“The master of the house, is he at home or isn’t he?” – Basavanna

Grass on the threshold
Dirt in the house
The master of the house, is he at home, or isn’t he?
Lies in the body,
Lust in the heart:
no, the master of the house is not at home,
Our Lord of the Meeting Rivers.
Basavanna was a royal minister and the figure around whom the ‘Virasaiva’ community combined. He and his associates attempted to form an egalitarian community based on devotion to Shiva, rather than on caste divisions. Basavanna’s signature line, the “the lord of the meeting rivers” refers to a Shiva temple in the town of Kudalasangama, where three rivers met. In this poem, Basavanna writes on a level more inclined towards the ‘Advaita Vedanta’*. “The master of the house, is he at home or isn’t he?” stands to symbolize the presence of clean mind and body as a representation of the supreme abode of the God.
In the very first line, the word “threshold” refers to an entrance or a doorway, and “grass” might be a reference to the uncleaned path. This line is a clear indication to the fact that the thoughts that arise in a human mind is perverted to an extent; and various disturbances become the grass in man’s path to salvation. There is “dirt” in his house, meaning, he is not void of all worldly attachments. The poet is hinting at the human conscience, where man is entangled in this materialistic world and eventually has turned into a selfish creature.The poet is doubtful if there resides a master in the house or not. The master here is a direct reference to God, and that by having a perverted mind, He surely will not be present in the house. This statement is put in a form of a question, only to be more rhetoric, indicative of the fact whether the individual has begun to clear his conscience or is still struggling to learn the proper ideals.
Further, the poet strikingly highlights at the major flaw in man and that is he is never true to not only others but also to himself. As Shakespeare says,

“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Man is failing to be truthful, he easily succumbs to lying and cheating others, while being oblivion to the fact that he is not being true to himself. Man is lustful by nature – living in this materialistic world, he now is driven by lust and possesses the immense thirst for power, for materialistic wealth. The poet sternly asserts that the God does not reside in a body like such, where the mind is corrupted. The particular God that the poet refers to is Lord Shiva. According to the poet, Lord Shiva is the representation of the self-existent truth – this concept advocates the wearing of ‘Linga’ upon the body of each person so that the body becomes a temple fit for God to dwell in. Thus, it becomes a symbol of the presence of God not in the far-off heavens but in the very cells of the body.

*Advaita Vedanta – an interpretation of the whole body of Upanishads – which refers to the identity of the true self, Atman, which is pure consciousness, and the highest reality, Brahman, which is also pure consciousness.


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