Basava was a 12th-century Indian philosopher, statesman, Kannada poet in the Shiva-focussed Bhakti movement and a social reformer during the reign of the Kalachuri-dynasty king Bijjala I in Karnataka, India. The Basavarajadevara ragale (13 out of 25 sections are available) by the Kannada poet Harihara (c.1180) is the earliest available account on the life of the social reformer and is considered important because the author was a near contemporary of his protagonist. A full account of Basava’s life and ideas are narrated in a 13th-century sacred Telugu text of the south Indian Hindu Lingayat community, the Basava purana by Palkuriki Somanatha.
Basava spread social awareness through his poetry, popularly known as Vachanaas. Basava rejected gender or social discrimination, superstitions and rituals such as the wearing of sacred thread, but introduced Ishtalinga necklace, with an image of the Shiva Liṅga, to every person regardless of his or her birth, to be a constant reminder of one’s bhakti (devotion) to Shiva. As the chief minister of his kingdom, he introduced new public institutions such as the Anubhava Mantapa (or, the “hall of spiritual experience”), which welcomed men and women from all socio-economic backgrounds to discuss spiritual and mundane questions of life, in open.
The traditional legends and hagiographic texts state Basava to be the founder of the Lingayats. However, modern scholarship relying on historical evidence such as the Kalachuri inscriptions state that Basava was the poet philosopher who revived, refined and energized an already existing tradition.
Basava literary works include the Vachana Sahitya in Kannada Language. He is also known as Bhaktibhandari (literally, the treasurer of devotion), Basavanna (elder brother Basava) or Basaveswara (Lord Basava).