India’s unique culture, tradition and values distinguish itself from the rest of the world. People belonging to different communities, within the same religion, exhibit different social habits, beliefs, dress styles and marriages that align with their sub-sects. These different communities are spread different states and territories of the country. For example: Hindu religion has many castes, which are again sub divided into different sub castes. Each one of them is distinctive from the other, on the basis of history, faith, social practices, costumes, marriage ceremonies and food habits. In Karnataka, there is one such community, called Lingayats, who follow their own ideologies, in spite of the community falling under Hindu religion.
Several rebellions against the caste system followed among orthodox Hindus and other anomalies of the caste system, expounded a new philosophy called ‘Lingayatism’. This was compelled by the thought amongst this rebel group to create a caste free society in India. Basavanna, a social reformer and philosopher was one of the chief architects of this rebellion and formed the Lingayat community in the 12th century. Lingayats, are a strong community found largely in Karnataka, however, people following Basavanna’s philosophy are also found in many parts of Southern India.
Unlike majority of Hindus who follow polytheism, Lingayats are worshippers of only one God, i.e Lord Shiva. They have carried this tradition for years and are still practiced in the modern era. They wear Shiva Lingam around their neck.
Lingayats are against social discrimination and according to them everyone are created equals. They are bound by a strong we-feeling. Like in panchayat systems, social disputes are resolved by the monastery head whose decision is generally accepted.
Lingayats are known for their simple clothing. Virakta (unwed Jangamas) wear a loincloth hung from a waistband and ochre-coloured shoulder and head cloths. Laymen and married priests generally wear a somewhat scrimp waist-cloth, and a headscarf. They do not color their cloths with ochre. Husbandmen generally wear a loincloth or short trousers, a blanket, a headscarf.
Lingayat women tie the hair in a knot at the back of the head. They rarely deck their hair with flowers or ornaments. They wear the ordinary coli (bodice) with a back and short sleeves and the ends tied in front on the bosom, and ordinary sari. Lingayata women are also careful to draw the upper end of the robe over the head. Like the men, women mark the brow with white cowdung ashes. Except that the women wear no head ornaments, the ornaments worn both by men and women are more or less the same as those worn by other Hindu communities.
Earlier there used to be child marriage in Lingayat community, where the girl’s parents got her married; before she came of age. But now, adult marriages are prevalent in this society. As per the Hindu Marriage norms, taking dowry by either a bride or a groom is prohibited. In the past, there used to be no dowry accepted by them but in the recent years it is being paid either to the girl or to the boy. As a result, Lingayat marriages have become an expensive affair.
Their marriage ceremonies are orthodox and last for 4 days. The Jangamas (astrologers) fixes the marriage day and marriage booths are raised in front of the boy’s and girl’s houses. Like many other Hindu marriages, Lingayats also follow a similar customs for their marriages as well. On the first day comes the videghalne (betel-serving) in token of the fact that the marriage settlement is made and is binding. On the second day, they worship lord Ganapati, (to ensure the marriage is completed without any vignas – (obstacles), the turmeric-rubbing and the gugul (bedellium gum) ceremonies are done to appease Lord Virbhadra. On the third day, the devaka (marriage guardian ceremony) is celebrated. All Lingayat families have the same devaka. On the fourth night, the Lingayat bridegroom and his wife to go to a matha on a horseback and later the ceremony ends at the bridegroom’s place where the bride is welcomed to her new home (Gruhapravesh).
Lingayats are vegetarians and their basic diet is rice, pulse curry, vegetable and milk products. On holidays and at small parties they have rich dishes. Their caste feasts are plain. The two chief dishes are huggi that is wheat and milk boiled together and seasoned with raw sugar and holagis (rolly-polies), that is wheat cakes stuffed with gram flour and raw sugar.
Lingayats have a profound history in India of being a community that did not accept caste system and believed in one faith. Their people have maintained this tradition since pre-colonial era, while coping with modern changes in India. They are one of the dominant castes in Karnataka and also play an important role in the state’s politics.