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10.18.2010

The Rebel Saints of Shaivism



History has showcased many types of Bhaktas who have searched for Lord Shiva through their lives. They have taken to different schools of thought and within Shaivism itself we see these variants. While the Pasupatas live in silence and mysterious solitude, the aghoris lead a esoteric lifestyle too far to fathom. 

And then there are the popular saints who have defined Shaivism for the ordered society. While Kannappa Nayanar and Karraikkal Ammaiyar found place in the list of 63 Nayanars, Adi Shankaracharya rephrased the laws of divine worship to the society we know today and this tradition has come down to us as accepted, agreeable and conformist to today's social principles. There are the other great poets and mystic writers like Sundarar, Thirugnanasambandar, Thirumular and Manikkavachakar who turned their love for Lord Shiva into divine rhythmic poetry and defined the Shaiva Siddhantas and continued to propagate worship as we know it.

Few have lived in our times, rekindling the laws of spiritualism during their lives. While Paramacharya Sri Chandrasekhar Swamigal brought back the joys of good living, humility and renunciation to the throne of the Shankara at Kanchi Mutt, Ramana Maharishi keeps the fire growing at Thiruvannamalai. And so Shaivism was defined, while Lord Shiva himself defines the truth of the self without the presence or the need of ordered society, we, who are within this system have tried to tame the wild side of Shaivism into the claws of social acceptance.

Little do we know that there was a movement of Shaivism that rocked the social landscape around the 11th century A.D. and this firey sect came to life as the Virashaivas more commonly known as the Lingayats. Few have been taught the path of spiritualism re-described by this sect for these great Kannada poets of the Virashaiva sect preached Shaivism without social rules or discrimination towards the weaker sex. Unlike the Brahmana order where women do not hold equal seat as men, in the Virashaiva order, Lord Shiva is accessible to all. Gender didn’t matter and society was always scorned for its hypocritical ways.

The Vachanas of Basavanna, Mahadeviakka and Allama Prabhu have resounded through the ages, bringing rebellion into conformist lifestyle. I am a rebel, and as I understand the suffering of these great saints in a small way, and I have come to love them for their thirst for the real truth. I remain speechless as I realize how much they have lived their lives fighting society and its many rules and finally have found freedom in the power of Shiva Bhakti.

Lord Shiva played with their minds, he was the unattainable supreme power to some and the elicit lover to some others. They lived their lives in the perennial game of hide and seek, looking for the Lord everywhere within and beyond. They defied the rules of ordered living, scorned at society for its misguided rules and even reduced the achievements of great tantriks and siddhas to ash.

This sect of great gurus, these super saints in their own right, describe spiritualism to be a lonely road beyond the powers of occult worship and warn of self destructive egoism with every candy bar of siddhis achieved. They awaken us to the fact that yoga gets us a superior body, alchemy achieves superior metal, knowledge and vedas give us superior control over a beautiful string of words, tantra achieves superior physical love but the spirit of Shiva Bhakta is scarcely available in any of these methods.

Quoting from "Speaking of Siva" translated by A.K.Ramanujan [Page 147]

The Vachana of Allama Prabhu goes as follows...

With your alchemies,
you achieve metals,
but no essence.

With all your manifold yogas,
you achieve
a body, but no spirit.

With your speeches and arguments
you build chains of words
but cannot define the spirit.

If you say
you and I are one,
you were me
but I was not you.
 

Drastic though this school of thought may sound to the ordered social environment we live in, I would believe this is meant for superior souls who have already been blessed with spiritual insight. For the lesser mortals like me who still struggle with the basics of spiritualism, siddhis and perfect yoga seem miles away in my list of spiritual achievements. Where does one like me go in search of the Lord in this vast spiritual landscape where every powerful thought I conquered only raises another question on my beliefs formed so far? 

Photo courtesy:
Talking to God in the Mother Tongue
A.K. Ramanujan

13 comments:

YOSEE said...

I was very happy to read this post. Veerashaivism is widespread in Karnataka and , living among them, I have great regard and fondness for their no-frills, one-to-one relationship with shiva and their total emancipation from the various bugaboos added on to vedic and agamic worship, with time. The vachanas of Akka and Allama Prabhu are great tonics while Basaveshwara's simplicity and directness are most enthralling.

JC said...

Kavitha, Good informatin on 'Shaivism'!

Karnataka is known as the geographical and cultural meeting point of both north and south India...

However, in the environment in whhich 'I' was born and brought up, mostly in the north, 'I' didn't get to notice any discrimination between believers of different faiths...Personally, coming to learn about all forms as the different images of the immortal and unseen formless Shiva, and thus leaving on the individual to worship any image, but with the formlless in mind, 'I' naturally came to believe in it as the one and only Omnipotent and the Omnipresent being. Therefore, because of this thought-plane, 'I' didn't think of performing rituals rigidly as 'I' saw the majority of the elders do (and only later read in the Gita that one should live life like a spectator, unmoved by the external world, under all circumstances)...

Bart said...

It is a beautiful poetry bundle from where you are quoting Allama Prabhu verse; fortunately it is in my personal library too.

The sage Patanjali calls the fourth and final chapter of his Yoga Sutras 'Kaivalya Padah', which means: the Chapter on Aloneness. Why? Because becoming One with the Supreme Lord or Guheshvara, 'Lord of the Caves as Allama Prahbu' prefers to address the Lord --which unification is indeed the ultimate goal in yoga, means becoming One with the ONE without a second - Ekam eva advityam brahma. So after one has become One with God, there is no other anymore and there even cannot exist another one else more. For God there is no You or Thou, nor a He or She or It. All these personal pronouns are expressions of the dualist nature.

Allama Prabhu plays with that knowledge in the last sentence of his brilliant verse. Before he was enlightened, God (You) was already one with him, but he (the 'I') was not yet one with God then.

Kavitha said...

@Yosee, i completely agree, and i feel horrible that i didnt figure them out earlier when i was actually discussing the rituals with one of my friends who is a virashaivite, i dont know where she is now... do you have any idea as to where i can source an istalinga from?

@Joshi uncle, am not too sure we should shun ritual because we need a starting point and these rituals help getting past that threshold. Advanced course in spiritualism is a different think.. but to get there takes time.

@Bart, am really interested to know what else you have in your personal collection. You sent me a list once, and wow! would i love to know more about what knowledge is hidden there in your book shelf!

JC said...

Kavitha, The idea is to convey, as indicated in the central idea of the Gita also, that Krishna (who resides within each) is the real doer and, therefore, one must surrender in him to reach Him, his most evolved form!

At any given instant, on any particular topic, each individual thus believably gets thoughts that apparently are based on the environment within which one is born and also gets exposed to from time to time as one is brought up, ie, the various factors related with time and location, which apparently determine one's expected behaviour. For example, there are stories that depict sudden and instantaneous conversion of certain dacoits into sages at a certain stage that are related with their being exposed to more overpowering thoughts of certain different characters, say...

YOSEE said...

Kavita, as far as i know and have seen, the Ishta Linga is not an article that can be sourced/ bought somewhere.( though it is only a polished pebble of Grey Slate ) It has to be "invested" by the Guru. Usually, the Guru "invests" an ishtalinga on the unborn ( 7th month of pregnancy i think)and the mother wears it with her own ishtalinga till the baby is born. Then around age 9, they have a ceremony of confirmation( both boys and girls are given the sacred thread with the linga attached. )

Many Lingayats have beautiful little silver caskets made for housing the lingas. (Some older generation people make a hard plaster-like covering using cowdung ash and aromatic oils and tie it up with silk). Such caskets are available in jewelry shops, but I have no idea who sells the stone "lingas".

Kavitha said...

Hi Yosee

I know buying an istalinga is not very possible and initiation is more the way forward. I am not sure how to go about an initiation, if that is the established route, can a person take initiation during their life time into this system?

JC said...

Yosee, Kavitha...'I' would have loved to know the purpose of 'ishtlingas'. Is it perhaps just symbolic, like 'sacred thread' worn by 'brahmins', or threads on arms by any Hindu whether initiated or not? Maybe, perhaps serving the purpose of identification and perhaps also reminding the subject his or her responsibiity to the society or community concerned...

Rajesh said...

Very informative and interesting post.

YOSEE said...

Kavitha : You will have to visit any of the recognised Veerashaiva Mathas and get the Ishtalinga Deeksha from an authorised Guru.( the original Pancha Peetas are at Kudalgi ( Bellary), Balehonnur ( in Chikkamagaluru), Kedar, Srisailam and Kashi.) However, before taking that step, it would be better if you get a counselling in order to comprehend and appreciate the step you want to take, from all perspectives. For Veerashaivism is a protestant faith that is not only non-vedic, but also, according to its adherents, non-Hindu in nature. Uneducating the mind of some basic tenets of Brahminism /hinduism could be strenuous for a conditioned mind. (But not impossible.)Anyway, wish you all the best in your quest.

YOSEE said...

JC : The Ishtalinga concept was formulated by the founder of Veerashaivism, Sri Basavanna, who had a divine experience of Light entering him. That made him reject outright all formal representations and descriptions of God, and he came up with the idea of "crystallised Light", the highly polished pebble, without any attributes, as the Lingam ( symbol)of God, one which can be worn next to the flesh, always making itself felt, so that there is no need to go to temples or indulge in rituals to arrive at the inner truth. Mere meditation on the Light would suffice. During Deeksha, the Guru is said to draw the hidden Light ( pranalinga) from within the disciple and invest it in the pebble ( Ishtalinga), to be worshipped, understood and absorbed by him through the shat-sthala process ( Six Phases):of Bhaktha, Maheshwara, Prasadi, Pranalingi,Sharana and Aikya. Separation of the Istalinga from the body is equal to spiritual death. So it differs from the Sacred Thread of the Brahmins, in that The Istalinga is not merely a mark or symbol but "God" itself. Lingayats do not recognise any other form of Shiva ( as seen in our iconography )Worship of the Ishtalinga consits of focussing the physical eye on the pebble, the inner eye on the Pranalinga (=to atman) and the Intuition on the Supreme light (called Bhavalinga). Its Yoga ( thrata)and Trancedental Meditation together.The final state of merging with the Light is called Shunya, which is different from the Nothingness Concept of both Hinduism and Buddhism..

JC said...

Thanks Yosee!
The concept sounds like considering human form itself as Temple of God, or Shiva the immortal, the formless Nadbindu Vishnu to start with, that eventually reached infinity,,, worshipped through symbolic Shivlinga, say as model of the shaft of 'fire' that connects the bowels of earth, ('the heart of physical Shiva, where Kali resides'), with the crater, or mouth, of a volcano through which the red molten lava spills over on the surface of earth and turns black ('kali') when cooled, and thus act as fresh soil for planet life to flourish...While, on the other hand one could relate 'Sudershanchkra dhari Vishnu' with the evolved ring planet Saturn in physical form,,, and realise 'rings of sacred thread' to symbolically represent it as it covers the human body from mooladhar to vishuddhi chakra (the essences of six members of the solar system, from Mars to Venus, that act as a defence mechanism to regulate energy that reaches the head, responsible for indvidual's 'enlightenment' in rare cases)...

JC said...

Another observation related with rings, besides the sacred threads used by brahmin males, could perhaps be noticed with the observation of the festival called 'bat-savitri' by Hindu married females in the north India (that could be symbolically found naturally also in the form of annular rings in trees, their numbers helping in determining their ages in years). That is, females tie rings of thread (red, yellow etc) around the banyan trunk (acting like meru-dand in males), which has been considered the most evolved among the trees - praying for grant of good health and long life to their husband...

In Ramayana (related with treta yuga), during their exile Rama and family resided in the jungle at 'Panchvati' where five banyan trees were located (while 'panchbhoota', or literally 'five ghosts', are associated with bhootnath Shiva, and refer to earth, water, air, fire and sky),,,and Buddhism apparently found roots under a banyan tree within the head of Gautam the Buddha in recent times (during Kaliyuga?),,, and like the tree found roots in other neighbouring countries also, just as the banyan tree!