- The Virashaivas are a BHAKTI, or devotional, move-ment in the southern Indian state of Karnataka that was founded in the 12th century by their leader, BASAVANNA. The Virashaivas were socially radical, condemning all forms of caste, establish-ing equality of the sexes, and rejecting ritual of all kinds as empty posturing. Most important for them were the GURU, the saints as a group, a personal relationship with Lord SHIVA, and high regard for the wandering seeker who embraces poverty and defies convention. One Virashaivite saint, for example, AKKA MAHADEVI, was a woman who wandered about naked.Virashaiva orthodoxy has eight elements: (1) the GURU who leads the self to Shiva; (2) the LIN-GAM, the sole symbol of Shiva, worn on a necklace by anyone; among the Virashaivas there is no indication that the lingam is considered a phallic symbol; (3) the jangama, the male or female wan-dering religious teacher who is considered God incarnate; the guru, lingam, and jangama all have sanctifying power; (4) the holy water that has touched the feet of the guru and been drunk as a sign of devotion; (5) PRASADA (grace), food blessed by the guru; devotees take this food from the feet of the guru together; commensality and commu-nity sharing occur regardless of CASTE, in defiance of ordinary social behavior in Indian tradition; (6) holy ash, which is worn as a sign of Shiva; (7) rudraksa beads, a necklace made of seeds from a special plant and worn as a sign of Shiva; they are sacred to all who worship Shiva; and (8) the five-syllable MANTRA, Om Nama Shivaya; this is an important mantra for all Shaivites.The Virashaivas recognize a number of impor-tant saints born from the 10th to the 12th cen-turies. The poem-songs of these saints are sung and recited as part of devotion. These saints are Basavanna, Akka Mahadevi, Allama Prabhu, and Devara Dasimayya.Further reading: Vinaya Chaitanya, Songs for Siva: Vacanas of Akka Mahadevi (Lanham, Md.: Alta Mira Virashaivas Press, 2005); K. Ishwaran, Speaking of Basava: Lingayat Religion and Culture in South Asia (Boulder, Colo.: West-view, 1992); A. K. Ramanujan, trans., Speaking of Siva (New York: Penguin Books, 1973).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.