Hinduism Hinduism in Karnataka
Manu Devadevan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 January 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0265


This is a bibliography of a wide assortment of religious traditions that are characterized today as representing Hinduism. The geographical extent is limited to the areas that are included in the administrative province of Karnataka, formed in 1956 on the recommendations of the States Reorganisation Committee, a body set up by the Government of India. The bibliography enumerates works produced in English after this date, as the older works are mostly dated now. It must be borne in mind that this province is not coterminous with the region of Karnataka that has existed with porous and shifting boundaries for more than a thousand years. The checkered history of administrative divisions in the last two centuries has left its impression on historical research too, including research on the history of religious traditions. The transformation of diversely organized religious groups into monolithic communities—such as Hinduism and Vīraśaivism—was a product of historical developments over these two centuries, a fact which is increasingly recognized in academia today. Research on “Hinduism” in “Karnataka” must then acknowledge the prochronism in the former and the parachronism in the latter. Research on the history of religion in Karnataka has not been extensive or exhaustive. Much has been written on the 12th-century saint Basava and his Śaiva contemporaries, identified today as pioneers of Vīraśaivism. The historical fallouts of their work and the diverse traditions that they gave birth to in the following centuries have also been extensively commented upon, although much of it is in Kannada. From the 1980s, the Kannada academia has evinced interest in the siddha traditions of the region, including Nātha, Datta, and the Śākta traditions. The Vaiṣṇavite haridāsa tradition has received little attention. The dvaita tradition of Uḍupi, which commenced with Ānandatīrtha (Madhvācārya) in the thirteenth century, has drawn the interest of a few Anglophone researchers. There are a few interesting works on state festivals, especially of the Vijayanagara and Woḍeyar rulers. The most extensive research in English has been on temple architecture, which can form the subject of a veritable bibliographical essay in its own right. Unfortunately, there are no works that make a critical assessment or descriptive survey of the status of research. In what follows, I will describe the extant research thematically, which for want of space is not an exhaustive survey but limited to the most significant works.

Religious Processes

The study of religious processes in Karnataka, involving long-term assessments of identity formation, development of canons, legends, rituals and situated practices, interreligious encounters, and relationship with the political economy, has largely remained a desideratum. Nevertheless, in thematic terms, the existing works cover an extensive ground ranging from shedding light on a wide range of religious engagements between the Hindus and Muslims (Assayag 2004, Sikand 2003, Sikand 2007) to questions of ethicality and the production of narratives thereof (Prasad 2010). Devadevan 2016 explores religious processes of a number of sectarian groups and cults and their interfaces in the region between 1000 and 1800 CE from the standpoint of the political economy, examining diverse processes such as temple building, knowledge production, the making of monasteries, and lineages of saints. Comparable works for the first millennium CE do not exist. Nandi 1986 studies, among other things, the rise of Vīraśaivism by examining migration of priestly groups and the local relationships of patronage they established. Vīraśaivism is also the focus of Chandra Shobhi 2005 and Chandra Shobhi 2016, where various aspects concerning the rise of the Vīraśaivas, such as compilation of vacana anthologies and production of narratives on the lives of the 12th-century vacana-composing saints are explored. There are lengthy discussions in Liceria 1972 on the brahmadēya holdings of the brāhmaṇas, although this is not a study of religious processes per se. Rao 2005 looks at the making of the brāhmaṇa settlements of coastal Karnataka with the help of the Grāmapaddhati and Sahyādri Kāṇḍa chronicles produced these areas. These works do not exhaust the field, but are nonetheless complemented to a certain extent by a few studies cited in the sections on Sectarian Groups (Ben-Herut 2018), Temple and Monastic Institutions (Champakalakshmi 2011, Nandi 1973), and Power and Patronage (Simmons 2014a, Simmons 2014b, Simmons 2020).

  • Assayag, Jackie. At the Confluence of Two Rivers: Muslims and Hindus in South India. New Delhi: Manohar, 2004.

    This study looks at the interface of Islam and Sufism with various Śaiva, Vaiṣṇava, and goddess worship traditions in Karnataka. It covers an extensive terrain, shedding light on village life, sacred spaces, religious legends, festivals, demonology, mythology, and performance, and extends to a discussion of tradition and modernity, history and memory, and conflict and violence in the twentieth century.

  • Chandra Shobhi, Prithvi Datta. “Pre-modern Communities and Modern Histories: Narrating Vīraśaiva and Lingayat Selves.” PhD diss., University of Chicago, 2005.

    Vīraśaivism is generally believed to have arisen as a rebellious reform movement of Basava and his Śaiva associates, who composed vacana poems in the twelfth century. Chandra Shobhi urges us to rethink this account, as, in his estimation, Vīraśaivism was first shaped in the fifteenth century, when canons containing the oldest specimens of vacanas were produced, and again after the nineteenth century, when vacanas appeared in printed forms.

  • Chandra Shobhi, Prithvi Datta. “Kalyāṇa is Wretched: The Remaking of a Medieval Capital in Popular Imagination.” South Asian Studies 32.1 (2016): 90–98.

    DOI: 10.1080/02666030.2016.1182327

    The city of Kalyāṇa figures prominently in literary traditions in Karnataka as the location where a turbulent reform movement led to the birth of Vīraśaivism. Chandra Shobhi argues that in these traditions, the fall of the city formed the founding moment of Vīraśaivism. He also dwells on the representation of the city in oral narratives of lower castes and untouchables, where the fall of the city symbolizes moral failure.

  • Devadevan, Manu V. A Prehistory of Hinduism. Warsaw and Berlin: DeGruyter Open, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110517378

    This work explores the trajectory of development and transformations in religious life in Karnataka from 1000–1800 CE. It traces the evolution of religious identities to the widespread practice of temple-building in the eleventh and the twelfth centuries. Subsequent developments in philosophical systems, monastic life, pilgrimage networks, and trends in asceticism are discussed in the changing context of the political economy, with emphasis on land management and inheritance of landed property.

  • Liceria, Sister M. A. C. “Social and Economic History of Karnataka, c. AD 1000–1300.” PhD diss., Patna University, 1972.

    This unpublished doctoral dissertation is not about religious history per se, but there are extensive discussions in it concerning land grants made to brāhmaṇas as brahmadēya holdings, and the evolution of brāhmaṇa settlements in Karnataka between the eleventh and the thirteenth century. It is an important source for understanding the geographical distribution of brāhmaṇas and their religious profile rooted in landed-ness.

  • Nandi, Ramendra Nath. Social Roots of Religion in Ancient India. Calcutta: K.P. Bagchi, 1986.

    Nandi explores the development of religion in three phases: (i) Brāhmaṇism; (ii) Vaiṣṇavism, Śaivism, and Jainism; and (iii) Vīraśaivism. Nandi argues that priestly groups migrating from northern India gained prominence in the region by a new patron-client relationship with emerging local lords. A relationship built on the practice of land grants and the ideology of bhakti came into being, which formed the historical backdrop for the rise of Vīraśaivism.

  • Prasad, Leela. “Ethical Subjects: Time, Timing, and Tellability.” In Ethical Life in South Asia. Edited by Anand Pandian and Daud Ali, 174–191. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    Prasad examines two oral narratives of a boat tragedy in the town of Sṛṅgēri, the multiple temporalities that the narratives embody, and the ways in which their ethicality negotiates with the religious world of the temple town in flexible ways.

  • Rao, Nagendra. Brahmanas of South India. Delhi: Kalpaz, 2005.

    An account of the brāhmaṇas of coastal Karnataka, this empirically rich assessment is based on the Grāmapaddhati and Sahyādri Kāṇḍa chronicles. It adopts an ethnohistorical method to identify the settlements of the brāhmaṇas on the western seaboard, and describes the legends associated with them. The brāhmaṇa settlements are presented as feudal in their character, and their ideology as underwriting the hegemony of the brāhmaṇas as well as the state.

  • Sikand, Yoginder. Sacred Spaces: Exploring Traditions of Shared Faith in India. New Delhi: Penguin, 2003.

    In this broad-based survey, Sikand gives an account of several religious centers across India that developed as spaces of shared faith between groups now strictly demarcated as Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and Sikh. There are two chapters that describe such centers in Karnataka. This work awakens us to alternate forms of religious transactions that are not hypothetical possibilities, but have been historical realities for centuries.

  • Sikand, Yoginder. “The Changing Nature of Shared Hindu-Muslim Shrines in Contemporary Karnataka, South India.” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 25.1 (2007): 49–67.

    DOI: 10.1080/00856400208723465

    Sikand gives an estimate of what he calls shared Hindu-Muslim shrines, including those located in Bābā Buḍāngiri, Tinthiṇi, Bīdar, Basavakalyāṇa, and Koḍēkallu. The Hinduization of these shrines, Sikand argues, is not a new phenomenon but part of a long term process of the spread of brāhmaṇical Hinduism.

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