Identification. The Lingayats speak Kannada, one of the four major Dravidian languages spoken in the south of India. They are called Lingayats because they worship istalinga, the symbol of Shiva, and they always wear it around their necks or across their chests. They are also called Virasaivas because of their deep love and commitment to their God, "the Omnipresent and Ever Compassionate."
Location. Lingayats live in all nineteen districts of Karnataka State in south India, which stretches from 11°05′ N to 19°00′ N and from 74°00′ E to 78°06′ E and along the Arabian Sea. The north and central regions are their heartland, although Lingayats are found also in the four neighboring states of Maharashtra and Goa to the north, Andhra Pradesh to the east, and Tamil Nadu to the south. The climate is basically a tropical monsoon type and the temperatures change periodically, varying between 15° and 40° C.
Demography. The census of 1981 places the Karnataka population at 37,135,714 with a population density of 194 persons per square kilometer. Assuming that the Lingayat population has grown at the rate of the general population of Karnataka, the Lingayat numbered about 5,600,000 then.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Kannada language is classified in the Dravidian Family, and the Lingayats fully identify with it. It is related to the Tamil, Telugu, Tulu, and Malayalam languages but it has its own script, which consists of thirty-four consonants and fourteen vowels. Its first poetics, Kavirajamarga, and first grammar, Bhasa Bhusan, were written in the early ninth and eleventh centuries, respectively, and its literary history spans well over 1,000 years.