Allama Prabhu – A Celebrated Vachana Poet and a Patron Saint of Lingayata

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Allama Prabhu, also known as Allama and Allaya, was a notable poet, a renowned philosopher and a patron saint of Lingayata in the 12th century, who used art and literature to prophesy his teachings.

Allama Prabhu. Image courtesy Krishna Maheshwari

He is also a part of the Veera Shaivism or the ‘Trinity of Lingayatism’, along with Basavanna, a renowned social reformer and Akka Mahadevi, one of the most reputable poetesses in those times. Though his poems were mainly about his revered devotion to Shiva, he also used cryptic poetry to convey his thoughts on the credibility of social rituals and suggested appropriate ways to reform the society.

A collection of his poetry is included in the Vachana Sahitya literature, and there are 1,300 hymns are attributed to him.

Early life and childhood

Historians couldn’t ascertain the exact date when Allama Prabhu was born, and relied on writings of the century to learn more about him. According to legend, he was born in a village near Banavasi, to Nirahankara and Sujnani, after they prayed reverently to Goggeshwara, the family deity. Allama Prabhu was very artistic from a tender age of six. Perhaps he got his artistic flair from the earlier generations as he was born into a family of temple performers. While his father was a dance teacher, the poet had a great interest in playing a drum called maddale, and became an expert temple drummer for the local temple.

Marriage and enlightenment

During one of his performances at the temple, he fell in love with a temple dancer, Kamalathe. She reciprocated to his love and married him soon. Unfortunately, she died from a fatal disease, which left the poet grief-stricken. He wandered away to cure his broken heart and stumbled upon a hidden temple.

This is where he met his guru, Animisayya, who blessed him with a ‘linga’ icon, which awakened his spiritual being, and helped him attain enlightenment. Allama then used his art to express his thoughts about the society, and about his devotion to Shiva.

There are writings about a young princess Mayadevi, who fell in love with Allama. But Allama being a devoted yogi who had attained metaphysical enlightenment, turned down Mayadevi’s advances, and even used his yogic powers to disappear when Mayadevi tried to entangle him in an embrace. Allama was a true devotee to Shiva, and didn’t give into worldly pleasures or any kind of temptations.

Poems and music of Allama Prabhu

The poet and philosopher played a lyre and spread messages through his songs and poems, both being impromptu renditions. His poems were mostly about his devotion and spirituality, which were conveyed in both simple and cryptic language. He composed poetry about societal problems, unethical practices and irrelevant customs. He also used his poems to criticize fellow devotees and poets. As all his compositions were in Kannada, he contributed in reshaping Kannada literature with his creative pieces of art.

He s believed to have died in Kadalivana, a village in present Andhra Pradesh. According to scholars and historians, Allama died ‘becoming one with the linga’.

There are numerous people intrigued by his life and teachings, and there are many writings about this renowned Vachana poet. A Kannada movie, Allama, was released this year, which became a huge success, and which bagged three National awards. The poet’s legacy truly lives on.

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