Decoding Modi-Yeddi cryptic visit to Jangamwadi Math in Benares

Did Modi choose Jangamwadi Math as a counter to the intellectual legacy of MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh?

Photo courtesy-social media
Photo courtesy-social media
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Abhishek Srivastava

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited his parliamentary constituency Varanasi last Saturday with an unusual accompany — BS Yeddyurappa —whose presence at Jangamwadi Math was largely ignored by the media.

Is this a ploy by Bharatiya Janta Party to woo Lingayat community in Karnataka? Or is it trying to push Lingayats to margins by wooing its orthodox edition Veer Shaivism?

A classical case of co-opting mutually exclusive Hindu sects for the benefit of political Hindutva emerges here that needs to be looked into in detail.

During last six years, "Modi in Benares" has become a ritual for the local people. Banners, posters and hoardings that came up in the city last week mentioned around 40 projects worth thousands of crores that Modi was due to unveil on February 15. People seemed least interested in all these announcements but a single event in his itinerary took them by surprise —the PM's visit to Jangamwadi Math in the heart of the city on the closing of month-long celebrations for VeerShaiva Mahakumbh, the 100th anniversary of Gurukul that operates inside the Math.

Jangamwadi Math is one of the oldest maths in Benares that follows Veerashaivism sect, a sub-tradition within Shaivism based on the teachings of five Acharyas (Panchacharyas). According to tradition, the Panchacharyas arose out of five great Sthavaralingas located in Kolanupaka in Telangana, Ujjain in Madhyapradesh, Kedar in Uttarakhand, Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh and Kashi or Banaras in Uttar Pradesh under different names in different ages. Its philosophy of Veerashaivism is explained in Siddhanta Shikhamani, a holy book. Modi was here to release 19 different editions of Siddhanta Shikhamani and a digital edition too.

Popular wisdom here suggests a parallel between Veershaivism and Lingayat sect, as reflected in the local edition of a couple of Hindi newspapers like Amar Ujala and Patrika next day. Since Yeddyurappa hails from Lingayat community, speculations are ripe that Modi has killed two birds with one stone: first, he has obliged one of the oldest religious sects and its Math with alms and patronage and second, but more important, he has tried to woo Lingayat community in Karnataka by giving a political message indirectly from Benares.

Here lies the conundrum of Hindu Vs Hindutva.

A debate had started in Karnataka around three years back on who is Hindu — Veershaivas or Lingayats? Are Lingayats the same as Veerashaivas? Are Veerashaivas a part of Hinduism? But aren’t Lingayats claiming they are not Hindus?

Gauri Lankesh, who was believed to be murdered for writing on this same issue, had written an excellent piece on August 8, 2017 underlining ideological differences between both sects.

To quote from her writing:

"The essential difference between the Lingayata dharma and the Veerashaiva is that the latter accepts the Vedic texts and practices like caste and gender discrimination, while Basavanna (Lingayats are followers of Basavanna) not only protested these, he offered an alternative that is an anti-thesis of sanatana dharma. This debate assumes a larger significance these days, when Hinduism is being equated exclusively with sanatana dharma, in contradiction to the origin of the word ‘Hindu’, which included Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs. Shaivites, like Vaishnavites, are a part of the Hindu system of faith. And therein lies the difference".

Lingayats have been asking to be considered as a religion separate from Hinduism for over eight decades but even they were confused about this Veerashaiva vs Lingayat issue. Their demands were rejected on the grounds that since Shaivism was a part of Hinduism, Lingayats cannot be considered as a separate religion.

Gauri writes, "During all this, the confusion over who were Lingayats and who were Veerashaivas, and if they had any connection with Hinduism, continued. This confusion was mainly because, for nearly eight centuries, many of the 12th-century vachanas were either lost or were dispersed across Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Telangana".

Not only this, historically the panchacharyas tried to co-opt Basavanna and reject his radical teachings and revolutionary socio-political reforms. They rejected Basavanna as the founder of Veerashaivism and claimed that the founders of their Dharma predated him.

In a nutshell, it is of prime importance to understand that Veerashaiva faith is identical to the Brahmanical belief that they are born from the ears of Brahma but Basavanna of Llingayat had rejected all such Brahmanical notions.

In this historical context, the strongest Lingayat leader from BJP visiting a Veerashaivism Math with Narendra Modi assumes significance. This may be interpreted in two ways:

Either, BJP is up to exploit the persisting confusion between both sects to attract Lingayats of Karnataka (who are themselves confused on Lingayat vs Veerashaiva debate) and make them its vote bank without fulfilling their demand of a separate religion (non-Hindu) or a minority (At a meeting held in Bengaluru on August 10, 2017, which the heads of the pancha peethas avoided, Lingayats demanded minority status for their community.

One of the resolutions they passed insisted that those who did not believe in Basavanna’s ideology should not use his name henceforth. This has left Veerashaivas wondering where they stand in this conundrum. May be this is the reason why Jangamwadi Math invited Yeddyurappa on 100 year celebration of Gurukul so as to bridge the differences with Lingayats).

The second possibility is that, BJP is giving weight and support to the Brahmanical tradition of Veerashaivism (thereby rejecting Basavanna and his radical Lingayat faith that opposes Brahmanism) so as to completely alienate Lingayats in electoral politics.

So, what this Jangamwadi visit was all about?

If we look at the recent killings in South India, that of journalist Gauri Lankesh and rationalist MM Kalburgi, we can make a sense of the ongoing Hindutva manouverings. It is only over the last two decades that research on evidences of Lingayat sect like vachanas and other materials by scholars such as M.M. Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh and others has helped people realise not only the difference between Lingayats and Veerashaivas, but also how different Lingayatism is from Hinduism. The twin murders of Kalburgi and Lankesh speaks a lot about the RSS-BJP Hindutva project, that is hellbent not to accept Lingayats as either non-Hindus or minority.

Hence the policy of carrot and gun. Silence those who are engaged intellectually and academically in bifurcating Hindu dharma from political Hindutva. Co-opt and patronise those who are claimants of Hinduism. The final agenda is to blur the difference between Hindu and Hindutva as much as they can.

Through their visit to Jangamwadi Math in Benares, Modi and Yeddi have tried to undo what scholars like Kalburgii and Lankesh had done intellectually over decades. Now it is up to the Lingayat community to view this step as crucial towards their political alienation/marginalisation or to accept it as a patronage emanating from historical confusions.

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