Home | Talks | The Paths of the Hand, Heart and Void Kannada Vachanas in the Context of Indian Bhakti and Siddha Traditions A Masterclass Series by HS Shivaprakash

The Paths of the Hand, Heart and Void Kannada Vachanas in the Context of Indian Bhakti and Siddha Traditions A Masterclass Series by HS Shivaprakash


Jul 20 2022 to Aug 07 2022 6:30 p.m.



Bangalore International Centre

7 4th Main Rd, Stage 2, Domlur 560071

Event Description

The four presentations on the vachana efflorescence of Karnataka will be an attempt to interrogate the subject from a new angle. The composition of a rich and huge body of vachanas is one of the most impressive expression of Indian spiritual heritage. Both the quantity and quality of this corpus is unparalleled elsewhere. This enormous output consists of impassioned socio-spiritual prose poems composed by approximately four hundred seeker poets hailing from all sections of society—-the whole gamut, from Brahmin to the untouchable, a considerable number of these poets are women representing various castes and professions. Such a phenomenon was not replicated anywhere else in the annals of pre-modern Indian literatures.

Vachana expression has till now been identified with a sect of Shaivism called Virashaivism/Lingayatism. Its historical framework is considered to be 12th century, in Kalyana, the imperial capital of the Chalukyas and later, of Kalachuryas. The main progenitor of Lingayatism, say scholars, was Basavanna, Finance Minister of emperor Bijjala. The literature also further assumes that Basavanna set-up in Kalyana Anubhava Mantapa, an assembly of saint-poets. The Vachana poets are supposed to have gathered in this assembly to debate matters spiritual, compose, read, and discuss each others’ compositions.

The Lingayat literary harvest is said to be contemporaneous with the active period of Basavanna’s tenure with the emperor. This brief but intense poetic efflorescence was cut short by political upheavals caused by the violation of traditional caste rules. The questioning of the caste order and gender subjugation irritated the hegemony so much that it led to the unleashing of violence against the followers of the new sect. A series of twists and turns resulted in Bijjala’s assassination by some militant followers of the sect which called for a violent response by the hegemony. In consequence, the revolution failed. This is the widely accepted version of this period. The available scholarship, for the most part, locates Vachanas on the map of India’s Bhakti movements.

The proposed presentations will critique the above accounts of Vachana expression. First of all, Shivaprakash’s approach problematizes the relationship between Vachanas and Lingayatism. It also seeks to demonstrate that Bhakti traditions cannot be seen independently of Natha/Siddha traditions. Though Basavanna’s role in the formation of Vachana focus cannot be denied, it is in fitness of things, in the light of the range and number of castes actively involved, to see the Vachana efflorescence as a collective expression of all the castes and communities of Karnataka. Whereas the available literature has emphasized the devotional and mystical elements, this approach will emphasize the contribution of Vachana poets from the artisan class who evolved their own spiritual philosophy of Kayakayoga (the Yoga of labour), which is unique in our spiritual traditions. The framework of pan-Indian Bhakti will also be interrogated in the presentations. It will be argued that Bhakti traditions cannot be seen independently of Natha-Siddha and Saman traditions which have different spiritual orientations.

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