Are Lingayats Really A Separate Religion? Here’s How To Make Up Your Mind


New Delhi: As the debate over granting independent religion status for Lingayats grows in the run up to the K’Taka Assembly elections in April-May, legal minds and experts say the Constitution does not permit the government to declare any community as a separate religion.

The Centre, though, can grant minority status to any religion under some Acts. There are two different Acts: National Minorities Commission Section Act, 1992 - Section 2 (3) and National Minorities Education Institutions Act, 2004 - Section 2(F) of the central government that allow it to grant minority status.

The previous UPA government had accorded minority status to Jains in 2014 to enable them to avail social and reservation benefits offered to other religious minorities, like Muslims and Christians.

Lingayats have all the characteristics to start a new religion since they have a history of over 800 years, Vachanas, a holy book on the lines of the Bhagwad Gita, Koran and Bible and a distinct identity from all religions in India and they need no spate sanction from the government.

Some social experts however said the Lingayats' demand for a separate religion may not hold in a court of law, going by the Supreme Court's decision in the curious case of Ramakrishna Mission seeking minority religion status under the Constitution of India.

On July 2, 1995, the Supreme Court declared that neither Sri Ramakrishna nor Swami Vivekananda founded any independent, non-Hindu religion and their labyrinthine attempt to gain the privileges went in vain.

Who are the Lingayats?

This group are called Lingayats because they worship a one-and-only God, Shiva and they always wear his symbol, the istalinga around their necks or across their chests which resembles the shape of a globe.  

The Lingayat theological doctrine emphasizes Sakti, the spiritual power of Shiva. Its system involving astavarnas (eight supportive systems), pancha 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.

The beliefs and behavioral patterns of Lingayats are expounded in the compositions of Basava, whom they regard as their founding father.

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 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.

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 Brahmanical Hindu notions of karma, rebirth, purity, and pollution.

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.

Contribution To Kannada Culture

The contribution of Lingayats to the cultural heritage of Karnataka is significant. Kannada literary historians have identified some 1,148 Kannada writers between the eighth and the end of the nineteenth century; of these, there are 453 Lingayats.

Basava, the founding father of Lingayat religion, was also in some ways the first to lead a successful crusade in the twelfth century against domination by the Sanskrit language in order to make Kannada the medium of literary expression.

He set an example by recording his Vacanas (sayings) in Kannada and the tradition set by him continues to flourish in modern Lingayat writings.

Basava rejected the feudal orientation of Hindu Brahmanism and substituted for it a new social order similar to Gandhian populism and based upon the principles of individuality, equality, and fraternity.

The cooperative, communitarian movement initiated by Basava continues to flourish in the modern political life of Karnataka.

The Lingayat monasteries, spread across contemporary Karnataka's small and large towns, run schools and colleges with free room and board for needy students. These monasteries serve not only as centers of religious culture but also as centers of education; they can claim a record of fifty years of contribution to the educational progress of the state, unrivaled by other educational institutions.



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