Organized Panel Session
The history of the Vīraśaiva or Liṅgāyat community has become a significant point of contestation in recent years, with implications both in the political arena and for religious and caste identity. As of March 2018, local monastic leaders Karnataka have succeeded in gaining official recognition for Liṅgāyatism as a minority religion legally and doctrinally distinct from Hinduism in the state of Karnataka. And yet, although these events have been unfolding in the twenty-first century, the legacy of the twelfth-century past is equally at stake in contemporary debates. According to the predominant narrative, the Liṅgāyat religion was founded by the reformer Basava, royal minister of twelfth-century Kalyāṇa, as a central pillar of the transregional vernacular bhakti movement. Understood as articulated primarily through the Kannada-language vacanas or “sayings” of Śaiva poet-saints (śaraṇas), Liṅgāyatism/Vīraśaivism has been represented as a homogeneous movement against caste discrimination, Sanskrit, ritualism, and Brahminical orthodoxy.
Presenting a timely response to the current controversy, this panel draws together new textual research on Liṅgāyatism/Vīraśaivism by emphasizing the historical diversity of language, geography, and lineage in the community’s self-conceptions. Contrary to popular representation both inside and outside of the academy, Vīraśaivism or Liṅgāyatism flourished well beyond the contemporary borders of Karnataka with rich textual histories in Sanskrit, Telugu, Tamil, and Marathi as well as Kannada. By complicating the perceived centrality of the vacanas themselves and the Kannada language to Vīraśaivism’s unitary ethos, these papers broaden our conversations to incorporate the polyvocality and multilingualism of premodern Vīraśaiva/Liṅgāyat traditions.