than crow or hen

Lord Kudala Sangama[33]

25. Prohibition of Discrimination

Basaveshvara being an advocate of equality developed principles in his vachans that negate all kinds of discrimination. This is evident in his following Vachana:

There is but one soil

On which stand the house of holeyas

And the temple of Shiva.

There is but one water

For toilet and rituals.

There is but one caste

For the man who knows himself.

There is but one goal

For the six philosophies of salvation.

There is but one stance

For those who know Lord Kudala Sangama.[34]

26. Abolition of Caste

Indian society was divided on caste basis. High caste people were considered as superior as against low caste people who were considered as inferior. There was no chance of inter-dining and inte-cast marriage between high caste and low caste people. Entry into the houses of high caste people is banned for the low caste people.

Basaveshvara was up in his arms against the caste system and waged a war against it. Caste is a big social problem and evil. He sought to abolish caste system by his powerful vachans. To quote one such vachana:

Vyasa was the son of a fisherman

Markandeya the son of an outcaste

Mandodari was born to a frog

Look not at a person’s caste masters

Look at what became of him

After he was born into it.

Agasthys was himself a boatmen

Durvasa a mason

Kashyapa was a blacksmith

The sage called Kaundilya was

As the three worls know masters

A barber.

Even if an outcaste

A devotee of Shiva is high-born

These are our Kudalasanga’s words.[35]

On annihilation of caste, 89 vachans ov varios sharanas were collected and translated.[36]There are 62 vachans of Basaveshvara on the issue of eradication of castes collected and translated by a scholar.[37]

27. Abolition of Untouchablity

Untouchability is the most ignomous practice prevalent in India under the Varna system. The last of the last category of Varna, the Atishudras, are the ill-fated untouchables. Basaveshvara pulled down the Verna barricade and encouraged inter-dining and inter-cast marriages. His aim was to abolish the practice of untouchability. One vachana from him can be quoted to prove this commitment of Basaveshvara:

If I call Siriyala as a trader

If I call Channayya as an untouchable

If I call Machayya as a washerman

If I call Kakkayya as a lowborn

If I call myself a Brahmin

Will not Lord Kudala Sangama laugh at me?[38]


Concept of kayaka is the most eminent concept evlved by Basaveshvara. Everybody should be engaged in work. No one should live on the gains of other’s efforts. Work itself is heaven; there is no heaven outside elsewhere. One should engage in the work not for the sake of profit or in order to become rich. One should engage in thw work that promotes national and social interests and not his own pwrsonal or individual interests. One should do his work with honesty and sincerity. A vachana of Basaveshvara can be quoted as an example:

Seeing a Bhakta who does good deeds and give to the needy,It is like seeing a great treasure.

Seeing a devotee who takes to padodaka and prasada, It is like the returning of the departed life.

A devotee who does not go to other’s house and feeds his belly I say that he is truly the Kudala Sangama![39]


Very closely connected with the concept of kayaka is the concept of dasoha. According to this principle a person must give a part of his earnings for the good of the society. One should give with all humility that he is only giving back a part of that which is given to him by God. This attitude of the haves about the have-nots in society will bringabout not only economic equality but also economic proparity.[40] A vachana illustrates this:

If you consider the root

to be the mouth of the tree

and water the base

leave emerge on top.

If you consider the jangama

to be the mouth of linga

and give him food and provisions

he will give you every king of wealth later.

If you consider the jangama as Shiva

but treat him as a human being

you will not escape hell

O Lord Kudal Sangama![41]

Gender Equality

In India of Basaveshvara’s time woman was treated as a sudra and reduced to a level of a slave. Basaveshvara gave women opportunities of access to education, property, wealth, religion and speech. Due to the efforts of Basaveshvara there emerged a fleet of 33 lady mystics and philosophers. Prominent among them are Akka Mahadevi, Satyakka, Muktayi Akka, Lakkavva, Sankavve, etc. The stigma attached to widows in the Hindu society was removed by Basaveshvara. All womem, irrespective of their caste, status as married, widows and spinsters were provided the equal status with men.[42]

Relevance of Vachanas in  21st Century India

As stated by Go.Ru.Channabasappa, “When at present the entire polity is broken up into narrow distraught fragments due to selfish political and religious expediency, it seems, the lives and deeds of the 12th century sharanas can guide us out of the stalemate. The luminary of the age, Sri Basaveshvara, led a new socio-religious movement upholding the values of equality, fraternity and human dignity which resulted in the establishment of a creative, gentle and amiable society. It is now imperative that the present generation needs to repose its faith once again in him and his illustrious contemporaries whose values and ideals are of everlasting significance. From this point of view the vachana literature should reach the world community transcending the boundaries of nations and languages.”[43]

The impact of vachanas on the literary texts and social movements of 20th century Karnataka are notable. The non-Brahmin, Dalit and backward class movements of Karnataka have drawn inspiration from vachanas. As the 12th century socio-religious movement comprised many dipressed and downtrodden castes, the vachanakaras of those castes have today become cultural icons of those communities. Vachanas are a source of continuing inspiration for all the important cultural shifts of Karnataka. Throughout the past eight centuries Kannada culture has negotiated with vachana discourse and has used it to probe important cultural issues.[44]

The Vachanas are current coins of Kannada literature. They are on the lips of the literate and illiterate alike. They are often set to music and sung in the literary conferences. They appeal to the learned because of the profundity of thought and to the laymen because of their simplicity of expression, meaning and appeal. Since Vachanas embody the pressing problems – social, philosophical, religious and economic – their educative value and importance will remain undiminished. The present agitation and demand for equality and female education were well tackled and put into practice by Basaveshvara and his colleagues in the 12th century without even a whimper. They appeal to mind very powerfully because they are intensely spiritual. In fact, they form a unique kind of literature in Kannada, inasmuch as the like of them are not found in any other Indian language. The sayings inculcate absolute morality and righteous behaviour in the devotee. They indicate that the Lingayats are no despisers of the world, nor of the daily avocations which one has to pursue to earn one’s daily bread, but enjoins righteous behaviour in all the vicissitudes of life, which ultimately results in complete unfounding of what is best and noble in man.[45]

Vachanas are the great examples of 12th century as to the building of a homogeneous, secular, and welfare state, ensuring liberty, equality and dignity to every one in the society. It was the first ever renaissance that took place in the world. What is admirable about it is that it happened in India.

[1] John W. Salmond, Jurisprudence, 4th ed., (1914), Stevens & Haynes, London, p.117

[2] In modern times the only recognized legal sources are legislation, precedent, customery law and conventional law. See, P. J. Fitzgerald, Salmond on Jurisprudence,12th ed.,(1966)(Indian Reprint 2012), Sweet & Maxwell Ltd. UK, p.114

[3] John W. Salmond, Op. Cit., pp117-122


[5] It is also stated by an author that vachans came into currency in the 11th century. See, C.R. Yaravintelimath, and M. M. Kalburgi, Heaven of Equality, m(2003), p.15

[6] O.L.Nagabhushana Swamy, The Sign: Vachanas of 12th Century, (2007), Prasaranga, Kannada University, Hampi, p.1

[7] Go.Ru.Channabasappa in the Forword, in Chandrashekhaiah, Light of Devotion, (2008)

[8] H.T. Sanur, Eleventh and Twelth Century Kannada Literature, Ramakrishna Academy of Education and Culture, Bujapur, (1991), p.115

[9] O.L.Nagabhushana Swamy, Op. Cit., p. 2

[10], accessed on July 2, 2015

[11] Sri Shivaratri Deshikendra Mahaswamiji, in the “Message”, in Chandrashekhaiah, Op. cit.

[12] In some Agamas, it appears as though some importance is attached to caste. In the seventh chapter of the Suxmagamas, which are in order of their castes, and in the third chapter of the same Agama it is stated that the Shadaksharamantra should not be imparted to women and Sudras. But in the Vachanas, we find a definite departure in these matters from the stand taken by the Agamas.

[13], accessed on July 2, 2015

[14] Vivek Rai, “Vachanas of Basavanna”,, accessed on July 2, 2015

[15] Supra,n.6

[16] Ibid.

[17] Vivek Rai, Op. Cit.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] O.L.Nagabhushana Swamy, Op. Cit., pp. 6-7

[21] C.R.Yarvintelimath and M.M.Kalburgi, Heaven of Equality, (2003), pp.15-16

[22] Ibid.,p.16

[23] Ibid., p.ix (Preface)

[24] Dtailed discussion on Anubhava Mantapa can be found in chapter IV.

[25] C.R. Yaravintelimath, and M. M. Kalburgi, Op. Cit.,p.15

[26] Ibid., pp.112-113

[27] Detailed discussion on the concept of equality is done in Chapter V: Jurisprudence of Equality.

[28] Gurumahanta Swamiji, Basaveshvara: His Life and Principles, (2006), p.9

[29] C.R. Yaravintelimath, and M. M. Kalburgi, Op. Cit., p.14-15

[30] Gurumahanta Swamiji, Op. Cit.,.p.10

[31] C.R. Yaravintelimath, and M. M. Kalburgi, Op. Cit., p.130-131

[32] Chandrashekhariah, Op. Cit., p.24

[33] O.L.Nagabhushana Swamy, Op. Cit., p.123

[34] O.L.Nagabhushana Swamy, Op. Cit., p.134

[35] O.L.Nagabhushana Swamy, Op. Cit., p.141

[36] C.R. Yaravintelimath, and M. M. Kalburgi, Op. Cit., pp.28-65

[37] C.R. Yaravintelimath, Caste Eradication Vachanas of Sri Basaveshvara, (2013), Prasaranga, Karnatak University,Dharwad

[38] Gurumahanta Swamiji, Op. Cit.,.p.11

[39] Ibid.,p.16

[40] Ibid.,p.16-17

[41] O.L.Nagabhushana Swamy, Op. Cit., pp.137-138

[42] Full discussion on this topic is made in Chapter VIII: Gender Jurisprudence.

[43] In the Foreword, Chandrashekhariah, Op. Cit.

[44] O.L.Nagabhushana Swamy, Op. Cit., p. 3

[45], accessed on July 2, 2015


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