By Swami Harshananda
Astāvaranas literally means ‘eight coverings’.
Vīraśaivism or the Liṅgāyata cult is a form of Śaivism. Basava (12th century) (also called Basavaṇṇa or Basaveśvara) was the re-organizer of this cult, if not the founder. The followers of this cult are seen mostly in the Karnataka State. ‘Astāvaraṇa’ is the second aspect of the practice of this cult, the first being ‘pañcācāra.’
Astāvaranas according to Vīraśaivism
‘Āvaraṇa’ means protective covering. The Liṅgāyata cult recognizes eight such protective coverings. They are :
- Guru - Spiritual teacher.
- Liṅga - Emblem of Śiva.
- Jañgama - Roving ascetic
- Pādodaka - Water sanctified by the touch of the feet of the guru or the jaṅgama
- Prasāda - Food sanctified by the guru or the jaṅgama
- Bhasma - Sacred ashes
- Rudrākṣa - Rosary of the rudrākṣa beads
- Mantra - Mystic formula
Significance of the Astāvaranas
- Guru - He is the spiritual teacher who initiates the novice into the mysteries of the Vīraśaiva cult.
- Liṅga - It is the emblem of Lord Śiva, a concrete symbol of the Supreme, given to the initiate by the guru at the time of initiation. The disciple is expected to wear it on his body always and worship it at the appointed hour.
- Jaṅgama - He is any roving ascetic of the Vīraśaiva faith who should be treated as equal to the guru.
- Pādodaka - The water with which the feet of the guru or the jaṅgama are washed or is sanctified by the touch of their feet, is pādodaka. It is considered auspicious. It is to be consumed by the devotees.
- Prasāda - Any food that is offered to Jaṅgama and sanctified by their touch is prasāda. It is to be consumed by the initiated devotees.
- Bhasma - It is the sacred ashes that should be smeared on the body at the appropriate places (like forehead, arms and so on).
- Rudrākṣa - It is the rosary of rudrākṣa beads used for keeping count of the japa of the mantra or the mystic formula. The rudrākṣa rosary may also be worn on the body.
- Mantra - It is the mystic formula given by the guru at the time of initiation. (Om namah śivāya)
Purport of Astāvaranas
These eight coverings act as shields against impurities of the body and mind, and protect the Vīraśaiva from the onslaughts of sin.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore