Vachanas (vacanagaLu) (ವಚನಗಳು) represent one of the highest peaks reached by Kannada literature in its history of more than one thousand and five hundred years. It was the creation of a talented group of poets who were committed to social activism and never the less had philosophical aspirations. This was in direct contrast to the poets who were aligned with royalty and for whom literary creation was the raison de etre of existence. Basavanna was the founder of a religion which was not shackled by the caste system or Varnashrama dharma. Veerashaiva religion had its doors open to the lowliest among the low. Vachanas were the by products of their life rather than the other way round. The socio-political ethos of the twelfth century was manifestly disturbed by the events that took place in Kalyana and it has never been the same in spite of the efforts of an orthodox society to minimise the impact of the movement.

Vachanas constitute a heterogeneous body of poems bound together by some common concerns and philosophical tenets. They attempt to delineate universal truths through verbal structures based on subjective experiences. They cannot be crowded in to the categories of philosophy, religion or ethics. They contain all that and are couched in a language suffused with literary merits.

The word ‘vachana’ was earlier used to denote the prose passages in Champu epics. But the Shivasharanas of the twelfth century redefined the term and now it refers to short pithy poems that do have a definite rhythm pattern even though they are not constrained by the rules imposed by prosody. There is no restriction on the number of lines either and they range from a couple of lines to those that contain more than fifteen lines. They do contain poetic merit because of their imagery, poetic images, figures of speech and a rhythm pattern which is poetic, although irregular. More than anything else they are based on human experiences and they are loaded with emotions. The commotions of human life in a social context and a possible alleviation of the same through ‘Bhakti’ constitute the major concern of these compositions. Hence they have risen to literary status without a tangible story line or a continuous narrative. Attempts to contextualise the vachanas have taken place later.(Shunyasampadane) But they are not mandatory to enjoy their poetic beauty. Many vachanas could be rendered to music and singing vachanas both as classical compositions and as light music has become quite common. Svara Vachanas of later centuries by mystics such as Kadakola Madivalappa and Kudaluru Basavalingsharana have added another dimension to this genre. 

Devara Dasimayya (Jedara Dasimayya) who lived during the second half of the eleventh century is the first ‘vachanakara’ and many of his compositions are very powerful. The open invitation tendered by Basavanna to every one to participate in the revolution that was taking place and the apparent equality accorded to all of them opened the flood gates of creative imagination and gave an opportunity to the under privileged to express themselves in a language which was divorced from that of the folklore. Of course Basavanna, Allamaprabhu and Akkamahadevi were the major poets that emerged from the movement. These three shared the burden of formulating the movement in different ways. Each one of them composed vachanas with unique characteristics. The philosophical and mystical core was provided by Allama and the social philosophy of the movement was forged by Basavanna. The lyrical intensity of the vachanas of Akkamahadevi gave a new dimension to the very meaning of poetry. Others such as Siddarama, Chennabasavanna, Hadapada Appanna and Madivala Machayya added their own mite to the corpus. The relationship between their vachanas and their profession was amazing. The tradition of Vachanas passed on to the succeeding centuries also and the vachanas of Akhandeshvara, Tontada Siddalingayati and others manifest this stage,

The path traversed by these compositions in the last eight centuries is very interesting. Veerashaiva religion survived the onslaught of other religions even after the dissolution of the sharana movement. There were attempts in the later centuries to build a theology with some vachanas as their core. For a number of centuries they lead a double existence, one among the lay men kept alive by the mendicant sharanas and other confined to the coteries of the caste system. The dynamics of Veerashaiva dharma and the status accorded to the vachanas are interconnected. The modernity that was ushered in during the early twentieth century could recognise the literary importance of the vachanas and the attempts to place them in a more secular context have met with remarkable success. Presently vachanas are accorded respect and love by one and all irrespective of caste creed and gender. New modes of perception and analysis have given rise to new interpretations. They are lauded for their social relevance as well as  philosophical and literary brilliance. The fact that they were successful in creating a new poetic idiom for Kannada is undisputed.


Appendix: Important Vachanakaras with some useful details.

             Sl. No.         Name                           Ankita                    

1.      Devara Dasimayya     rAmanAthA                          

2.      Basavanna                       kUDala sangamadEvA

3.      Allamaprabhu                   guhEshvarA

4.      Akkamahadevi                  cAnna mallikArjunA              

5.      Siddarama                   kapila siddha mallikarjuna              

6.      Chennabasavanna      kUDala cannasangamadEva

7.      Ambigara Choudayya        aMbigra cVDayya

8.      Madivala Machayya           kalidEvaradEvA

9.      Hadapada Appanna           basavapriya kuudala chennasangamadeva

10. Moligeya Marayya       nihkaLanka mallikArjunA

11. Neelambike(Neelalochane)      sangayya                              

12. Bahurupi Choudayya              dEkaNNapriya nAginathA     

13. Sakalesha Madarasa             sakaLEshvarA                      

14. Urilingapeddi                         urilingapeddipriya                 



1.      ‘Speaking of Shiva’, A.K.Ramanujan, 1973, Penguin Classics, Harmondsworth, U.K.

2.      ‘The Revolution of the Mystics’, (on the social aspects of Virasaivism) Kampen JP SCHOUTEN - 1991 - Kok Pharos Publishing House


Links:   1. Bhakti Tradition and Modernization: The Case of Lingayatism    (K.Eswaran)

            2.      [PDF] ►Talking to God in the Mother Tongue

3. Download Vachana Software - Win95/98


Translations: 1. Vachanas of Akka Mahadevi, A MENEZES, AM ANGADI - Dharwar, 1973

                          2. ‘Speaking of Shiva’, A.K.Ramanujan, 1973, Penguin Classics, Harmondsworth, U.K.




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