What Girish Karnad Told Gauri Lankesh As the Saffron Army Laid Siege to Bababudangiri

"Whom do they want to destroy? Look at the words they use… Is this even Kannada?" the playwright had asked the journalist on their way to the dargah.

When the saffron brigade had laid siege to the Bababudangiri Dargah in Karnataka, calling it the ‘Ayodhya of the South’, journalist Gauri Lankesh mobilised writers and intellectuals to rally against the Hindutva surge in the historical site. In this piece published on December 3, 2003 in Lankesh Patrike, Gauri had recalled how Girish Karnad, who passed away on June 10, had eagerly joined the effort to preserve communal harmony. The Special Investigation Team probing Gauri’s assassination has found evidence that suggests that Karnad had been first on the hit list of the same right-wing group that killed Gauri.


Such amazing things happened over the two weeks when we organised communal harmony meetings at Chikmagalur and Bababudangiri, and called upon people to stop Karnataka from becoming another Gujarat and Bababudangiri from being turned into Ayodhya by the saffron brigade… I am confused about where to even begin!

The writer Girish Karnad, who had already expressed his support to protecting Bababudangiri which is a symbol of harmony, called me up and asked, “Shall we make a trip there to understand the ground reality before the communal harmony conference on December 7 and 8?”

“It’s a beautiful idea, let’s go,” I said. Karnad, Dr K. Marulasiddappa, G.K. Govind Rao, Shudra Shrinivas, Professor V.S. Sridhara and I headed to Chikmagalur in a Tata Qualis.

On the way we discussed the uniqueness of Bababudangiri and the poisonous environment being created around it by the saffron brigade. It is no secret that the monkeys of the Bajrang Dal are gearing up to create disruptions at Bababudangiri this year. The slogans of the Bajrang Dal last year stand testimony to this. Shridhar showed me the photos taken last year. One of the photos had a banner with the slogan: ‘Committed to friendship, but ready to destroy!’

Karnad was furious when he read this. He thundered, “Whom do they want to destroy? Look at the words they use. ‘Muscle power’, ‘streams of blood’, ‘destroying the enemy’… Is this even Kannada?”

Also read: Girish Karnad, Icon Who Transformed Modern Indian Theatre

Marulasiddappa remarked, “Our culture was shaped by Basavanna, Sharif, Kanakadasa and Kuvempu. ‘Compassion is the core of religion’… This is the basis of Karnataka’s religion. But these Bajrang Dal types know only the language of Modi and Togadia.”

That photo had also captured the ‘demands’ of the Bajrang Dal — offering pooja at Dattapitha, installation of an idol, appointment of a priest, the removal of the tombs around Dattapitha and declaration of this entire region as a holy place for the Hindus.

"If speaking up means being a Naxal then I am an urban Naxal," Girish Karnad (with the 'Me Too Urban Naxal' sign in the picture) had said. Credit: The Wire staff

“If speaking up means being a Naxal then I am an urban Naxal,” Girish Karnad (with the ‘Me Too Urban Naxal’ sign in the picture) had said. Image: The Wire Staff

The Bajrang Dal has made the same demands this year too. The Bharatiya Janata Party has declared its full support to them.

But every demand of the Bajrang Dal stands in direct contravention of the Supreme Court’s judgment. Meeting even one of these demands would amount to contempt of court. It is no surprise that the ignorant BJP supporters are unaware of this.

We discussed the judgment of the Supreme Court on Bababudangiri. According to this judgment, only the rituals that were practised till June 1975 can be continued and no new rituals are to be allowed. It had also listed the religious practices that were being followed in Bababudangiri.

Many of the rituals seen in Hindu temples are followed here. They are:

1. Offering flowers to the paadukas (footwear of the godhead).
2. Lighting the lamp.
3. Giving theertha (holy water) to the devotees.
4. Breaking coconuts as an offering.
5. Paying respects to the religious heads of Hindu mathas.
6. Blessing devotees by stroking their heads with peacock feathers.

The hills of Bababudangiri in Karnataka.

The hills of Bababudangiri in Karnataka. Source: ‘SandFlash/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The judges of the Supreme Court who wrote the judgment (in 1975) extolled the uniquely harmonious character of this holy shrine. In the judgment they said that while all the talk of ‘Ram-Rahim’ is often a cliché, it is a living tradition here. The judges further said that above all, one needs to appreciate the stand taken by the shakhadri, the hereditary administrator of the shrine. Himself a Muslim, he had said that this holy space does not belong to just Muslims but as much to Hindu devotees. It is to be equally appreciated that Hindus, who are petitioners, have not claimed that the place is exclusively of the Hindus even though it has paadukas and nanda deepa.

The Muslims who have been worshipping at this place for hundreds of years have never claimed this space exclusively for themselves, the court noted. The Wakf Board, meanwhile, is trying to stake a claim over this space. When the world is falling apart because of fissures between religions and castes, this contentious centre, Guru Dattatreya Bababudanswamy Dargah, is a great example of real secularism, the judges said.

It is an act of evil that in such a place, an orthodox Hindu party like the BJP and its hell-raising arm, the Bajrang Dal, are demanding the appointment of a priest (I need not emphasise that it will be a brahmin) and the razing of tombs. They are keen to proclaim it a Hindu holy place.

Girish Karnad ridiculed the whole idea, saying, “Datta Jayanti or Datta Maala are not our tradition at all. It is not religion but politics in the name of religion that is behind such practices. It is very easy to understand the conspiracy behind brahminising the Dattatreya of the Natha tradition who had rejected the caste system.”

Also read: Journalism and the Media’s Crisis of Credibility in an Age of Strident Nationalism

The Guru Dattatreya Bababudanswamy Dargah has its own history. Dada Hayat, who had come to Chandra Drona Mountain from Arabia, won the appreciation of shudras and dalits, then suffering at the hands of local chieftains, by helping them. Some, impressed by the love, compassion, and tolerance shown by Dada Hayat, converted to Islam while many others became devotees of Dada Hayat without severing ties with their old religion, but by calling him an avatar of Dattatreya himself. There is a reason for this too. In Hindu mythology, Vishnu takes the avatar of Dattatreya to free people from slavery. So the Hindu devotees saw Dattatreya in Dada Hayat and gave him a Hindu name. It was common to give Muslim Sufi saints Hindu names back then. For example, Bijapur’s Sufi saint Khwaja Ameenuddin Allah was called Brahmanandayike Swamy by the Hindu devotees and Tintini’s Moiddeen was ‘Hinduised’ as Muniyappa.

In due course, the two names Dada Hayat and Dattatreya became one, and in the land documents of the dargah, the shakhadri came to be called ‘Jagadguru’. Both Hindu and Muslim kings have been devotees of this place for centuries. There was a steady flow of money to this dargah during Rani Chennamma’s time. Haider Ali also provided resources for its upkeep. Tipu Sultan granted hundreds of acres of land. Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar III visited the dargah multiple times for religious counsel from the pir. Not just that, the Mysore king provided special privileges to 16 Hindu religious authorities and Shri Guru Dattatreya Bababudanswamy Jagadguru. No other Muslim religious head was given this privilege.

In such a place the saffron brigade now wants homa, yoga, yagna, pooja… and such other pointless rituals.

Translated by Sudhamshu Mitra. Excerpted with permission from The Way I See It: A Gauri Lankesh Reader published by Navayana and DC Books.