Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Siva's Warriors: The Basava Purana of Palkuriki Somanatha

Siva's Warriors: The Basava Purana of Palkuriki Somanatha

by Velcheru Narayana Rao (Translator), Gene H. Roghair (Translator)

See All Formats & Editions

Here is the first translation into English of the Basava Purana, a fascinating collection of tales that sums up and characterizes one of the most important and most radical religious groups of South India. The ideas of the Virasaivas, or militant Saivas, are represented in those tales by an intriguing mix of outrageous excess and traditional conservatism. Written in


Here is the first translation into English of the Basava Purana, a fascinating collection of tales that sums up and characterizes one of the most important and most radical religious groups of South India. The ideas of the Virasaivas, or militant Saivas, are represented in those tales by an intriguing mix of outrageous excess and traditional conservatism. Written in Telugu in the thirteenth century, the Basava Purana is an anthology of legends of Virasaivas saints and a hagiography of Basavesvara, the twelfth-century Virasaiva leader. This translation makes accessible a completely new perspective on this significant religious group. Although Telugu is one of the major cultural traditions of India, with a classical literature reaching back to the eleventh century, until now there has been no translation or exposition of any of the Telugu Virasaiva works in English. The introduction orients the reader to the text and helps in an understanding of the poet's point of view. The author of the Basava Purana, Palkuriki Somanatha, is revered as a saint by Virasaivas in Andhra and Karnataka. His books are regarded as sacred texts, and he is also considered to be a major poet in Telugu and Kannada.

Product Details

Princeton University Press
Publication date:
Princeton Legacy Library Series
Product dimensions:
6.43(w) x 9.52(h) x 1.04(d)

Read an Excerpt

Siva's Warriors

The Basava Purana of Palkuriki Somanatha

By Velcheru Narayana Rao


Copyright © 1990 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-05591-6


He is the divine guru. He is supremely endowed with worshipful qualities. He is the sun that opens the lotuses of the hearts of great yogis. He is most compassionate. He absorbs the devotees' afflictions. He is the manifestation of the three worlds. He abides in bliss. He cures the disease of rebirth. He is delighted with devotees. He acquires the essences of Siva for his devotees. He is forever blissful. His form is eternal. His prowess has been demonstrated. He absolves the sins of the faithful. He lights up his devotees. He is beyond thought. He is associated with right thoughts. He is popularly known to be embodied. He is boundless. He is birthless. He is without beginning or end. He conforms to the meaning of Vedanta. He is associated with knowledge. He is supreme in bliss and knowledge. He is a slave to the devotees. He is the support of the devotees. He responds to the devotees. He is attentive to the devotees. He is the light of the devotees. He is the riches of the devotees. He is a killer of devotees' grief. He is the experience of devotees. He rescues devotees. He supports devotees. Devotees are his life breath. He is glorious. He pleases me. He is approachable through clear thoughts. He is the embodiment of consciousness. He is gentle. I worship and praise him.

My lord, Cenna Mallikarjuna/ is firmly fixed in my head. I have meditated on the pramathas, who have the same form as Siva and who agitate the three worlds. In Oiva I see the ancient devotees who have become one with the linga. I serve the new devotees who are manifest lingas anointed with the essence of true devotion. Now I will spread the story of Basava throughout the earth. That grand story is as follows:

Srisailam is the throne of the great God. It is the playground of Parvati's husband. It is the private abode of Hara's devotees. It brings pleasure to the hearts of great yogis. It is the destroyer of human karma. It is the refuge of the gods. It is the mother of all sacred places.

At the eastern gate of that great king of mountains, shining in splendor at the apex of Mount Kumara, is Tripurantakam. Residing in Tripurantakam is the one who is lauded as the destroyer of the Tripuras. Karasthali Somanathayya is renowned as the personification of the destroyer of those cities. He flourishes as the glory of the mobile linga with the wealth of eternal Oiva. He has the same faultless handsome form of Black Throat. He is associated with the tradition of heroic vows to that god. He is a gem among the jangamas. He has the approval of the saranas. He acts in union with the linga. He has left bodily desires behind him. He was born through the grace of Panditaradhya. He propagates the path of supreme devotion. He enjoys the ocean of understanding.

Mallinatha swims in the nectar ocean of Basava's compassion. He is the personification of disciplined performance of vows and observance of daily worship. He takes peerless pleasure in the assembly of devotees. Rentala Mallinatha follows the path that has been so well established by the ancient Vedanta, Siddhanta, puranas, Vedas, sastras, and agamas. He worships jangamas and provides them with all the riches of his body and mind. With strict discipline he has vowed not to cross the boundary of his native land. He has made steps on the eastern side of Mount Kumara.

Every day, Docamamba joyfully offered five oleander flowers to Hara. But one day there was one flower too few. Without hesitating, she offered her own lotus eye. Immediately Oiva gave her another incomparable eye. By this act she gained everlasting fame.

The heroic Godagi Tripurari is the beloved disciple of Munnayadevayogi. He is the son of Narayya. He is Nllakantha's elder brother. He is sacred. His body is clean. He is praised throughout the world. He is attentive to the three gifts of the guru, linga, and jangama. And he knows the meaning of sacred texts.

One day, when these and the rest of the host of devotees were enjoying the pleasures of the empire of devotion, and flourishing with ancient glory, I fell prostrate like a stick before the glorious, innumerable mahesvaras. I was anointed by the nectar of their compassionate devotion. And I submitted to the assembly, saying, "I want to narrate the incomparable Basava Purana. Kindly tell me how to handle the thread of that story and make me fulfilled."

When I had submitted myself thus, praising them and desiring their help, the gathering of devotees was pleased. They looked at me affectionately, cast their kindly glances upon me, and said, "We have given you the ability to spread the Basava Purana. Now you must compose it so that it pleases the steadfast devotees."

When they spoke, I accepted the command of the assembled devotees with great reverence. Therefore, I will now begin to compose this poem.

In a brahmin village called Gobburu, the diadem of the Karnata country, dwells a man whose lotus feet are worshiped by the best of people who reside there. Many people gather around him because they realize that he has taken the sambhava diksa. He has a large group of students who have been fulfilled by receiving instruction from him in the sacred syllable. He is a manifestation of bliss, truth, and consciousness. His inner lotus heart is dedicated to the servants of Siva. He is a deserving man. He has cut the vine of birth and death. He has conquered the sensual pleasures. His character is spotless. He is capable of purifying the entire universe. He is the emperor of wise men. He has a good name. He is fully devoted. These are the remarkable things that people say about him. His name is Mandega Madiraju.

There is also another man who has been born out of the compassionate hand of that great sage. He is a bee that feeds on the luxurious, delicate, fragrant lotus feet of his teacher. His inner lotus heart constantly shines with the likeness of that Sivayogi. He drinks water that is given with graciousness and kindness from the feet of that divine-bodied person. He is devoted to his guru. He is the lord of Gobburu. He pursues the supreme Saiva path. He constantly meditates on union with the linga. His name is Sanganamatya. He benefits the entire universe.

O Sanganamatya, when I heard you being praised in the councils of devotees, I came to you. For you are a devotee of jangamas, and you alone deserve the Basava Purana. Now listen attentively and with devotion while I compose the good poetry of the Basava Purana.

In the sacred puranas, it is said that "Uma is our mother and Rudra is our father; "therefore, I am born of the Isvara family. I was born out of the womb-hand of the linga guru. He is an embodiment of the saranas, the ganas, and all the other attendants of Siva. The devotees have anointed me with their compassion. I am free of worldly bonds. I belong to the devotee gotra. The brilliant Visnuramideva and the illustrious Sriyadevi love me as their son. I am dedicated to the heroic mahesvara tradition. I am a honeybee on the lotus feet of Kattakuri Potidevara, the renowned devotee. I gained the power to compose poetry from Karasthali Visvanatha, the compassionate devotee. I am a bosom friend of Cenna Rama, the eminent student of Vadagamu Ramesa. I avoid showing respect, holding conversation, or any other kind of association with bhavis. My name is Palkuriki Somanatha. I am a man of pure character.

Since beautiful, idiomatic Telugu is more commonly understood than heavy compositions of mixed prose and verse, I have chosen to compose this entirely in the dvipada meter. Let it not be said that these words are nothing but Telugu. Rather, look at them as equal to the Vedas. If you wonder how that can be, remember, if a tumu is a standard of measure, so is sola. Is it not generally agreed that the stature of a poet derives from his ability to create great poetry from simple words?

The underlying strength of this work is my fixation on Basava. The collection of songs that are sung about the ancient devotees are in accordance with the Vedas and puranas. The songs are also acceptable to the esoteric theory of the linga. They will be my original. I will compose this poem by using the story of Basava as a thread to string together the beads that are the stories of the ancient devotees. Do not say that it is wrong to get involved with describing Basava, whose body is actually the incomparable linga as a separate individual. Such a description is conducive to the development of devotion.

If one takes refuge in Basava, his sins are destroyed. If one takes refuge in Basava, he is purified. If one takes refuge in Basava, he experiences immediate pleasure. If one takes refuge in Basava, he becomes a devotee. If one takes refuge in Basava, all his entanglements are unraveled. If one takes refuge in Basava, he gains riches. If one takes refuge in Basava, his character improves. If one takes refuge in Basava, calamities are averted. If one takes refuge in Basava, he acquires riches. If one takes refuge in Basava, he becomes famous. If one takes refuge in Basava, all his desires are fulfilled. If one takes refuge in Basava, he gains the power of speech. If one takes refuge in Basava, his intellect flourishes.

Whoever recites the three syllables that are included in this word, Ba-sa-va, will have his mouth fixed upon Siva. Is it surprising that the entanglements of birth and death disappear when one praises Basava? Is Basava nothing more than a devotee? Three Eyes came in his form. Is it proper — simply because he was born on this earth — to call Basava a human being?

When Hara is without a body, Basava has a body. When Hara has a body, Basava becomes a sarana and is inseparable from him. When the transcendent God manifests as a sarana, Basava becomes one of the supreme devotees and worships him. When the linga takes the form of a devotee, Basava takes an individual form and serves him.

Basava himself knows the form of the supreme soul. And the supreme lord knows the form of Basava. Having acquired his world, his companionship, and his form, it may be possible to attain union with Siva. But can anyone else become Basava?

To the lord, Basava is the chief of the pramathas. To the jangamas, he is the equable devotee. To Lingadeva, Basava is a dear friend. To the host of jangamas, he is a well-known servant. To Kvara, Basava is the vehicle on which he rides. To the lord's devotees, he is a throne. To Black Throat, Basava is a sword. He is a mirror in the devotees' hands.

Can anyone adequately praise Basava? Can anyone know Basava? His relationship to the mobile lingas is like the fragrance in a flower. Therefore, it is clearly impossible — even for gods and demons — to define Basava.

My praise may be like the praise of a lover for his beloved. It may be like telling a man who has hoisted a flag announcing ten million to live like a man who is a master of ten thousand. It may be like setting up lampposts to illuminate the sun. Or it may be like offering Bhava the leaves and flowers that he himself has created. Is it possible to find words of praise for the refuge of the devotees?

Nevertheless, for the good of the world and to the extent of my own learning, I will describe him as best I can. My aim will be to please the best of the Saiva poets, those who are famous for their appreciation of the nine sentiments. Why even bother to mention those others who speak falteringly? Their learning is a waste; their names have perished with their false pride. It is said that a poet can see everything. But that does not hold true if one is ignorant of Mrda's greatness. Thus I ignore all the bad poets and praise Basava with vigor. This is how the story goes.

The Beginning of the Story

You are an auspicious and admirable embodiment of devotion. Ministers bow down to you! Your name is Sanga!

On the silver mountain, Kama Killer and Uma enjoyed themselves in amorous play and pleasures of good stories. They were attended by those who are at one with Siva: Upamanyu, Bhrngi, Nandi, and the other pramathas.

Narada Goes to Kailasa

Sensing when the time was right, Narada, the leader of the sages, approached and fell prostrate so that all his limbs touched the ground. As he bowed with folded hands, ready to tell what was happening in all the worlds and nonworlds, Siva recognized him with a glance and surveyed him with his moonbeam eye. At an appropriate time, Ambikadevi, with Siva's consent, beckoned to him and said, "You have returned from your mission. Now give Siva an accurate report of all the news."

Narada Tells Oiva What Is Happening on Earth

Then the great sage stood in front of Mahalingadeva, folded his lotus hands, and said, "O husband of Uma, all the affairs of the worlds and nonworlds are, as always, devoted to you. But in the human world there is a problem with the way devotion is being conducted. Some of the people are so strongly committed to the Saiva tradition that they don't even talk with bhavis. Although they live in the world, some people do not know the pain of the world. Others are so transported by bliss that they are completely lost to the world. Finally, there are those who have reached the pinnacle of devotion and have transcended their bodies. For these reasons, O Lord, no one understands either the beginning or the end of devotion to you. The people of the world will become rich in devotion; they will have their doubts removed; and they will be established in their specific phases of linga, jangama, and prasada if they have visible evidence of your presence. Graciously come and purify the world; rule the world of devotion."

Siva Tells Parvati about Nandikesvara

When Narada had spoken, the God of gods had compassion and spoke these words: "There is no difference between Nandikesvara and myself. I will send him in my place. Through him the world will be sanctified and gain understanding."

When she heard this, the daughter of the king of the mountain looked at the lord, folded her lotus hands, and said, "You say that there is no difference between you and Nandikesvara? Are you just saying that because you have no body except for the devotees? Or does he really, as an individual, have the same body as you have?"

While Narada listened, the birthless god answered Ambika's question. "Yes! Yes, that is true, compassionate Lotus Eyes. It is true that my body is the devotees. But listen! I will tell you something more. He and I actually are the same. I'll tell you how this came about, Lotus Eyes. I will tell you the story," he said.

The Austerities of Silada

"For countless eons a great ascetic named Silada performed austerities on the southwest slopes of Srisailam. For thirty million years his food consisted of roots, air, water, moonbeams, and sunshine. Then for another billion years, he ate nothing but a tiny stone a day. A single desire drove him to these terrible austerities.

"Finally we stood before him and said, 'What do you wish? Ask, and we will give it to you/

"At that he fell prostrate before us and uttered the one desire that was in his heart: 'All-knower! Lord of Living Creatures! Sankara! Sarva! Lord of the Universe! Permanent One! Samba! Listen to me! You are accessible through the Veda and Vedanta! Listen to my request! You are easy on your dependents! Great God! You have the form of the linga! Lord, by your grace I lack nothing. Nevertheless, great giver, I will make just one request. Give me a son. Let him be a devotee and make him exactly like yourself!'

"Listen, Lotus Eyes! As soon as I heard his request, I was prepared to give him exactly what he desired. But Silada did not move. Again he fell to the earth, bowed to me, and said, 'Birthless god, give me the kind of son that I desire. But if he lacks even one atom of devotion to you, I will cut off his head. And I will do so even if you try to stop me! Give me a son on that condition. If it has to be any other way, I don't want your boon!'

Siva Grants Silada a Boon

"When I heard this request, I was pleased by his great devotion. The bull is a part of myself. He existed even before the first creation. In the image of dharma, he walks on four feet in the krta age. Like dharma, he walks on three feet in the treta age. In the dvapara age, at one with dharma, he walks the earth on two feet. In the kali age, he moves about on just one foot. Because he has the shape of dharma itself, he benefits the whole universe. But that is not all. He has also come to be regarded as a second Sambhu. He has become my vehicle. He has become chief of the pramathas. And he has become the lord of the cattle.

"I looked at the king of the bulls and said, 'Be born to Silada. And take the name Nandisa. Either you or I have to be born. All of the pramatha ganas are images of dharma. Nevertheless, because I love you, I have endowed you with the most devotion to me. Silada has said that he does not want a son unless he is a great devotee. I must not fail to give him the boon that I have promised. Now do as I have commanded. Be born on the earth as a second Sambhu.'

"'Let it be so,' he said.

The Birth of Nandikesvara

"And so he was born — without passing through a womb. And he was called Nandikesvara.

"At his birth he was devoted to me. Even before his birth he began to think of me. He was suckled on the nectar of supreme truth. Meditation on his guru's feet was his butter. The first words that he spoke were Vedanta. His deeds were the ancient Saiva path. With my lotus feet in his heart, taken with devotion, he spent the entire cold season standing up to his cheeks in fast-flowing rivers. With just one toe on the ground, he turned his lotus face to the sky. As the rain fell in torrents, he stood contentedly and unshaken. Again, with his head on the earth, he raised his two legs to the sky. He stood in the middle of five fires. It grieves the mind to think of it. It shatters the mouth to speak of it. If you had seen it, your eyelids would have burned. He stood constantly in the burning sun.


Excerpted from Siva's Warriors by Velcheru Narayana Rao. Copyright © 1990 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews