Lingayatism is a Shaivite Hindu religious tradition in India.[1][2][web 1] Initially known as Veerashaivas, since the 18th century adherents of this faith are known as Lingayats. The terms Lingayatism and Veerashaivism have been used synonymously,[note 1] but Veerashaivism may refer to the broader Veerashaiva philosophy which predates Lingayatism,[3] to the historical community now called Lingayats,[4] and to a contemporary (sub)tradition within Lingayatism with Vedic influences.[web 2][note 2]

Lingayatism was founded, or revived,[note 2] by the 12th-century philosopher and statesman Basava in Karnataka.[5] Lingayatism may refer to the whole Lingayat community, but also to a contemporary (sub)tradition dedicated to Basava's original thought, and to a movement within this community which strives toward recognition as an independent religion. Lingayat scholars thrived in northern Karnataka during the Vijayanagara Empire (14th-18th century). In the 21st century, some Lingayats have sought legal recognition as a religion distinct from Hinduism and Veerashaivas,[6][web 1][note 3] a request which has gained political support from the Congress-led Karnataka government, but is opposed by others.[web 3][web 2]

Lingayatism is generally considered a Hindu sect as[7][web 1][note 4] their beliefs include many Hindu elements.[6][note 5] Worship is centered on Shiva as the universal god in the iconographic form of Ishtalinga.[1][note 6] Lingayatism emphasises qualified monism, with philosophical foundations similar to those of the 11th–12th-century South Indian philosopher Ramanuja.[web 1] Lingayatism rejects any form of social discrimination including the caste system.[8]

Contemporary Lingayatism is influential in South India, especially in the state of Karnataka.[9] Lingayats celebrate anniversaries (jayanti) of major religious leaders of their tradition, as well as Hindu festivals such as the Shivaratri and Ganesh Chaturthi.[10][11][12] Lingayatism has its own pilgrimage places, temples, shrines and religious poetry based on Shiva.[13] Today, Lingayats, along with Shaiva Siddhanta followers, Naths, Pashupaths, Kapalikas and others constitute the Shaiva population.[web 4][note 7]


Lingayatism is derived from the Sanskrit root linga (Shiva's mark) and suffix ayta.[14] The adherents of Lingayatism are known as Lingayats. In historical literature, they are sometimes referred to as Lingawants, Lingangis, Lingadharis, Sivabhaktas, Virasaivas or Veerashaivas.[14] The term Lingayat is based on the practice of both genders of Lingayats wearing an iṣṭaliṅga contained inside a silver box with a necklace all the time. The istalinga is an oval-shaped emblem symbolising Parashiva, the absolute reality and icon of their spirituality.[14]

Historically, Lingayats were known as Virashaivas,[4] or "ardent, heroic worshippers of Shiva."[15] According to Blake Michael, the term Veerashaivism refers both to a "philosophical or theological system as well as to the historical, social and religious movement which originated from that system." Lingayatism refers to the modern adherents of this religion.[3] The term Lingayats came to be commonly used during the British colonial period.[4]

In the 1871 and the 1881 colonial-era census of British India, Lingayats were listed as shudras.[16][note 8] In 1926, the Bombay High Court ruled that "the Veerashaivas are not Shudras".[17]

The terms Lingayatism and Veerashaivism have been used synonymously.[1][18][19][web 1][note 1] Veerashaivism refers to the broader Veerashaiva philosophy and theology as well as the movement, states Blake Michael, while Lingayata refers to the modern community, sect or caste that adheres to this philosophy.[3][4] In the contemporary era, some state that Veerashaiva is a (sub)tradition within Lingayatism with Vedic influences,[web 2] and these sources have been seeking a political recognition of Lingayatism to be separate from Veerashaivism, and Lingayatism to be a separate religion. In contrast, Veerashaivas consider the two contemporary (sub)traditions to be "one and the same community" belonging to Hinduism.[web 3]