Read Articles On Religions And Sects : Lingayat Sect of The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India, Volume I, free online book, by R.V. Russell, on

Lingayat Sect. - A sect devoted to the worship of Siva which has developed into a caste. The Lingayat sect is supposed to have been founded in the twelfth century by one Basava, a Brahman minister of the king of the Carnatic. He preached the equality of all men and of women also by birth, and the equal treatment of all. Women were to be treated with the same respect as men, and any neglect or incivility to a woman would be an insult to the god whose image she wore and with whom she was one. Caste distinctions were the invention of Brahmáns and consequently unworthy of acceptance. The Madras Census Report of 1871 further states that Basava preached the immortality of the soul, and mentions a theory that some of the traditions concerning him might have been borrowed from the legends of the Syrian Christians, who had obtained a settlement in Madras at a period not later than the seventh century. The founder of the sect thus took as his fundamental tenet the abolition of caste, but, as is usual in the history of similar movements, the ultimate result has been that the Lingayats have themselves become a caste. In Bombay they have two main divisions, Mr. Enthoven states: the Panchamsalis or descendants of the original converts from Brahmanism and the non-Panchamsalis or later converts. The latter are further subdivided into a number of groups, apparently endogamous. Converts of each caste becoming Lingayats form a separate group of their own, as Ahir Lingayats, Bania Lingayats and so on, severing their connection with the parent caste. A third division consists of members of unclean castes attached to the Lingayat community by reason of performing to it menial service. A marked tendency has recently been displayed by the community in Bombay to revert to the original Brahmanic configuration of society, from which its founder sought to free it. On the occasion of the census a complete scheme was supplied to the authorities professing to show the division of the Lingayats into the four groups of Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra.

In the Central Provinces Lingayats were not shown as a separate caste, and the only return of members of the sect is from the Bania caste, whose subcastes were abstracted. Lingayat was recorded as a subcaste by 8000 Banias, and these form a separate endogamous group. But members of other castes as Gaolis, Malis, Patwas and the Telugu Balijas are also Lingayats and marry among themselves. A child becomes a Lingayat by being invested with the lingam or phallic sign of Siva, seven days after its birth, by the Jangam priest. This is afterwards carried round the neck in a small casket of silver, brass or wood throughout life, and is buried with the corpse at death. The corpse of a Lingayat cannot be burnt because it must not be separated from the lingam, as this is considered to be the incarnation of Siva and must not be destroyed in the fire. If it is lost the owner must be invested with a fresh one by the Jangam in the presence of the caste. It is worshipped three times a day, being washed in the morning with the ashes of cowdung cakes, while in the afternoon leaves of the bel tree and food are offered to it. When a man is initiated as a Lingayat in after-life, the Jangam invests him with the lingam, pours holy water on to his head and mutters in his ear the sacred text, ’Aham so aham,’ or ‘I and you are now one and the same.’ The Lingayats are strict vegetarians, and will not expose their drinking water to the sun, as they think that by doing this insects would be bred in it and that by subsequently swallowing them they would be guilty of the destruction of life. They are careful to leave no remains of a meal uneaten. Their own priests, the Jangams, officiate at their weddings, and after the conclusion of the ceremony the bride and bridegroom break raw cakes of pulse placed on the other’s back, the bride with her foot and the bridegroom with his fist. Widow-marriage is allowed. The dead are buried in a sitting posture with their faces turned towards the east. Water sanctified by the Jangam having dipped his toe into it is placed in the mouth of the corpse. The Jangam presses down the earth over the grave and then stands on it and refuses to come off until he is paid a sum of money varying with the means of the man, the minimum payment being R-4. In some cases a platform with an image of Mahadeo is made over the grave. When meeting each other the Lingayats give the salutation Sharnat, or, ’I prostrate myself before you.’ They address the Jangam as Maharaj and touch his feet with their head. The Lingayat Banias of the Central Provinces usually belong to Madras and speak Telugu in their houses. As they deny the authority of Brahmáns, the latter have naturally a great antipathy for them, and make various statements to their discredit. One of these is that after a death the Lingayats have a feast, and, setting up the corpse in the centre, arrange themselves round it and eat their food. But this is not authenticated. Similarly the Abbe Dubois stated: “They do not recognise the laws relating to defilement which are generally accepted by other castes, such, for instance, as those occasioned by a woman’s periodical ailments, and by the death and funeral of relations. Their indifference to all such prescriptive customs relating to defilement and cleanliness has given rise to a Hindu proverb which says, ‘There is no river for a Lingayat,’ meaning that the members of the sect do not recognise, at all events on many occasions, the virtues and merits of ablutions.” The same author also states that they entirely reject the doctrine of migration of souls, and that, in consequence of their peculiar views on this point, they have no tithis or anniversary festivals to commemorate the dead. A Lingayat is no sooner buried than he is forgotten. In view of these remarks it must be held to be doubtful whether the Lingayats have the doctrine of the immortality of the soul.