The Bhakti Movement and the status of women: A Case Study of Virasaivism

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Item Code: IDE436
Author: Leela Mullatti
Language: English
Edition: 1989
ISBN: 8170172500
Pages: 158 (B & W Illus: 9, Map: 1)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.7" X 5.8"
Weight 350 gm
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Book Description


The Bhagavat Geeta propounds that 'Karma Marga', 'Jnana Marga' and 'Bhakti Marga' are the three established ways of attaining the final goal of salvation or 'Moksha'. Around the 10th Century there arose in the southern part of India, an indigenous protest movement called 'The Bhakti Movement' which advocated the 'Bhakti Marga' with intense fervour. In course of time this movement took root and spread throughout India, and gave birth to some revolutionary sects whose numbers swelled as they became established. These sects, while adhering to basic tenets of Hinduism, departed radically regarding some features of Hinduism. Mainly they tried to do away with the manifold taboos, pollutions and rituals with which the Hindu religion was cluttered. One of the most popular of these sects is Virasaivism.

Virasaivism is a sect prevalent mainly in Karnataka, of whose population it forms 20% (as per the last caste census of 1931). However there is quite a large number of the followers of this sect outside Karnataka. As it is a large sect, well established, a fine example of the results of the Bhakti Movement, and with interesting features in itself, I chose Virasaivism for my study of the impact of the Bhakti movement on the status of women.

After research on a hundred families, with two interviewees from each family-one of first generation, mother or mother-in-law, and the other of second generation, daughter or daughter-in-law, I was able to form a multifaceted in-depth picture of Virasaiva Women.

In the first chapter, I deal with the Bhakti movement and the status of women in India. In the next chapter there is a general discussion on the image of women in Virasaivism culled out from various literary sources. If one looks into the history of Virasaivism, we find that its ideals and principles were propagated by the saints of the Bhakti movement. These saints are known as 'Sharanas' and the literary compositions are the 'Vachanas', which are poems of infinite wisdom composed in Kannada. The Vachanas illustrate the dynamic and progressive side of Virasaiva philosophy. A large number may be more than 60 of the saints who propagated Virasaivism were women.

In the extremely simplified rituals of Virasaivism, precepts and practices meet in a unique way. For example a Virasaiva woman is allowed to, in fact encouraged to, study religious literature, meditate, practice yoga, expound philosophy and religion to large audiences. She can undergo 'Diksha' ceremony which is meant for spiritual upgradation. Absence of pollutions, equality of status in married life, and the right to inherit, are some other features of a Virasaiva woman's life.

In the third chapter, I consider child training in Virasaivism. One has to study child training in order to understand the adult Virasaiva woman's personality and membership in Virasaiva Community and how her identity is manifested.

The fourth chapter elaborates on women and the Virasaiva institution of marriage. We find that the double standards applied to men and women by orthodoxy are almost absent in Virasaivism. Hobhouse, in his work 'Morals in Evolution', finds that a woman universally suffers subordination and a dependent position under an arranged marriage. A woman always stands in subordination to her husband or brother. Virasaivism cannot be a total exception to this. But though we do find Hobhouse' s conclusions corroborated to a certain extent here, and arranged marriage are very much the rule in Virasaivism, revolt against male dominance is clearly apparent. The Virasaiva ideal of marriage insists on mutual love and understanding and attainment of harmonious married life. Widow pollutions are not observed at all in Virasaivism. In fact if a bride's mother is a widow, she is not considered inauspicious, but is given a place of honour in the marriage rituals.

The Virasaiva family, which is dealt with in the fifth chapter, is patriarchal, patriarchal and joint. However, within this structure, equalitarian rights, duties and status are included. The kinship system is dominantly matri-centred. Due to the system of close kin marriages, there is rarely any strain between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. There is no rigid separation of labour between males and females.

The sixth chapter is about the economic life of the Virasaiva women. Against the background of a world wide bleak picture of women's economic life, Virasaivism spreads a few rays of hope.

The socio-religious life of the Virasaiva woman is illustrated in the last chapter. In the religious field, her participation in ritual, philosophical, and priestly activities is enviably high. Sati was and is totally absent. Socially, women enjoy an active community life. She has no restriction in the choice of friends (except of course the sex barrier) or clothes or ornaments.

The present case study is offered to show that the Bhakti movement initiated women into the Socio-religious field on an equalitarian basis by simplifying the ways of worship, introducing the vernacular language as the religious idiom and emphasizing the purity of mind than the sex of the worshipper. The case of Virasaivism comes handy to illustrate the point.

From the Jacket:

The indigenous protest movement called Bhakti Movement, comprising Bhakti cults of many hues and colours, had an impact on the status of women in India. Many of them tried to do away with the manifold taboos, pollutions and rituals with which Hindu religion was cluttered. While some accepted the equality of men and women, others reinforced the inequalities in practice.

The present case study of Virasaivism, a populous sect in Karnataka, deals with the impact of this movement on the status of women. After a careful research on a hundred families with first and second-generation women, the author finds that precepts and practices meet here in a unique way. Child training practices, the institution of marriage, the family and kinship system and the economic and socio-religious life of Virasaiva women enable them to enjoy a comparatively high status.

About the Author:

Dr. (Mrs.) Leela L. Mullatti (b. 1936) is presently Reader in Sociology, Karnatak University Belgaum Campus. She served earlier as Professor and Head, Department of Sociology of Karnataka Arts College, Dharwad. She secured her Master's degree from Karnatak University (1959) and after a stint at teaching went abroad where she did her M.A. at the University of British Columbia, Canada (1972). With an ICSSR Teacher Fellowship she completed her Ph.D. (1979) from the University of Pune.

Dr. Mullatti is actively associated with Indian Sociological Society (executive member, 1980-86), Karnataka Sociological Society (founder president) and other professional bodies. She has contributed extensively to learned journals and participated in national seminars. She is currently engaged in UGC and UNESCO-sponsored projects in the area of women studies.




  Preface ix
  Acknowledgements xii
1. Introduction 1
2. Image of Woman in Virasaivism 22
3. Child Training among Virasaivas 44
4. The Virasaiva Woman and Marriage 68
5. Woman and Family (Family Life of Virasaiva Woman) 84
6. Economic Life of the Virasaiva Woman 99
7. Socio-Religious Life of the Virasaiva Woman 111
  Conclusion 123
  Bibliography 131
  Appendix Technical Concepts of Virasaivism 139

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