Basavanna was born in Engaleshwara Bagewadi, Bijapur district. His father, Madarasa, was the head of the town. His mother was Madalaambike. Basava was born into the Brahmin caste by birth. As a child, he refused to go through the initiation ceremony on the grounds that his sister and his friends were not initiated. This refusal aroused the people following the Vedic religion. The people went to the extent of excommunicating his family.
Basava left Bagewadi and accompanied his sister Akkanagamma to live in Sangama, a famous place with many learned persons. The town was situated on the banks of the rivers Krishna and Malaprabha. Many students came to Sangama seeking education from the scholars who lived in the town. There, Basava received his education from the three Gurus. They were Kappadiya Sangaiah, Jathaveda Muni and Eshanyaguru. After his education, Basava moved to Mangalavadi on the insistence of his father-in-law, Baladeva. Basava married Gangambike, the daughter of Baladeva. He also married Neelambike, daughter of Siddarasa.
Baladeva arranged for Basava to get a job in the treasury department as an accountant. Basavanna worked hard at his job eliminating many wastes and improved the wealth of the kingdom ultimately being promoted to a minister. When the kingdom was moved from Mangalavadi to Kalyana, Basavanna also moved to Kalyana.
Basava was a keen observer. Very early in his life, he noticed that his sister and other friends did not receive the initiation ceremony. During his many travels to the countryside, he observed numerous atrocities. Namely, he saw the wrongdoings of the Vedic followers as against the people in the Sudra class. Sudras were not allowed into temples. They could not read or write. Listing to Vedic hymns was punishable by pouring hot lead into their ears. Their tongues were cut off for reading Vedic hymns. In order to resolve these problems, he made Hadapada Appanna as his secretary. He said that he is the son Madaara Chennaiah, a Sudra by birth. He also was said to be alive because of the prasada from Dohara Kakkaiah, another Sudra by birth.
Basava’s religious revolution put an end to going to the temple. He made people aware of God’s presence everywhere. He gave importance to the worship of Istalinga. He rejected the Lingas established in temples. With these changes, people, including Sudras, joining his revolution, enjoyed worshipping the Lord without the intermediary. These changes also brought an end to the established caste system. Basava’s followers are called sharanas and they all had Istalinga for worship.
Basavanna exhibited openly enormous compassion towards the people of the Sudra Class. He proclaimed that compassion was the root of every religion. Losing ground on their power, the Vedic followers disliked him very much, and waited for an opportunity to take revenge against him and his followers.
Basavanna and most sharanas agreed to the marriage of Maduvaiahs daughter, a Brahmin, to the son of Haralaiah, a Sudra. The Vedic followers complained to king Bijjala. Sharanas argued that the marriage was not between two different castes but between two sharanas. Because of the pressure, king Bijjala ordered the bride and the groom to be executed. This punishment became the cause for the revolution in Kalyana, which resulted in the destruction of many vachanas and other documents.
Basavanna left Kalyana for Sangama, where he attained his Ikya. He wrote vachanas ending with “Kudala Sangama”. So far 1,426 vachanas have been found. He has been immortalized as “Anna” meaning brother. Even Mahatma Gandhi wished to eradicate untouchability in India, as was accomplished by Basava in the 12th century.
In a span of 20 years, Basava made social, economic, and religious reforms. In addition, he contributed to the literature by writing mostly in the form of vachanas, a mixture of poetry and prose. The caste system that is predominant even today in India, was eliminated with the introduction of the Istalinga. He proclaimed that there was no need for pilgrimages, no need to visit temples for worship, and most of all, that everyone was equal in the eyes of God. Sharanas classified people into two groups, devotee – a believer in God and bavi, a believer in many Gods.
Basava wrote vachanas that were meaningful and easy to read and understand. He encouraged people to express themselves. This lead to many people, who could not read and/or write, to write vachanas.
Cited from: Divine Guides by Guru S. Bale, 2003, Sid-Asha publishing Company