What is the mission of VSNA Chapter of Washington D.C., and Virginia (VSNA-DCVA)?
The mission of VSNA-DCVA is to preserve and foster Veershaivsim (Lingayatism) in the North America, and to impart the Lingayata spiritual heritage, its universalistic, democratic values to the posterity through the teachings of Basavanna and his contemporaries.

Who are Veerashaivas or Lingayatas?
Lingayatas in the USA and Canada are immigrants from India, a majority hailing from Karnataka and Maharashtra states.  They are called Lingayatas because they wear Istalinga (a symbolic representation of the Shiva or God) on their bodies.  They are also known as Veerashaivas – meaning courageous worshippers of Shiva.

How many Lingayatas are in USA, Canada and India?
At present, over 1000 Lingayata families live in North America.  Of them over 100 families live in Canada. In USA they are concentrated in California, New York, Illinois, Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.  There are more than 2 million Lingayatas constituting about 20% of the population in Karnnakta.  There are concentrated in Bijapur, Dharwar, Belgaum, Chitradurga, Shimoga, Gulburga, Bengaluru and Mysore.

What are the activities VSNA-DCVA chapter?
The chapter members are involved in many activities at regular intervals throughout the year.  Members’ main focus is to educate the young Veerashaivas of their religious heritage by doing Istalinga pooja, reading and reciting Vachanas.  They also educate the young and themselves by reading and discussing Vachanas and discussing life and work of the 12th century devotees (sharanas). They also celebrate Hindu Festival and discuss their meaning and significance, and try to understand the similarities and differences of Veershaivsim and other religions. By doing these activities they develop a sense of community.

Who is the founder of Lingayatism or Veershaivism?
Basavanna (1105-1167AD) is credited as the founder/reformer of Veerashaivas.  Many contemporaries of Basavanna and post-Basavanna literature have candidly declared that Basavanna is the first leader of Veershaivism.  Secondly, according to beliefs and traditions of many Veerashaivas, Veershaivism was founded by 5 acharyas (gurus) who sprang out the five faces of Shiva and founded five lineages of Veershaivism.  There are believed to have founded five matthas.  Their lineages, matthas and followers’ allegiance continues in the present day. 

What were the religious and social conditions in India before Basavanna?
During the pre-Basavanna period idol worship of many deities, feuding sect, beliefs in superstition, evil spirits and sacrificing animals for deities were abundant.  The Indian society had evolved into a social and religious hierarchical order with four classes and thousands of sub-classes (castes).  The upper classes exploited the lower classes which did not have rights for property, education, worships in the temples. Women did not have freedom or any other rights.

How did Basavanna change these conditions?
Basavanna brought new light to the underprivileged section of the society and women.  He built a society of Shiva devotees with the help of may spiritual contemporaries.  In the society there was no discrimination based on caste, color, birth, wealth, sex, age, occupation or status. Honest work, equality, compassion, individual freedom, spiritual, growth, and brotherhood were the foundations of this society.  Women’s emancipation was a major part as well. This was the social-religious movement of the 12th century and it was so dynamic that it revolutionized religious, social, economic, language and political arenas of the time. Modern scholars have commented that Basavanna reformed Hinduism.

Is Veershaivism organized around an institution like the Church?
Mattha headed by swamiji (usually called jagadguru meaning preceptor of the world) is the institution or the religious and cultural center of the Veerashaivas.  Matthas preserve, interpret and propagate Veershaivism.  People go matthas to get guidance form swamiji and congregate in mattha to listen to devotional stories.  There are many matthas throughout Karnataka.  Each mattha has tradition or history that is connected directly to Basavanna or his contemporaries, or the five acharyas.  However, there is no one central mattha or swami like the Pope in the Vatican.  Matthas operate schools, colleges and free boarding schools for the needy Veerashaivas and non-Veerashaivas student throughout Karnataka and have up lifted the society. Apart from their major interest in the education sector, matthas have done a tremendous work in compiling Vachanas literature, publication and translation to other languages.

Does Veershaivism have a scripture like the Bible in Christianity?
Vachanas, the pithy sayings in Kannada composed by Basavanna and his contemporaries serve as scriptures and a major source of guidance.  Vachanas contain observations feelings, analysis, findings and philosophy of the 12th century devotees.  There are the treasures of Lingayatas.

What is Anubhava Mantapa?
The spiritual assembly of the 12th century Shiva society built by Basavanna is known as Anubhava Mantapa.  In this assembly men, women, children regardless of their caste occupation, status or creed discussed and expressed their opinions and spiritual findings freely with fellow devotees.  We can say it was the first parliament of the world.

 What are the basic beliefs of the Veerashaivas?
The basic beliefs refer to the relation between individual, the world and some higher power – God.  Lingayatas believe in a supreme principle called Shiva which is the cause of everything – the ultimate reality. They also believe that Shiva created the world and innumerable souls which are many forms of Shiva.

What are the six steps of in the spiritual path?
The 12th century devotees laid down this path and practiced it.  In the beginning of a seeker’s spiritual pursuit, there is distinction between individual soul (anga) and the universal soul (Linga, that from which every thing originates and in which everything is absorbed, i.e., God).  Bhakta is the phase of devotion: Mahesha is the phase of strong will; in Prasadi phase seeker becomes aware of God’s grace; in Pranalingi phase seeker realizes the presence of ultimate soul in the breath; Sharana is the stage of total surrender; and finally Aikya is the phase of sublime union of Linga (Shiva) and anga (soul).  That is merging of individual soul in the final state of perpetual Shiva consciousness.

What are the eight aids of worship?
Veerashaivism uses eight aids to help followers to enter the inner spiritual world and to progress in the spiritual path.  Guru is the spiritual teacher and removes the darkness of ignorance.  Istalinga is not an idol, but an ideal, the absolute, given to a disciple by a guru.  Jangam is the spiritual teacher who moves around to spread the work of God and guides followers.  Padodaka is the blessed water or grace received from guru, Istalinga and jangama. Prasada food consecrated by guru is the devotees’ reverence that all food and material are the offerings of God. Vibhuti is scared ash applied on forehead, indicating adherence to the spiritual way of life. Rudraskhai are seeds worn to adorn one with spiritual thoughts.  ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ is the mantra meaning ‘Salutation to Shiva’.

What are the five rules of conduct?
Sharanas follow five rules to practice in everyday life.  Lingachara is consistent monotheism that is belief in one God that represented only as Istalinga.  Sadachara is honest work and simple living.  There is also emphasis on sharing the honestly earned wealth with society. Then work itself becomes worship and service becomes salvation.  Ganachara is the courage to fight all injustice, immorality; and destroying the ills of the society and of the mind.  Shivachara is the practice of social equality – a non-discrimination policy.  Brityachar is the practice of on humility  — not just as a show, its foundation is the purity of thought.  

Is Veerashaivism a caste, a sect, or a religion?
The membership in a particular caste is inherited by birth.  So, a person cannot choose another caste.  Veerashaivism is not a caste, because membership in Veerashaivism is not automatic at birth.  Every child has to be initiated into Lingayatism by Istalinga which is given by a guru.  Veerashaivism is considered as a sect of Hinduism by many Hindus, while Veerashaivas call it an independent religion. The Indian government has not recognized Veerashaivism as a separate religion, despite a strong movement in Karnataka.  Veerashaivism exhibits many dimensions, such as ritual, ethical, social, experiential, and doctrinal dimensions which are exhibited by all major religions of the world.  It has a body of literature which is record of teachings of its central figures.  It is organized around an institution called mattha just like the major religions.  So, it has all characters and dimensions to be called an independent religion.

What is the distinction between Hindus and Lingayatas?
Veerashaivas have maintained a distinct culture from the rest of the Hindus through the  practice of the following principles:  (1) reject of castes, and hierarchical social and religious order of the Hinduism: (2) Worship and wearing of Istalinga; (3)  non-subscriptions to Vedic rights; (4) rejection of five ritual pollutions; (5) integration of five ethical codes, eight aids, and six-fold spiritual path in everyday life; (6) dignity of  dignity of labor of all sorts; (7) equal rights to all; equal rights to women and approval of widow marriage; women can become gurus; and (8)  acceptance of non-Lingayatas within the Lingayata fold through Instalinga initiation.

When and why do Veerashaivas worship?
Veerashaivas worship every day, often more than once a day by doing Istalinga pooja.  Istalinga is small token of the all-pervading force – God. That God is within us.  So, Basavanna said body is a temple of residence of God.  Istalinga pooja should not be just a ritual.  Practicing honest work equality, fraternity, social justice, sharing, respect for nature, compassion for all living being – in every moment of life is worship. This is how we realize God within us.  Finding this everlasting peace is the spiritual goal of Lingayatas.

Which important life events are celebrated by Veerashaivas?
Istalinga diksha (the initiation into Lingayatism), naming ceremony, marriage, and death are major events that Lingayatas undergo.

What do Veerashaivas believe in terms of afterlife?
Many Vachanas of sharnas indicate that they believe in past lives of different life forms.  They have also candidly said that heaven and hell exist right here and now depending on a person’s conduct.  So, following the Veerashaiva principles and realizing God, that is merging of the individual soul with the ultimate soul there is no more rebirth of soul.

What makes Veerashaivism unique and how it is similar to other religions?
The uniqueness of Lingayatism lies in the fact that it advocates universal and egalitarian values that are beyond the bound of time, place of people.  Specifically,  it advocates fundamental rights to all.  Freedom of expression of thought: strict observance of non-discrimination, equal rights to women in all respects; compassion to all living beings; caring and sharing with fellow human beings; dignity of labor, practice of spiritual path without renouncing the world, absence of priests as mediators to worship God – are important ideals that make Lingayatism unique.  Veershaivsim combines the virtues of many religions – it is puritan in spirit like Catholicism, monotheistic like Islam, respects labor and is community oriented like Sikhism; and it is based on compassion like Buddhism and Jainism.


Leave a Reply