Doctrines The Virashaivas, heroic Shaivas, worship Shiva in the form of the linga. For this they are also called Lingayats, bearers of a linga, which they wear on their body. This is so important that its loss is equal to spiritual death.
The Kannada vacanas, religious lyrics in free verse, are the most important texts of Virashaivism. The bodies of men and women are temples of the god and thus all are equal, so Virashaivism attempted to abolish caste. The supremacy of the brahmins is not recognised. Other reforms were the prohibition of child-marriage, allowing widows to remarry, burial instead of cremation, and the abolition of the chief Hindu rites for the removal of ceremonial impurity. Each family has its own guru or spiritual guide for the astavarna, eightfold sacrament, which is the most important ceremony.
At the heart of Virashaivism is the opposition between sthavara, the standing, and jangama, the moving. Sthavara is a Sanskrit word from which the English words 'stand' and 'static' are derived, while jangama contains a cognate of the English 'go.' Jangama is moving, anything coming and going. The Jangama is the wandering holy man in Virashaivism. The divinity of the Jangama is reflected in many narrative stories in the Basava Purana and other collections, and in which the Jangama is actually Shiva. There are five founding Jangama preceptors, the pancacarya, who emerged from the five heads of Shiva before Brahma started to populate the world.
Ahimsa, non-violence, and vegetarianism are followed, showing Jain influence.

History The early history of the movement is obscure but it is clear that the Virashaivas appeared as a reformist Shaiva sect in the middle or end of the twelfth century on the borders of Maharashtra and Karnataka. This sect may have been a reaction of the Dravidians against Brahmanic domination.
The Shaiva movement is very ancient and existed centuries before Basava was born. Basava is thought by some scholars to be the founder of Virashaivism but the books in Kannada and Sanskrit on Virashaivism do not name Basava as the founder. The Basava Purana and other books clearly describe Basava, incarnated as Nandikesvara, coming into the world to save the persecuted devotees of Shiva. Basava is more correctly termed the leader of the Virashaivas, but there was another important reformer named Ekanta Ramayya, of whom little remained known when the history of Virashaivism was written, except the miracle of the heads in the Basava Purana. Both leaders were involved in persecuting the Jains, but Jain influence persists in the Virashaiva emphasis on non-violence and vegetarianism. Basava died about 1167.
Five pontificial seats, or matha, of the five founders, the pancacarya, were established close to one or other of the twelve Jyoti lingas, self-emanated lingas, of India. A hierarchy of matha descends from these five main matha down to the small village matha, or hirematha. The upacarya matha in towns or large villages is presided over by a pattadevaru, 'royal god,' or 'enthroned god.' In contrast to the kingly guru of the pancacarya tradition there is the virakta tradition of matha for ascetic gurus who renounce worldly attachment.
With the pattadevaru, the term guru is synonymous with jangama which designates status by birth and thus the jangama are a caste of guru. But with the virakta matha often a child born under a 'bad star' will be given as a novice. Then with devotion and austerity any novice can attain to become a jangama by initiation. In summary, there is the Jangama at the centre of the settlement and the Jangama as a recluse in the hills and forest.
Over the last seventy years throughout Karnataka the virakta matha has seen a spectacular rise in power with the pancacarya matha in decline. The Shivayoga Mandira, a central training establishment, was set up to meet the demand for virakta ascetics. A war of pamphlets, processions, and conferences between the Virakta Party and the Pancacarya Party resulted in the success of the Virakta Movement.
The complementary opposition of the renouncer ascetic and the Virashaiva community, between man-outside-of-the-world and man-in-the-world, has survived historical pressures and the ascetic renouncer continues to play an important role as catalyst and agent of transformation in Virashaiva society.

Symbols Of vital importance is the linga, a form of Shiva, worn around the neck or on the upper arm in a silver casket. Traditionally the linga is a small stone from Patalaganga, a tributary of the Krishna River below Srisailam, and now flooded by a reservoir. Patalaganga is the river of the underworld in Hindu mythology.
The linga is invested soon after birth at the astavarna, eightfold sacrament, ceremony which has eight rites, each of important symbolism. The guru (1) of the family claims descent from the pancacarya. He binds the linga (2) on the child, covers it with vibhuti (3), sacred ash, places a necklace of rudraksa (4), seeds of the bastard cedar, around the neck, and teaches the mantra (5), Om Namah Sivaya, obeisance to Shiva. The child is then presented to Shiva in the form of a Jangama (6), whose feet are washed by the parents. This water, the tirtha (7) of Shiva, is poured over the child's linga. The Jangama is fed and part of this now sanctified food, prasad (8), is given to the child. A slightly different ceremony is repeated when the child is eight or ten.
One's personal linga is called the istalinga and the rite of its worship is a simple private meditation in a household shrine with no priest involved. The visit of a Jangama to a home is a sacred event with much ritual and symbolism. He goes to the 'god-room' which has been purified with cow-dung paste and to which no member of the family can enter without bathing. His feet are washed by the head of the household and this dhulapadodaka (dhula meaning dust and padodaka meaning foot-water) is sprinkled over the people present and through the house in an act called mane santi, house-peace. The two big toes of the Jangama are adorned with vibhuti and patri leaves, and are worshipped with incense. Water or coconut milk is poured over the toes and collected underneath as karunaprasada, 'consecrated offering of compassion,' which the Jangama and the devotee drink. The Jangama and devotee then worship the istalinga. Though the istalinga is for sole worship and symbolically represents the devotee's personal purification and ultimate union with Shiva, it needs the Jangama to give it life, for he is a living Shiva.
In the initiation rite of Jangama boys and in the marriage rite of all Virashaivas, the five pancacarya pitha, pontificial seats, are symbolized by five metal pots filled with water and betel leaves, linked together and tied to the main participants of the ritual by a thread. The pattadevaru Jangamas sit on a throne and wear gold, whereas the ascetic Jangamas sit on the skin of a wild tiger. On the prakara (outer) wall of Srisailam Temple we can see many carvings of Jangamas and some sit on living tigers. Basava and his deified form of Nandikesvara is an important symbol, especially with the virakta matha. He too is to be found on the prakara at Srisailam.
The Mallikarjuna Temple at Srisailam is one of the five centres of the pancacarya and here are to be found not only the Jyoti linga but many forms of Shiva, and many gods and goddesses, especially on the prakara.

Adherents Most Virashaivas live in the state of Karnataka, with others in Andhra Pradesh, northern Tamil Nadu, and at the Virashaiva matha in the Himalayas and at Varanasi. Census 1911: Bombay Presidency 729,431; Mysore 1,339,248 ; Madras Presidency 134, 592 ; total India, 2,976,293.

Main Centre
 The head matha of the pancacarya are at Kedar in the Himalayas, Varanasi, Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh, and Ujjini and Rambhapuri in Karnataka. But in the last ninety years the virakta have become the controlling nucleus of the Virashaivas. Sites associated with the virakta tradition are places of pilgrimage; both with ancient shrines such as the final retreat of Basava at the confluence of the Krishna and Malaprabha rivers, and shrines with still living svamis.