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Patanjali: The Father of Yoga Sutras

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Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra consists of an eight-fold path called Ashtanga, which literally means “Eight limbs” which act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life, writes 

Several important Sanskrit works are ascribed to one or more authors of the name Patanjali, and a great deal of scholarship has been devoted over the last century or so over this issue. The compiler of the Yoga sutras which are the important collection of aphorisms on Yoga practice, who according to some historians was a notable person of Sankhya, contemporaneous with Ishwarakrishna’s Sankhya around 400 CE. In the Yoga tradition, Patanjali is a revered name and has been deified by many groups especially in the Shaivite Bhakta tradition. It is claimed by some that Patanjali is an incarnation of the mythical serpent Ananta.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are 196 Indian sutras (aphorisms) that constitute the foundational text of Ashtanga Yoga also called Raja Yoga. In medieval times, Ashtanga Yoga was cast as one of the six orthodox astika schools of Hindu philosophy.  The Sutras were compiled around 400 CE by Patanjali, taking materials about Yoga from older traditions. lead 1Together with his commentary they form the Patanjalayogasastra.


Recent comprehensive examination of all the evidence has confirmed the view of many older Sanskrit authors that one and the same person viz Patanjali composed the Sutras and the Bhasya commentary. The same study also confirms the date of composition of this work as falling in approximately 400 CE. The Yoga tradition is much older and there are references in the Mahabharata and the Gita identifying three kinds of Yoga. Sutra literally means a thread or in modern language we can say it is like a formula but there is an enormous amount of science behind that little formula which we do not understand.

Regarding his birth some hold the view that he was born at the “Gonarda” situated near Sri Lanka. This tradition is corroborated in Tirumular’s 7th cent Tamil Tirumandhisram which describes him as hailing from then Kailasam (Koneswaram temple, Trincovelee) and tradition has him visiting the Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram where he wrote the Charana Shrungarahita Stotram on Nataraja.

Regarding the birth of Patanjali there are various versions. The name comes from a legend which says that Shesha, the divine serpent king, incarnated as a snakelet and fell (patan) into the folded hands (Anjali Mudra) of a Brahmin. According to another legend, Patanjali was born fully self-realized. When the aged yogin Gonika, praying for a son to whom to impart her wisdom, offered a handful of water to the Sun God, a tiny snake fell into  the water and then took human form, whom she named ‘Pata’ (fallen) — anjali (hands folded in prayer). In one popular legend, Patanjali was born to Atri and his wife Anasuya. After passing the chastity test by accepting the trimurtis as her children and feeding them she got the boon that the three Murtis will be born to them. They were Soma Skandan or Patanjali, Dattatraya and Durvasa.

Patanjali is depicted as having the upper body of a human and the lower body of a coiled serpent. The three and a half coils represent the triguna (satva, rajas and tamas) and the gunatita, the transcended state that lies beyond the influence of the gunas. Patanjali uses the three weapons, a conch, a disc and a sword to restrain the Citt Vrttis, the movement of consciousness, remove the obstacles and eradicate the afflictions.

Again, he is symbolically depicted in the famous half-man and half-snake form indicating that he has risen above the duality of life and attained to ultimate oneness and in doing so, has opened the door for others to achieve the same. Half of his body has been symbolically made into snakes, because he is not seen as a person anymore. He is seen as the basis of the Yogic system.

We are told Patanjali played a variety of instruments and was a great musician and singer. Veena seems to have been his favourite instrument and he composed many ragas. His intellect was such that he could find his way through anything.

The ancient Kali Kautuvam also describes how Patanjali and Vyagrapada gathered along with the Gods in Thillai near Chidambaram to watch Shiva and Kali dance and perform the 108 mystic Karanas which formed the foundation for the system of Natya Yoga. Here he wrote the Charana Shrungarahita Stotram on Nataraja. Tradition also holds that Patanjali was a master of dance.

 Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra consists of an eight-fold path called Ashtanga, which literally means “Eight limbs” (ashta = eight, anga = limb). These eight steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life with our ethical and moral conduct, our health and spiritual aspects. In brief the eight limbs or steps to yoga are as follows: 1) Yama: Universal morality; 2) Niyama: Personal observances; 3) Asanas: Body Postures; 4) Pranayam: Breathing exercises and control of prana; 5) Pratyahara: Control of the senses; 6) Dharana: Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness; 7) Dhyana: Devotion, Meditation on the Divine; 8) Samadhi: Union with the Divine.

Yamas and niyamas are suggestions as to how we should deal with people around us and our attitude toward ourselves. The Yamas are five characteristics”. Yamas are practices that relate best to what we know as the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. The five Yamas are: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (continence), Apagriha (non-covetousness).

The five Niyamas are: Saucha (cleanliness), Santosa (contentment), Tapas (heat spiritual austerities), Svadhaya (study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self), Isvara Pranidhana (surrender to God).

The Yoga Sutras are an absolutely brilliant piece of work compared to any of the scriptures on the planet talking about life and beyond. It seems “You are not required to read the whole book. If you read one Sutra and make it true with your life that’s enough. It will realize you”

The Samadhi of Patanjali Maharshi is believed to be in Tiruputtur Brahmapureeswarar Temple, near Trichy where Lord Brahma installed 12 Shiva Lingams and worshipped Lord Shiva to get back His Tejas. It seems Shankaracharya’s Guru had told Shankaracharya that Patanjali was reincarnated as Govinda Bhagavatpada and was meditating in a cave somewhere in the state of Samadhi.