Lingayat - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Lingayat religion is the largest established religion in Karnataka. Other established religions include Brahmanism, Jainism, and Islam. Lingayats do not label themselves Hindus and claim an independent status for their faith. The Lingayat theological doctrine of saktivisistadvaita (a qualified monistic philosophy characterized by Sakti, the spiritual power of Shiva); its socialization agents, the guru and the jangama (monk) ; and its notion of istalinga are distinctively Lingayat in character. Its system involving astavarnas (eight supportive systems), panca acaras (five principles of conduct), and sat stalas (six stages related to social and religious progress) has helped to transform Lingayatism into a distinct framework. Their ethical and behavioral norms have given them a capacity to coexist with other sociocultural groups and at the same time preserve their religious and cultural homogeneity and identity. The beliefs and behavioral patterns of Lingayats are expounded in the compositions of Basava, whom they regard as their founding father as well as a dominant influence in the works of his colleagues. These compositions, collectively known as the Vacanas, have the status of sacred literature, are taught to Lingayats from childhood, and are internalized by them. Lingayats believe in a one-and-only God and worship him in the form of istalinga, which resembles the shape of a globe. Lingayats are antimagic and antisupernatural in their religious orientation. They do not worship stone images and the deities of the desi tradition. They believe that devotion to Basava and the other Lingayat saints will bring them their blessings and guard their lives.

Religious Practitioners. They have their own priests who officiate at the various life-cycle rites, of which the prominent ones are those dealing with birth, marriage, and death. Priesthood among Lingayats is not ascriptive and is open to all irrespective of sex. Lingayats do not consider the world as maya, an illusion, and reject the Hindu notions of karma, rebirth, purity, and pollution.

Ceremonies. The Lingayat ritual calendar gives prominence to the birthdays of their saints, the first in importance being the birthday of Basava. In addition, they celebrate Hindu festivals such as Dipavali, Yugadi, and Sankramana. Their centers of pilgrimage are at Kalyan, Ulive, and Srisaila, the places where Basava, his nephew Cennabasava, Allama Prabhu, and Akka Mahadevi are laid to eternal rest.

Arts. Although Lingayats in past centuries were noted for their religious poetry and philosophical writings, today the chief arts are the singing and playing of hymns. There is no marked ability shown in the visual arts.

Medicine. Lingayat priests (called ayya or swami ) are also astrologers and medicine men, often dispensing herbal remedies to sick villagers. This is a useful craft for them to possess, rather than a learned profession.

Death and Afterlife. For Lingayats there is no life after death. They believe that there is one and only one life and that a Lingayat can, by his or her deeds, make this life a hell or heaven. At death, he or she is believed to have returned to God and to be united with him. They call this state aikya (unity with linga). Since the dead person is believed to have attained the status of Shiva, the body is washed, clothed, decked with flowers, worshiped, and carried in a procession to the burial yard accompanied by singing in praise of Shiva.

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