One of the most fascinating episodes in the religious history of Southern India is the rise of the Viraaiva movement. These 'heroic followers of Siva'-also called Lingayatas-are characterized by a unique combination of intense devotion and social reformation. The movement arose in the twelfth century under the charismatic leadership of Basava. Men and women from every background, high caste as well as untouchable, joined the experimental community of the Vira6aivas. They had their own sacred literature in the form of short poems in the vernacular language of the region: Kannada. This literature reveals the far-reaching social ideals of these devotees. Contrary to the classical Hindu tradition, they rejected almost completely the caste system. They propagated the spiritual value of every kind of labour, connected with a strong emphasis upon social service.
This study depicts the social views of the twelfth century reformers on the basis of their own texts. But also later developments are taken into consideration. Fifteenth century scriptures and ethnographical data from the colonial period give an impression of the reinterpretation of the old ideals and the consolidation of the community within the Hindu culture. The modern period is described with the help of anthropological research and the views of present-day ViraSaiva leaders. Four themes are thus discussed: caste; work and property; position of women; and education.
Dr. J.P. Schouten (1949) studied theology and sociology at the Free University in Amsterdam. He specialized in phenomenology of religion, with special attention to Indian religions. He published a number of articles on Hinduism, in particular about Hindus in the Netherlands, and about Hindu-Christian dialogue. He made several study tours to Southern India in connection with his research on virasaivism
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