Lingayatism, also known as Veerashaivism, is a distinct Shaivite tradition that was propounded by social reformer and philosopher Basaveshwara, popularly known as Basavanna, in the 12th century to eradicate caste system, which divided the society. The adherents of this faith are known as Lingayats, which means one who wears a Shiva Linga on their body.
With passage of time the caste system has creeped into Veerashaiva community too. According to S Guruswamy, vice-president of the Bangalore district unit of the All-India Veerashaiva Mahasabha, there are over 70 sub-castes in the Veerashaiva community. The major sub-castes are Banajiga, Panchamasali, Ganiga, Nonamba, Sadara, Kunchatiga and Jangama.
The community which constitutes about 17% of the state population, the single largest community, is concentrated in the northern and central parts of Karnataka. They also have significant presence in parts of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, bordering Karnataka.
The Veerashaiva community has been having a big share in the power pie with leaders like S Nijalingappa and Veerendra Patil having long stint as chief ministers. However, it was the unceremonious ousting of Veerendra Patil from the chief minister’s post by Rajiv Gandhi in 1990 that incited the community to turn more strident to assert its caste identity in politics.
BS Yeddyurappa’s aggressive caste politics has naturally rekindled the community’s aspirations to regain its strangle hold on the reins of power in the state.