Basaveshwara Maharshi

Eight hundred years ago, there lived a couple by name’ Madarasa and Madalambike in a village called Bagewadi of Bijapur District, in Karnataka, (South India). They were very pious and deeply religious. There was a temple of andeesh- wara in that village. The husband and the wife were devotees of Nandeeshwara. Madalambike was longing to have a son. She offered worship every day to God Shiva and prayed to Him to fulfil her desire. One day after performing the worship she sat in meditation. A jasmine flower, placed on the Shivalinga as an offering, fell into her lap. She took it with great devotion, pressed it gently to her eyes and then wore it in her hair. The whole day she was beside herself with joy. At night she had a dream: Shiva from Kailasa had sent Nandi, the bull on which he rode, to this world. Nandi came to the house of Madarasa and Madalambike. Then there was light everywhere.

The next morning Madalambike revealed this dream to Madarasa. He in turn reported it to the Guru, a spiritual guide of the village. The Guru told him that it was a good sign. The couple would have a worthy son; he would exalt the entire family. He would also uplift and enlighten the whole world. The couple felt very happy when they heard these words of prophecy.

Bagewadi was a small village. Madarasa was its chief. Soon the news of Madalambike’s dream spread all over the village.

In course of time Madalambike gave birth to a son. It was a charming baby. Its face shone with a brightness not of this world. But strangely enough it did not cry at all as babies usually do. It did not open its eyes. It did not move its limbs. It was still and silent like a sage in meditation. The mother was worried. The revered Guru of the family was in Kudalasangarna. Madarasa decided to report this curious state of the baby to him.

Kudalasangama is a holy place where the two rivers Krishna and Malapahari meet. A temple of God Sangameshwara is there. The revered Guru of Madarasa’s family was in sole charge of the temple where he was running a Gurukula (a school). By his devout meditation and scholarship he commanded the respect of all and wielded much influence. To him came Madarasa with the news of his new, born baby and its curious state. The Guru immediately went with him to Bagewadi.

He realized that this was no ordinary babe. He smeared its forehead with the sacred ashes brought from the holy Sangama. Only then the baby opened its eyes. The Guru tied the ‘Linga’ round its neck. It started smiling. Thus the Guru admitted the little infant into a spiritual order. This was something new to Madarasa and Madalambike. The Guru then said: “By the grace of God Shiva, Nandi (Vrishabha) himself has been born as your son. He will become a great man and will promote Dharma in the world. The welfare of the entire mankind will be accomplished by him. This indeed is your good fortune as also of this land. Name him as ‘Basava’.”

Basava is the Kannada form of theSanskrit word ‘Vrishabha’. As instructed by the Guru the baby was named ‘Basava’. Later, out of respect, people called him ‘Basaveshwara’. While working for the good of all his fellowmen, he showed great love for them and was very close to them. So they began to call him affectionately ‘Basavanna’ (Basava, the elder brother).

You have read at the very beginning of this book, the vachana – ‘Do not steal, Do not kill,’ etc. It is simple, beautiful and full of meaning. Great men express great thoughts in simple words.

‘Do not be angry’ is one of the command- ments of the vachana mentioned above. Anger is not good. In another vachana Basavanna says:

Why should one be angry with those who are angry with one?
What does one gain? What do those others lose?
Physical anger weakens one’s nobility
Mental anger weakens one’s Wisdom.
The fire bums not the neighboring houses
Until it has burnt the very house where it was lighted
0 Lord Kudalasangama.

Why return anger for anger? It does no good to anyone, either to the angry man, or to his opponent. It affects one’s dignity and dims one’s judgment. A raging fire first burns the very house where it is kindled and then it burns the adjoining houses; anger is like such a fire. Our anger first harms us and then harms others. The analogy of fire in this vachana effectively brings home to our minds the evils of anger.

You have read also the episode of the cows stolen by the thieves. In that context Bassavanna says in a vachana:

Pray don’t say those thieves have taken the cows,
Please be so good; pray don’t raise a hue and cry,
Please be so good; Pray don’t even talk of it,
Please be so good; it is God Sangama who drinks milk there, as it is
He who drinks it here;
God Kudalasangama is one and the same.

Within us and within the thieves it is the same God who accepts the milk. The conviction that the same God is present in all human beings finds moving expression in this vachana.

We should have such faith and conviction in the worship we offer and in all our actions. Worship without this faith is like a figure in a picture; work without this faith is like the frame of a picture. Driving home a lesson by means of homely simile and example is a unique feature of Basavanna’s vachanas.

Some have a notion that building temples or arranging grand celebrations is being very religious.

But Basavanna says:
People who have money build temples
What can /, a poor man, do?
My legs are pillars
My body itself is the temple
My head is the golden tower
Please listen 0, Kudalasangama
The static has an end
But the dynamic has none.

The rich can build temples. What can 1, a poor man, do? But I build a different kind of temple. My body itself is the shrine, with legs as pillars and head as the golden tower. The temple that is built is stationary. My body moves. It is with me wherever I go. That is why it does not perish. What is made of matter perishes. The soul, the spiritual, is everlasting. That this body itself should be made a holy shrine is a message of immense value. We should be able to see God in this temple of our body. Basavanna never attached importance to outward form of worship, rituals and religious observances.

About the worship and charities offered just for the sake of pleasing world Basavanna says:

Some were doomed for deeds done unwillingly

Some were doomed for charities given without sincerity.

If God’s grace is to be obtained, we should be true and sincere in action and in giving. Referring to half-hearted devotees he says:

Going into a temple, one pretends to be offering salutation;

But thinks only of his sandals and not of God.

How true! We leave our sandles outside the temple. So even while praying inside the temple we are worded about the safety of our sandles. This is a common experience. Basavanna’s vachanas are rich in experience. Generally everyone wishes to be praised. But Basavanna regarded ‘praise’ as ‘the golden stake’. The stake is a sharp weapon. Even if it is made of gold it can still pierce and wound the body.Basavanna did not want to be praised. He prayed to God, “Lord, if you are good to me please come in the way of anyone praising me.” This is his real greatness.

Basavanna made it easy and simple even for common people to understand Dharma. Listen to his saying:

Heaven and man’s world are not else where, my dears
Speaking truth is heaven, Uttering lies is man’s world!
Righteous conduct is heaven unrighteous conduct is hell …
Say ‘sire’, sweet and soft; heaven is there.
Say ‘you feller’, vulgar and rough; and that is hell.
Basavanna did not have any worldly desire.

Never do / keep by in store One streak of gold or one Yarn of saree Desiring for today or for Tomorrow.

I swear this oath by you and your ancient devotees.

Basavanna here declares in the name of God and all His devotees of all times that he would never hoard gold or provisions in greed, expecting that he would need them some day.

He never begged or cringed before others for anything:
For fear of danger to my body shall not ask,
‘Please protect me’
For fear of losing my livelihood
I shall not ask, ‘Please give me”
‘As is the feeling so it happens.’
Come what may – pain or gain,
I shall never deviate from you,
Nor shall / beg men for anything
This / swear by your name
Lord Kudalasangama.

I shall not beg of anyone to protect my body; nor shall I entreat anyone to give me this or that for my livelihood. What is destined will happen. Whatever comes to my lot, pain or wealth, I accept it without liking or disliking it. 0 God, I shall not seek a favor even of you. Never will] beg men for any thing.

Basavanna was not afraid of anything;
Let what is to come tomorrow come today,-
Let what is to come today
come this very moment.
Who is afraid of it?
Who hesitates?
Since he had completely surrendered to God and relied entirely on His grace he could be so fearless.

You are my father, you are my mother
You are my brother, and all my kith and kin are you
I have none except you Lord Kudalasangama.

‘Dip me in milk or dip me in water -only Thy Will be done.’ Such was his firm stand. He saw God everywhere. He had realized by experience that the same God who was present in all cosmos was within him. Filled with such divine bliss, his heart sang:

My words are filled with you Nectar-like name
My eyes are filled with your image
My mind and heart are filled with thoughts of you
My ears are filled with the praise of your glory
0 Lord Kudalasangama
Your lotus feet are filled with me. There is a deep sense of fulfillment in this vachana. Speech finds its fulfillment in chanting His name. The eyes find theirs irT seeing His lovely form. The mind or heart has its fulfillment in thoughts are feelings relating to Him only. The ears delight in listening to the praise of His glory. The self, like the bumblebee sucking honey from a lotus forgets itself in the ecstasy of being one with the Divine.

In the last line of this vachana there is a fine pun on the Kannada word ‘Tumbi’. In consonance with the eadier lines it means ‘filled’. Aptly associated with the lotus it means a ‘bumble-bee’.

Basavanna lived as a man of God. He showed others also the way to become godly men. Even after eight hundred years the light that was lit by him continues to shine brightly. And Basavanna himself is such an effulgent light of life.