Pre-modern communities and modern histories: Narrating Virasaiva and Lingayat selves

Chandra Shobhi, Prithvi Datta

     In my dissertation, I seek to address specifically this question of the relationship of the vacanas , (Kannada language poetic sayings of the twelfth-century devotees of God Siva, who offer a critique of South Asian civilizational practices from within) to the Virasaiva-Lingayat community. I do this through an ethno-history of the Virasaiva and Lingayat narratives of the self. Towards this end, I analyze three moments in history--the twelfth-century vacana movement itself and its two moments of appropriation, one in the fifteenth-century city of Vijayanagar and the other in twentieth-century south India, to create Virasaiva and Lingayat community identities. I argue that the vacanas provide frameworks for the Virasaiva and Lingayat narratives of the self, enabling the community to accommodate many other social groups and religious traditions and thus enlarge its social base. However, it is not clear whether the 12 th century vacana movement constitutes, as claimed by Lingayats, the historical originary moment of the Virasaiva--Lingayat community. Hence, I examine the absolute proprietary claims of the modern Lingayat community over vacanas , for vacanas have always been available to and been used by the entire society, especially the lower classes until the present. Now, Lingayats contest any alternative reading of the vacanas , claim that their community is in fact the actualization of the vacana ideals and offer their narrative of the self as a historical narrative. Hence while historicizing the Lingayat accounts, I recognize that history is a source of anxiety for Lingayats; I also seek demonstrate the multiple sources of the Virasaiva-Lingayat self and reflect on the processes through which selves and communities are constituted in pre-modern and modern South Asia. In particular, my dissertation reflects on the status and role of history in fashioning collective selves in modern South Asia and on the necessity as well as possibility of producing alternative narratives in the context of a Lingayat insistence on the validity of their accounts. Hence, along with epistemological concerns, my study of the vacana movement and the Lingayat community keeps at the core those ethical and political considerations, which may enable us to achieve a degree of accommodation and plurality.

Pollock, Sheldon