No one knows anything about the life of Patanjali, the compiler of the Yoga-Sutra, which is the classical text on Raja-Yoga. According to Indian tradition, he was the same person who also wrote a widely respected Sanskrit commentary the Mahabhashya on Panini’s Ashtadhyayi, a famous work on grammar. Some also attribute to him various medical treatises. Patanjali the grammarian lived c. 200 B.C. However, this traditional identification is questionable. Internal evidence in the Yoga-Sutra suggests that it was composed c. 100-200 B.C. The curious thing is that the Sutra nowhere mentions Patanjali as its compiler, and the first person to attribute this classical work on Yoga to him was Vacaspati Mishra, the tenth-century author of the Tattva-Vaisharadi commentary on the Sutra.
Indian tradition in fact knows of several individuals by the name of Patanjali. In addition to the grammarian and compiler of the Yoga-Sutra, there also was a Samkhya philosopher by that name, and in Tamilnadu (South India), the great sage Tirumular names a Patanjali as one of his disciples. But both individuals were of a later date. So was the Patanjali who authored the Nidana-Sutra, a work on ritualism.
Patanjali, the compiler of the Yoga-Sutra, has the following legend associated with him: One day, the old woman Gonika, who was barren, desired a son of her own. She fervently prayed to God Vishnu, who was greatly moved by her devotion. With his permission the cosmic serpent Ananta, who serves Vishnu as an eternal couch and who had been meaning to incarnate on Earth, resolved to become Gonika’s son. As she was stretching her hands, with upturned palms, in prayer toward Heaven, a minute fragment of Ananta’s infinite body dropped straight into her palms.
She immediately knew her prayers had been answered, and she lovingly nursed the heavenly seed until it had grown into a young man. Because her hands had been in the prayerful gesture called anjali and because her son had fallen (pat) from Heaven, she called him Patanjali.
We can only surmise that he must have been a man of considerable stature and wisdom to feel competent enough to compile his aphoristic work on Yoga, the Yoga-Sutra. His lineage does not appear to be alive anymore, though the twentieth-century Yoga master Swami Hariharananda (1869-1947), composer of a Sanskrit commentary on the Yoga-Sutra, was initiated by a teacher—Swami Triloki Aranya—who allegedly stood in the direct lineage of Patanjali. However, Hariharananda’s Sanskrit commentary on the Yoga-Sutra does not show any evidence of teachings other than those found in the extant Sanskrit literature on Patanjali’s compilation. If Patanjali’s lineage were still intact, one would have expected noticeably deeper explanations of the aphorisms (sutra). Many of the aphorisms remain somewhat obscure.
There is a gap of at least 250 years between the composition of the Yoga-Sutra and the appearance of the oldest available Sanskrit commentary on it—Vyasa’s Yoga-Bhashya. But this shortcoming and also the uncertainty about Patanjali’s life do not detract from the great merit of the Yoga-Sutra. It is the most succinct traditional outline of the yogic path and should be studied in depth by all serious students of Yoga.
Copyright ©2000 indiansaga.info. All rights reserved.
By using this service, you accept that you won't copy or use the data given in this website for any commercial purpose.
The material on indiansaga.info is for informational & educational purpose only.
This site is best viewed at 800 X 600 picture resolution.