Sage Patanjali (c. 200 BC), the greatest yoga master of all times, the author of the principle text on yoga — The Yoga Sutras, in whom is present the soul of all great masters of yoga who practiced, taught and lived yoga in their lives. Our homage to the successive tradition of all masters through which the yogic wisdom has reached us to enlighten our world with the noble principles of non-violence (ahimsa), friendliness (maitri) and karuna (compassion).
Sage Patanjali’s Life
Patanjali, undoubtedly the greatest expounder of Yoga, lived sometime between 500 and 200 B.C. The life of Patanjali is an enigma to modern historians, and almost nothing is known about this great Master who epitomizes Yoga. It is only with the help of legends that one can draw inferences about him. Undoubtedly he was a great Yoga adept and was perhaps the head of a school in which “Swadhyaya”, study of the Self, was regarded as an important aspect of spiritual practice.
Indian history is presumptive of several individuals by the name of Patanjali. Three of them were well-known; the first one being the famous grammarian who wrote the commentary on Panini’s Ashtadhyayi (the Mahabhashya) and compiled the Yoga Sutras, the classical text on Raja Yoga. The Mahabhashya symbolises the perfection of the discipline in grammar. The object of grammar is to supply rules for control of current speech (laukika) for the preservation of the integrity of the Vedas and the comprehension of proper meaning. The second person named Patanjali wrote the Nidana-Sutras, considered indispensable for the study of the Vedic ritual literature; while the third was a well-known teacher of Samkhya Philosophy. The above three people, in the historian’s view, happen to come from different time periods and are considered to be different personalities. The Indian Tradition however, differs in opinion strongly and advocates that the above different treatises were done by a single person and even further, attributes various medical treatises to him.
In the Indian tradition, Patanjali is said to be self-born, swayambhu. He was a highly-evolved soul who incarnated of his own will in a human form to help humanity.
He is also considered an incarnation of Ananta, the source of all wisdom (Jnana) and of Shesha, the thousand-headed ruler of the serpent race, which is thought to guard the hidden treasures of the earth. Ananta depicts a couch on which God Vishnu reclines. He is the Lord of serpents and his many heads symbolize Infinity or Omnipresence. Many yogis bow to Ananta before they begin their daily yogic practice.
In one of the legends, it is said that Lord Vishnu was seated on Adishesha, the Lord of serpents as His couch, watching the enchanting dance of Lord Shiva. Lord Vishnu was so totally absorbed in the dance of Lord Shiva, that His body began to vibrate to its rhythm. This vibration made Him heavier and heavier, causing Adishesha to feel so uncomfortable that he was gasping for breath and was on the point of collapse. The moment the dance came to an end, Lord Vishnu’s body became light again. Adishesha was amazed and asked his master the cause of these stupendous changes. The Lord explained that the grace, beauty, majesty and grandeur of Lord Shiva’s dance had created corresponding vibrations in His own body, making it heavy. Marvelling at this, Adishesha professed a desire to learn dance so as to exalt his Lord. Vishnu then became thoughtful, and predicted that soon Lord Shiva would grace Adishesha to write a commentary on grammar, and that he would then also be able to devote himself to perfection in the art of dance. Adishesha was overjoyed by these words and looked forward to the descent of Lord Shiva’s grace.
Adishesha then began to meditate to ascertain who would be his mother on earth. In meditation, he had the vision of a yogini by the name of Gonika who was praying for a worthy son to whom she could impart her knowledge and wisdom. He at once realized that she would be a worthy mother for him, and awaited an auspicious moment to become her son.
Gonika, thinking that her earthly life was approaching its end, and that her desire of finding a worthy son would remain unfulfilled; now, as a last resort looked to the Sun God, the living witness of God on earth and prayed to Him to fulfil her desire. She took a handful of water as a final oblation to Him, closed her eyes and meditated on the Sun. As she was about to offer the water, she opened her eyes and looked at her palms. To her surprise, she saw a tiny snake moving in her palms, who soon took on a human form. This tiny male human being prostrated to Gonika and asked her to accept him as her son. This she did and named him Patanjali because her hands had been in the prayerful gesture (anjali) and he had fallen (pat) from heaven.
Another incidence is said to have happened in Chidambaram (also known as Thillai ) located about a hundred miles from Madras. Chidambaram is considered to be one of the holiest temples in India. In this temple, Lord Nataraja is present in his cosmic-dancing form. The story goes that once in Darukavanam, Shiva wished to teach a lesson to the Rishis who were proud of their learning. Shiva took the form of a mendicant with a begging bowl in hand, accompanied by Vishnu disguised as Mohini. The rishipatnis (wives of the Rishis) were attracted by the sight of this beautiful pair.
The Rishis grew angry and tried to destroy the pair. They performed a sacrificial fire and raised a tiger from the fire, which sprang at Shiva. Shiva pealed off the skin of the tiger and wrapped it round his waist. Then again the Rishis sent a poisonous serpent and Shiva tied it round his neck. Then the Rishis sent against Shiva an Apasmara Purusha, Muyalaka, whom Lord Shiva crushed by pressing him to the ground with his foot.
At this, the Rishis confessed defeat and Shiva started to dance before all the Gods and Rishis. Lord Adishesha heard the description of Shiva’s dance at Darukavanam from Vishnu and requested Vishnu to allow him to witness the dance himself. Vishnu agreed to this. Adishesha performed penance and prayed to Shiva to allow him to see the dance. Being pleased with his penance, Shiva appeared to him and promised that he would dance at Tillai (Chidambaram). Accordingly, Adishesha was born as a human being, as Patanjali, and went to the forest of Tillai.
At this time a certain sage, Vyaghrapada, also lived in this forest. Vyaghrapada was the son of Madhyandina Rishi who lived on the banks of the Ganga. He came to the South under the directions of his father and started praying to the Swayambhulinga under a banyan tree near a tank in this Tillai forest. He used to collect flowers for puja and he prayed for the boon of getting tiger’s feet and claws, so that he could easily climb up the trees and pluck plenty of flowers. He also prayed for the eyes of bees, so that he could collect the flowers before any bee could taste the honey in them. His prayer for these two blessings was granted, and since he had the feet of a tiger, he was called Vyaghrapada.
Each constructed his own hermitage, Patanjali at Ananteeswaram and Vyaghrapada at Tirupuleeswaram in Chidambaram. They started worshipping Shiva in the form of the Swayambhulinga in Tillai forest. Days passed and when the time came for Shiva to give them Darshan, the guardian Goddess of the place, Kalika Devi, interfered and did not allow Shiva to give His Darshan.
Shortly afterwards, Shiva and Devi agreed that they should participate in a dance contest and that the winner should have undisputed possession of Tillai. So the dance started. At one moment during the dance, the Lord’s earrings fell down, but the Lord took them up from the floor in such a way that nobody could notice the loss and the recovery. This dance is called Urdhva Tandavam in which Shiva defeated Kalika Devi.
Now Nataraja performed the Ananda Tandavam, i.e. the Dance of Bliss, in the presence of Shivakamasundari and all the Gods and Rishis, and at the same time fulfilled the wish of the two devotees, Patanjali and Vyaghrapada, by allowing them to witness it and thus satisfying them.
Another story tells that once upon a time Nandi, Shiva’s carrier, would not allow Patanjali Muni to have Darshan of Lord Shiva (Nataraja of Chidambaram). In order to reach Lord Shiva, Patanjali, with his mastery over grammatical forms, spontaneously composed a prayer in praise of the Lord without using any extended (Dirgha) syllable, (without Charana and Shringa) i.e. leg and horn, to tease Nandi.
Shiva was quickly pleased, gave Darshan to the devotee and danced to the lilting tune of this song.
These three short legends throw some light upon Patanjali and his greatness. Today unfortunately even Patanjali’s lineage does not appear to exist anymore. Patanjali’s life is obscure, with precise details about his place of birth, life and personality missing; this uncertainty however does not detract the great merit of the Patanjali Yoga-Sutras. It is the most condensed traditional outline of the yogic path and should be studied in depth by all serious students of Yoga. Yogacharya B.K.S Iyengar, who is definitely one of the greatest exponents of Patanjali Yoga Sutras, is responsible for shedding much light on the greatness of Patanjali and his writings. It is his great vision that brought to the forefront, the science of Patanjali Yoga Sutras and its benefit to our daily lives.
Sage Patanjali’s Yoga
Yoga is a Darsana, a mirror to look at ourselves from within. Control of the mind is Yoga. When the mind is controlled, stilled and silenced, what remains is the soul. It is the quest of soul, the spark of Divinity within us, which is the very purpose of Yoga.
Yoga is an art and a science as well as a philosophy. Yoga touches the life of man at all levels, whether it is physical, mental or spiritual. Yoga is a practical method for making one’s living purposeful, useful and noble. Yoga enables one’s body, organs of actions, senses of perception, mind, intelligence, consciousness as well as trillions of cells to get attuned to its essence – the conscious seer within. Yoga alone enables the seer to directly perceive and experience using his vestments for the world within and around himself to gain insight and feel the divine joy of all creation. The Yogi then shares the Amrita, the nectar of divine wealth and happiness with his fellow beings.
Uninterrupted practice of Yoga done with devotion keeps the practitioner free from motivation, desire for reward, and he develops discriminative intelligence. This discriminative intelligence which develops in the practitioner of Yoga keeps his mind free from contact of the tempting objects and yokes it to the soul which is unmoving, unrotating but ever in the state of present.
Through reverential practice of Yoga, the fire which emanates from the practice burns out the impurities of body, mind and intelligence and bestows the consciousness with the crown of wisdom for it rests on the lap of the Self. From then on the never changing intuitive light of the Self radiates and frees the practitioner from the actions which are filled with afflictions.
That’s why daily intensive practice is very important. There is no other way so that one can reach that state of emancipation that is free from the afflictions of sorrows.
Patanjali Yoga Sutra
In the Yoga Sutras (also called Patanjala Yoga Darashanam), which consist of 196 Sutras (aphorisms), the tradition and philosophy of Yoga has been described and discussed by the great sage of ancient India, Bhagavan Patanjali. By studying these Sutras we are able to understand the ancient traditional view of Yoga and we understand what was meant by the term Yoga when it was used by those great ancient seers.
In today’s modern world the word “Yoga” is one of the most famous international terms with which every one is familiar and has some degree of fascination towards it. Yet how less in reality we know about this word and what it denoted in ancient times, we can only understand by studying the Yoga Sutras by Lord Patanjali, which is the most authoritative text on Yoga.
Today when we have Yogas like Power Yoga, Baby Yoga, Kickboxing Yoga and then the funny, highly advertised, Punk Rock Yoga, it is really time that we seriously inquired into the true significance of the term Yoga, so that we at least know what Yoga really means and what it is all about. We would never be able to know that until we haven’t gone through the classical texts, like the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Svatmarama etc.
Sutra, which is usually translated in English as “an aphorism”, literally means “a thread”. Like a thread in a rosary (Mala) threads all the beads and prevents them from falling apart, in the same way these Sutras act as a thread that is threading all the beautiful divine truths and concepts that are called Yoga collectively and prevents them from falling apart. So the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are like a rosary (Mala) in which the beads are the divine truths.
Darshanam, which is usually translated in English as “philosophy” (i.e. love for wisdom), literally means “a vision, a realization”. This indicates that the truths that have been described in the classical text of the Yoga Sutras are not just existing in theory, they are not just a hypothesis, but they have been “seen” by those great Seers, they have been realized by them. They had integrated those truths in their own lives.
The Patanjala Yoga Kendra organizes lectures on the Yoga Sutras, so that the students and the teachers of Yoga are able to understand this beautiful traditional text of ancient India.
Courtesy: Iyengar Yoga