Rahul Gandhi, the new ‘Lingayat’ on the block
On visit to Karnataka, Rahul Gandhi takes Ishtalinga deeksha for initiation into the sect that forms the single-largest community in the state
RAHUL Gandhi was a man on a mission on his two-day tour to Karnataka starting Tuesday. If one of his aims was to settle the tremors within the Congress over a grand Siddaramaiah birthday that left rivals – particularly D K Shivakumar – jittery, another crucial move was an outreach to the influential Lingayat community. On a visit to the Murgha Mutt, a prominent ashram in the Chitradurga region, Wednesday, Rahul took “initiation” into the Lingayat sect, which is considered a separate religion by its followers.
As part of the initiation, the senior Congress leader was given Ishtalinga, a symbol of ‘the universal force’, to wear. Tied to a thread that lies across the chest or body, Ishtalinga is usually put on children born in Lingayat families at the time of their naming ceremony, but can be tied at any time by persons who accept the Lingayat philosophy that revolves around a universal force, equality and secular values, say experts.
Following the ceremony, Rahul said: “It is an absolute honour to visit Sri Jagadguru Murugharajendra Vidyapeetha and receive the Ishtalinga deeksha from Dr Sri Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru.”
A website on the Lingayat sect calls the tying of the Ishtalinga “the main and important ritual for a Lingayat”. “Any human being irrespective of rich or poor, male or female, officer or clerk, director or office boy, black or white, can become a Lingayat by Ishtalinga deeksha.”
As per the website Lingayatreligion.com, the Lingayats are strict monotheists and enjoin the worship of only one God, namely, Linga (Shiva). The word ‘Linga’ here signifies “universal consciousness” qualified by “universal energy (shakti)”. Though Lingayats often refer to Shiva or Parashiva, for them he is not the mythological Shiva, but a formless God.