Apr 26 2013

Basava – The pot is God

Published by at 7:39 am under Poetry

The pot is a God
by Basava

English version by A. K. Ramanujan

The pot is a God. The winnowing
fan is a God. The stone in the
street is a God. The comb is a
God. The bowstring is also a
God. The bushel is a God and the
spouted cup is a God.

Gods, gods, there are so many
there’s no place left
for a foot.
      There is only
one God. He is our Lord
of the Meeting Rivers.

— from Speaking of Siva, by A K Ramanujan

/ Photo by Chor Ip /

I love this poem. I first found it in Georg Feuerstein’s mammoth book on The Yoga Tradition, and then later in A. K. Ramanujan’s Speaking of Siva. It’s one of those simple, yet powerful poems that rings in the back of my mind.

Gods, gods, there are so many
there’s no place left
for a foot.

Makes you want to take every step carefully.

We can read the meaning of this in several ways. The perspective that comes to me first is that the Divine is everywhere, in every object and every encounter.

Another way to read these lines is that the foot is specific to the individual, and an expression of the ego. With gods, gods everywhere, there is no place left for the ego to stand.

And how about one more take on this? Basava might also be teasingly critical of the vast multiplicity of gods worshipped throughout the land, when all he sees is the supreme unity of Shiva as “our Lord of the Meeting Rivers.” It could be that he is reminding us not to project the multiplicity and endless separations of the manifest creation onto the unity of the Divine.

However we choose to read these lines, they are a reminder that each footfall contacts the eternal, there is no place else. Each step is union.

Basava, Basava poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Basava

India (1134 – 1196) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

Basava, sometimes referred to reverently as Basavanna or Basaveshwara, was a twelfth century devotee of Shiva and early organizer of the Virasaiva Lingayata sect in the Kannada-speaking regions of southern India.

The Virasaivas were a Shiva bhakti movement that rejected the elaborate ritualism and strict caste system of orthodox Hinduism which favored the wealthy, and instead emphasized direct mystical experience available to all through deep devotion to God. In this sense, the Virasaiva movement was a mystical protestant movement that also asserted social equality and justice for the poor. As Lingayatas they worship Shiva in the form of a linga, the stone symbol that represents God as creative generator of the universe or, more deeply, as a representation of the Formless taking form.

Basavanna was orphaned at a young age but adopted by a wealthy family with political connections. He received a good education but rejected a life of comfort and prestige to become a wandering ascetic dedicated to Shiva.

He received enlightenment at a sacred meeting of rivers. This is why all of Basavanna’s poems include a reference to Shiva as “the lord of the meeting rivers.” This also has a deeper, esoteric meaning relating to the subtle energies awakened in the yogi’s awareness.

However, he soon was given a divine command to return to worldly life. Basavanna initially resisted, but eventually yielded and returned to his adopted family. Before long he attained high political office while, simultaneously, forming the new populist mystical movement of Virasaivas into a coherent, egalitarian community. This community fostered many other great poet-saints, including Akka Mahadevi and Allama Prabhu.

This utopian community began to be seen as a threat to the orthodox religious and political forces, however, and they used the marriage between an outcaste man and a brahmin woman within the community as an excuse to kill several of its members. Basavanna urged a non-violent response, but the reflex for revenge was too strong among some of the community’s members. In the tense aftermath, the community couldn’t safely hold together and its members went in different directions.

Basavanna once again left politics and returned to his focus on the inner spiritual life.

More poetry by Basava

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Basava – The pot is God”

  1. old oakon 26 Apr 2013 at 2:11 pm

    Hi Ivan, this resonated for me also. The line : “our Lord of the meeting rivers” suggests (to me) that Shiva is the Creator ‘threshold’ between the flow of the unseen world and the the visible world around us as it comes into being and departs again. He is the confluence of creation.

  2. ebrahimon 27 Apr 2013 at 8:33 am


  3. johnon 27 Apr 2013 at 12:29 pm

    thanks Ivan I love reading your poems and commentaries. I often have questions about the dark side of human nature when I read poems such as the Basava. I have the capacity for greed, envy, lustful thoughts, cruelty, aggression etc whilst simultaneously and consciously approaching the divine in everything. These thoughts and feelings and hopefully not too often actions, are they Gods too? Not much comment on this side of being human. What do you think? Keep the poems coming. John

  4. ebrahimon 28 Apr 2013 at 2:12 am

    The dark sides are a necessity which one must eventually come to terms with. Without them their contraries cannot be truly recognized and so engendered. They are a prohibition for the unrealized man, while for the realized man, they as all things serve a purpose and are means and vehicles towards attainment. This is when one begins to bloom out of ones necessary repression to the wide open space of true enlightenment. Joy. Within the contrast of deep black dark space shines the brilliant sun. Hidden heart becomes manifestly recognizable, AS A TREASURE!

    JOHN, that capacity you have we all have too. and it is frightening. But all the same, the brave surfer must ride the waves as must he grasp night and day. But here the way is subtle with keen sense and intuitive knowing, more than intellectual reasoning. In this dark disease there is a cure and a healing. But at first it is only taken against the passions; the very passions which strip one of all good and leave one depleted, lost and scarred. The greatest care here must be taken, for more than this here is a great corruption, which needs an articulate and astute guiding hand in proceeding forth.

    As for the noble one on the way to realization, simple patience with strong perseverance must be had. Temptation must not be given into and when these fires rise and explode, immediately must one return, in earnest prayer. Even repression has a limit and when overdone it results in a spring-back. Good measure must be found. And the animal at all times be kept on a firm leash. Not to tight that it cannot move and not to loose that again it begins to rule.

    Best wishes.

  5. fuzzy tomon 28 Apr 2013 at 5:36 am

    There is only
    one God. He is our Lord
    of the Meeting Rivers.

    Just like the rivers will gush into an ocean, and sometimes becoming ephemeral in the course, so are god, gods and gods that will become transitory to sustain our Lord.

  6. Sobhanaon 29 Apr 2013 at 12:12 pm

    Love the poem along with your commentary, Ivan

    Yes, the same ” God is everywhere/everything” echoed by Sri Aurobindo Ghosh (1872–1950) which I discovered only a couple of days prior He was a poet too

    To ebrahim very well put & to John… Forgive me mentioning Aurobindo again…In his treatise, The Life Divine the author mentioned the same of human beings having inner dark & light matter that complement to each other It is, however, everyone’s inner need to be good &/or do good Please Google/or such search it the above with analysis by Roy Posner Also study guide by David Hutchinson & etc

    Thank you

  7. Zoe Durga Harberon 01 May 2013 at 7:27 am

    Another interpretation is that the foot represents freedom. The various things that are “”god” keep the feet from traveling, keep a person stepping carefully, not able to follow the promptings of the inner voice, the heart, the intuition. Most of us are trapped in the life of the pot, the comb, the cup. Things (money) have become our god and our lives are spent worshipping things and wealth. But there is Shiva, who constantly breaks down our perceptions and addictions/attachments so that there is always opportunity to dwell in the unknown. Shiva the destroyer gives the possibility to be free of concepts which limit our experience and free to go to the river and just plain “be”. The foot is free to wander or dance or run or jump…It’s up to each of us how we want to know goo..

  8. lakshmikmbhaton 02 May 2013 at 2:05 am

    Beautiful thoughts.
    Thank you,

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