Amidst the hate speeches and communal strife that weâ€™re witnessing lately, two Lingayat mutts in Karnataka quietly set an example of religious tolerance, by appointing a Muslim and a Kuruba (Backward Class) as their head last week. A bonus to this development: of the two mutts, one is headed by a woman seer from the Backward Class; though nearly 20 Lingayat mutts in the state are led by women, they are from the same community.
While Diwan Sharief Rahimsab Mulla, a 33-year-old former autorickshaw driver and flour mill owner influenced by the 12th century social reformer Basavanna, took the Linga Deeksha (initiation) to head the Murugarajendra Koraneshwara Shanthidhama mutt in Asuti village of Gadag district, 47-year-old Neelamma Taayi, a teacher now known as Vijaya Mahantamma Taayi, became the Uttaradhikari (successor) of Basava Kendra Mahanta mutt in Mareguddi-Budhni PM village of Jamkhandi taluk, Bagalkot district.
Commenting on Lingayat mutts in north Karnataka throwing open the successor posts to Basavannaâ€™s disciples from other faiths, SM Jamdar, former bureaucrat and authority on Lingayat religion, told TNM this was because Kalyan (north) Karnataka and Maharashtra are the strongholds of traditional Lingayatism, unlike down south in the state, where the Lingayat community is not in the mainstream.
â€śNearly 40% to 50% of the population in Vijayapura, Dharwad, Gadag, Raichur and other districts comprises Lingayats and they have a strong influence on the non-Lingayats. Besides, the similarities in the practices of Lingayat and Islam faiths, such as belief in one God, no idol worship, burying the dead, giving Zakat (charity) and Dasoha, is the reason for the two communities to merge beautifully,â€ť he added.
According to SM Jamdar, Rahimsab Mulla is the fourth Muslim in 300 years to head a Lingayat mutt, with the first being a person named Fakir in Shirahatti taluk of Gadag district. He adopted a mutt which came to be known as the Fakireshwara Lingayat mutt. The second instance was a century ago when the personal physician of the Nizam of Hyderabad founded the Chennabasaveshwara Siddiqui Anjuman trust. The third was 25 years ago, when a professor became a Lingayat and headed the Marulashankaradeva mutt in Kalaburagi district.
Swami Murugharajendra Koraneshwara Shivayogi of Khajuri mutt in Kalaburagi district, who gave the Deeksha to Rahimsab Mulla, said the latterâ€™s parents were disciples of Basavanna and had donated land to the mutt. â€śRahimsab Mulla is the first person with a family to head the mutt as Basavanna himself was a family man who laid stress on work being worship. The Gadag mutt will be a branch of the Koraneshwara Sansthana mutt in Khajuri as we believe in one lamp lighting another,â€ť SM Jamdar added.
Neelamma Taayi, who hails from Dharwad district, was a teacher in the muttâ€™s primary school for a decade. According to Basavaraj Giraganvi, general secretary of the muttâ€™s educational trust, the woman seer can continue her responsibilities as long as she wants. The mutt, started in 1987 as a branch of the Ilkal mutt, is a virakta (renouncement) one, which permits seers to live within society by renouncing all emotional attachments.
Former director, Centre of Vachana Studies in Bidar, Ramjan Dargah, said these developments are the answer to the communal hate which is being spread across the country. According to him, north Karnataka is generally free from Islamic fundamentalism, which makes it possible for the religion to merge seamlessly with Lingayatism as both have common tenets. â€śItâ€™s common in north Karnataka for a Dargah committee to have non-Muslims as members and during Ganesh Utsavs, the procession is dominated by Muslims,â€ť he maintained.
Naheed Ataulla is a journalist who has covered Karnataka politics for over two decades, and is a former Political Editor of The Times of India. Views expressed are the author's own.