God is Dead, There is No God (The Vachanas of Allama Prabhu)
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God is Dead, There is No God (The Vachanas of Allama Prabhu)

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Item Code: NAZ578
Author: Manu V. Devadevan
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2019
ISBN: 9789389692082
Pages: 300
Other Details 8.00 X 5.00 inch
Weight 230 gm
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About the Book

Why another shrine

When there’s one in the body?

No one asked for two,

My Lord.


What am I,

When youre a stone?

Twelfth-century saint-poet Allama Prabhu, along with Basavanna and Akka Mahadevi, was a founder of the Virashaiva or Lingayat movement in Karnataka. During a period of intense religious ferment, these Sharanas—proteges of Shiva—aimed to dismantle religious hierarchy and bigotry. They rebelled against exploitation based on class, caste and gender. And the form of expression they chose was the vachana—poetic compositions in everyday Kannada, which shook rath-century Karnataka out of slumber. Today, with their focus on devotion towards Shiva through love, labour and dedication, they form an integral part of the Bhakti tradition as well as India’s spiritual heritage.

The vachanas of Allama Prabhu symbolize his journey of freeing himself from worldly attachments and bondages. From gazing at Shiva from a distance, to uniting with Him, to declaring He doesn’t exist and to finally realizing that He should be understood as a dynamic void: Allama covers a wide arc in his quest for spiritual enlightenment. Rooted firmly in the idea of experiential reality, his vachanas are passionate and filled with yearning; critical and brazen. Translated with great skill and fluidity by Manu Devadevan, God Is Dead, There Is No God is a treat for modern-day seekers as well as poetry lovers.

About the Author

Manu V. Devadevan is Assistant Professor of History at the Indian Institute of Technology Mandi, Himachal Pradesh, and author of A Prehistory of Hinduism (2016) and The ‘Early Medieval’ Origins of India (2020). A poet, literary critic and translator, he has published widely in Kannada and also writes in Malayalam. Devadevan is a recipient of the Infosys Prize 2019 for Humanities.


It is at once gratifying and humbling to present to the Anglophone reader this translation of the Kannada vachanas of Allama Prabhu, a 12th-century saint-poet, who is widely regarded today as one of the pioneers of Virashaivism. I began work on these translations in December 2012 and abandoned the project in less than a month. I had made considerable progress, with nearly eighty vachanas rendered into English. A.K. Ramanujan’s Speaking of Siva and H.S. Shivaprakash’s I Keep Vigil of Rudra, with their orientation towards formalism and dialectics respectively, were the two existing benchmarks of vachanas in English translation. Insofar as both contained less than 160 vachanas each, I was well past the halfway mark.

The adventure was revived one evening in October 2017 during a conversation with Vinaya Chaitanya, who was with me at my residence in Mandi, Himachal Pradesh, at the time on a month-long visit to share with me a set of his forthcoming translations of religious poetry from Malayalam, and finalize them for publication. Earlier in the day, James Mallinson had come home for lunch, taking time out of his khechari vidya (paragliding) tour in Bir. Allama returned to me during the lunch with Jim and Vinaya, and in the evening, when I told Vinaya (who is known for his Malayalam translation of Milarepa and English translation of Akka Mahadevi) of the work I had given up some years ago for no reason as it were, he urged me to get back to it again.

Now that I had taken up the work in all earnest, I realized that the translation was not easy, because of two reasons. Firstly, I had to reckon with the fact that Ramanujans anthology, which was unsatisfactory for a variety of reasons, happens to be the best-known translation of the vachanas. Hardly representative of the wide-ranging themes and concerns in the surviving corpus, Speaking of Siva had nevertheless attracted a cult following since its publication in 1973. Secondly, the vachanas were contextualized against the backdrop of a history that was doubtless passionately utopian, but was deeply flawed in its assessment of the past. A new English version that could brave Ramanujan’ formalist renderings and lock horns with a history that evokes strong passions was a challenge.

These translations have benefitted from encouragement and comments—and at times, both—that I received from Jyotirmaya Sharma, David Shulman, Rahamat Tarikere, K.V. Narayana, Kesavan Veluthat, Sudha Gopalakrishnan, Jesse Ross Knutson, Manorama Tripathy, Shonaleeka Kaul, Gil Ben Herut and Abhilash Malayil, in addition to Vinaya, Jim and Shivaprakash. Suggestions for revision that I received from some of them have been invaluable, although I have not been able to incorporate them in every instance.

I am indebted to Ravi Singh of Speaking Tiger for offering to publish this work, and to my editor, Radhika Shenoy, who shepherded it with great élan.

It was the late M.M. Kalburgi, who advised me to take up the vachanas for translation, for he believed that translation and performance on a stage are the moments when one _ is closest to the text. And this, he held, assaults us with flashes of understanding that other modes of engagement with a text are incapable of extending. That was in 1998. I didn’t give it much thought at the time. A job with the Indian Railway, responsibilities as a trade union activist, and amateur research interests in the rich siddha traditions of northern Karnataka kept me busy. Twenty-one years later, I have the book, but Kalburgi is not here to read it.


This volume introduces the Anglophone reader to the vachanas of Allama Prabhu, a major saint from 12th-century Karnataka. Allama’s is a household name in the Kannada- speaking region. He is generally placed in the league of Basava, Akka Mahadevi, Channabasava, Siddharama, and a few other saints, and recognized as one of the founders of Virashaivism. The followers of this sect are now called Lingayats or Virashaivas. Over ten million Lingayats live in Karnataka today, accounting to a sixth of the state’s population. Several millions more live in the adjoining states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra and Goa.

The vachanas were poems composed in the 11th and the 12th century by Shaiva saints, whom tradition identifies as sharanas, protégés of Shiva. Attempts to produce vachanas were made off and on in later times too, and has continued well into our times. The surviving poems are over 20,000 in number, but close to 90 per cent of them are attributed to the 130-odd pioneers of the 11th and the 12th century. Among the pioneers, about half a dozen lived between c. 1050 and 1150 CE. The rest were active in the later half of the 12th century. The Lingayats regard the vachanas as their sacred literature. Within the extant corpus, the poems of Basava, Allama Prabhu and Akka Mahadevi are conferred a pride of place and held in special esteem."

The 12th century was an age of profound political transformations in the Deccan region. The Kalyana Chalukya state, which exercised overlordship over large parts of central and southern Deccan for close to two centuries, fell apart in the early years of the 1160s, when four of its tributary chiefdoms declared independence and established states of their own: the Seunas in the north, the Kakatiyas in the east, the Hoysalas in the south and the Kalachuris in the west. The Chalukya decline had begun after they faced severe military setbacks at the hands of the Kakatiyas and the Hoysalas. The Hoysala ruler, Narasimha I, put to death one of the last Chalukya kings, Taila II, in a campaign in 1163. Of the four new states, the Kalachuri state was short-lived. Founded in 1162, it had disintegrated by the end of the 1180s. The other three states turned out to be enduring. They collapsed only after repeated attacks from the Delhi Sultanate in the first half of the 14th century.

The disintegration of the Kalyana Chalukyas and the appearance of the four successor states were closely related to the fortunes of the sharanas. Basava and Channabasava lived in the Kalachuri court of king Bijjala II. The Kalachuris and the Seunas both extended Siddharama their patronage. Siddharama remained hostile to the former, but seems to have maintained warm relations with the latter, although he didn't accept their support. Harihara, the first hagiographer of the saints, lived in the Hoysala court of Narasimha I, before moving to Hampi. And in some legends, Palkurike Somanatha, the author of the Telugu Basavapuranamu,is said to have found a patron in the Kakatiya ruler, Prataparudra. And as it turns out, all of them—Basava, Channabasava, Siddharama, Harihara, Somanatha—were critical of the political establishments of their times, a sentiment widely shared by most 12th-century sharanas.

Historians regard the work of the sharanas as an ingenious regional expression of the larger South Asian bhakti devotionalism. ‘This assessment, however, is placed within a narrative that is the stuff of romances. The 12th century is represented as one of intense religious ferment, characterized by widespread dissent and protest from a section of the Shaivites against oppressive orthodox beliefs and conventions. We are told that under the leadership of Basava (known with various honorific suffixes as Basavanna, Basavaraja, and Basaveshvara), an enlightened brahman trom the town of Bagewadi (now Basavana Bagewadi), the unrest developed into an organized movement against religious bigotry, obscurantism and superstitions, challenging exploitation based on class, caste and gender. Devotees of Shiva from all walks of life, especially from the urban artisan and labouring classes, participated in the movement. They gathered in the city of Kalyana (now Basavakalyana in the Bidar district) in an assembly called the anubhava mantapa (the hall of experience), where they discussed a variety of matters that concerned them, from sublime metaphysics of liberation to the mundane aspects of labour. Basava convened the assembly, another saint, Allama Prabhu, presided over it, and a great number of sharanas— among them Akka Mahadevi, Channabasava, Siddharama, Madivala Machayya and Kinnari Bommayya—participated in it. Their views found expression in the form of vachanas, which they composed in great numbers.

The movement culminated in a revolution in Kalyana. The disregard for caste norms and a pratiloma marriage among the sharanas, involving the daughter of a brahman and the son of a madiga (tanner), caused mayhem. ‘The orthodox sections, and under their influence, the king, persecuted the sharanas. The bride’s father, Madhuvayya, and the grooms father, Haralayya, were blinded, and in some accounts, put to death. Enough was enough. One of the sharanas, Jagadeva, who in some versions is accompanied by an aide, Mallibomma, avenged the persecution by murdering the king, Bijjala II. The revolution led to the rise of Virashaivism, a new sect based on principles of equality and egalitarianism. The sect accepted the poems of the torchbearer sharanas as its canon.

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