Introduction / History
The Lingayat people are known for wearing a linga, an object representing a god; in this case, Shiva. They are a numerous group in India, especially in the state of Karnataka.
This group formed in the 12th century by Basava, a philosopher and a social reformer. He taught against the caste system and its regulations. He envisioned a casteless society, though the resulting society eventually began drawing up lines of caste distinctions again, creating their own hierarchy of social status after Basava's death.
Basava consented to the marriage of a Brahmin woman and a man from very low caste. This story reached the ears of King Bijjala who punished the couple by putting out their eyes and dragging them to their deaths behind an elephant. Basava saw this punishment as unacceptable and left Kayla. He moved on to Kudula Sangama where he died in 1167.
Where are they located?
They are found primarily in Karnataka, where they comprise a major population. They are also found in significant numbers in Maharashtra and Andrah Pradesh.
What are their lives like?
The Lingyat are vegetarian and refrain from alcoholic drinks. They are known to be a progressive people and there are people from many walks of life and religious expression to be found among them. Most work in government service, but they are from many occupations, including artisans, cultivators and priests.
What are their beliefs?
They have a series of initiatory rites, including Lingadharane, the bestowing of the linga. This rite is usually performed within the first week of a child's life. From this day forward, the person will wear the stone as an act of worship of the god (Shiva), in a box around their neck. The linga is not seen as a mere representation of god, but rather god himself.
They adore Shiva, but Basava taught that his worshipers should worship him alone rather than numerous gods. Lingayats reject polytheism and the Vedas and follow the teachings of the Vachana sahitya instead.
Text source: Joshua Project