aṣṭāvaraṇas

(‘eight coverings’)

Vīraśaivism or the Liṅgāyata cult is a form of Śaivism. Basava (12th century) (also called Basavaṇṇa or Basaveśvara) was the reorganizer of this cult, if not the founder. The followers of this cult are seen mostly in the Karnataka State.

‘Aṣṭāvaraṇa’ is the second aspect of the practice of this cult, the first being ‘pañcācāra.’ ‘Āvaraṇa’ means protective covering. The Liṅgāyata cult recognizes eight such protective coverings. They are: guru (spiritual teacher), liṅga (emblem of Śiva), jaṅgama (roving ascetic), pādodaka (water sanctified by the touch of the feet of the guru or the jaṅgama), prasāda (food sanctified by the guru or the jaṅgama), bhasma (sacred ashes), rudrākṣa (rosary of the rudrākṣa beads) and mantra (mystic formula).

Guru is the spiritual teacher who initiates the novice into the mysteries of the Vīraśaiva cult. Liṅga is the emblem of Lord Śiva, a concrete symbol of the Supreme, given to the initiate by the guru at the time of initiation. The disciple is expected to wear it on his body always and worship it at the appointed hour. Jaṅgama is any roving ascetic of the Vīraśaiva faith who should be treated as equal to the guru. The water with which the feet of the guru or the jaṅgama are washed or is sanctified by the touch of their feet, is pādodaka. Any food that is offered to them and sanctified by their touch is prasāda. Pādodaka and prasāda are to be consumed by the initiated devo-tees. Bhasma or the sacred ashes should be smeared on the body at the appropriate places (like forehead, arms and so on). Rudrākṣa or the rosary of rudrākṣa beads is to be used for keeping count of the japa of the mantra or the mystic formula (‘namaś śivāya’) received from the guru during initiation. The rudrākṣa rosary may also be worn on the body.

These eight coverings act as shields against impurities of the body and mind, and protect the Vīraśaiva from the onslaughts of sin.

See also PAÑCĀCĀRA and VĪRAŚAIVISM.