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Patanjali

Patañjali himself is generally depicted as half human and half serpent. His human torso emerges from the coils of the all-powerful serpent, who is awakening in the moment of creation. The serpent embodies that creative energy. It is coiled three and a half times. There is one coil each for the earth, the atmosphere, and the heavens. Or, again, one could each to represent his omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient natures. And then a further half-coil to show that he sets aside the material nature rises above them all, and is absorbed only in the world seen in meditation, being free from everything else..

Like many elements in the history of yoga, there is a great deal of ambiguity regarding Patanjali, a most important figure in the story of the growth and development of the science and art of yoga.


Almost everything about Patanjali is unknown, The dates proposed for Patanjali’s birth and life vary but by most accounts he lived and flourished between the 4th and 6th century BCE. The beauty of the absence of factual evidence regarding his biography is that it encourages the true student/truth seeker to look not only toward his work but also toward the mythical components of his story, even the meaning of his name which sheds light on the many dimensions of the legendary figure.


Prior to the Yoga Sutra, yoga was an oral tradition, passed from teacher to student. While Patanjali is not considered the inventor of yoga, he is credited with expounding its teachings. Patanjali was able to take the attitude, feeling, pure heart and consciousness of yoga and give it a written form.

His treatise, the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali are considered to be the first systematic presentation of yoga, comprised of 195 aphorisms, or terse statements expressing principle, wisdom or truth. Based on this style of writing, scholars posit he lived around 250 B.C.E.


The lord is generally depicted in a meditative trance. His folded hands are both blessings and greeting those who have approached him seeking yoga and its truths. His salutation eases their labors with their grace. It also assures them that those labors will eventually bear fruit. Patañjali, in fact, has not two, but four hands. The two immediately in front of him create the blessings of the añjali while the other two are raised. One of the uplifted hands holds sankha, the conch that embodies the energy of sound. It both calls students to practice and announces the imminent ending of the world, as they have so far known it. His other uplifted hand holds the cakra or discus that embodies both the turning wheel of time and its associated law of cause and effect..


According to one interpretation, shortly before Patanjali was born, Vishnu was seated on his serpent, Adisesa. Vishnu was so captivated by the enchanting dance of Lord Siva that he started to vibrate to its rhythm. The vibration made him heavier and heavier, causing Adisesa to nearly collapse. When the dance was over, the weight was lifted. Adisesa, mesmerized by this dramatic change, expressed to Vishnu that he wanted to learn to dance and Vishnu predicted that Lord Siva would bless him for his understanding and devotion to the dance.


Adisesa began thinking about who his mother would be. Simultaneously, Gonika, a devoted yogini, was praying for a worthy son to whom she would pass along her knowledge and understanding of yoga. Adisesa then fell from heaven in the form of a little snake into the upturned palms of Gonika, destined to perpetuate the teachings of yoga on earth. The mythological component to this story offers insight to the meaning of the name Patanjali. “pata” translates to falling, while “pat” is leaves containing knowledge (knowledge was composed on palm leaves) and “anjali” meaning offering or a hand gesture offering.

Ultimately, Patanjali can be roughly translated as “falling from heaven,” offering sacred knowledge coming from the heart. Regardless of man, myth, legend, Patanjali’s legacy is celebrated in the invocation translated by BKS Iyengar:


“To the noblest of Sages, Patanjali, who gave Yoga for serenity of mind, grammar for purity of speech, and medicine for the health of the body, I prostrate with folded hands. To this white Patanjali, who has a human form, holding conch, disc and sword and having a thousand heads, I bow”


Above Patañjali is the cobra's hood, the sign of ultimate protection from all possible evils and difficulties in the world. There are seven serpent hoods forming a divine umbrella protecting both Patanjali and all aspirants who turn to him for guidance. Those seven hoods symbolize his mastery and conquest of the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether, along with the attainment of moksha and Samadhi, liberation and enlightenment.


Patañjali himself is generally depicted as half human and half serpent. His human torso emerges from the coils of the all-powerful serpent, who is awakening in the moment of creation. The serpent embodies that creative energy. It is coiled three and a half times. There is one coil each for the earth, the atmosphere and the heavens. Or, again, one could each to represent his omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient natures. And then a further half-coil to show that he sets aside the material nature, rises above them all, and is absorbed only in the world seen in meditation, being free from everything else.


Patanjali’s hands are in the traditional Indian greeting of 'Namaste'—sometimes called an 'añjali' or offering. Since 'pata' means fallen, 'Patañjali' can be roughly translated as 'the grace (or "the grace-full one") that falls from heaven'.


The lord is generally depicted in a meditative trance. His folded hands are both blessings and greeting those who have approached him seeking yoga and its truths. His salutation eases their labors with their grace. It also assures them that those labors will eventually bear fruit. Patañjali, in fact, has not two, but four hands. The two immediately in front of him create the blessings of the añjali while the other two are raised. One of the uplifted hands holds sankha, the conch that embodies the energy of sound. It both calls students to practice and announces the imminent ending of the world, as they have so far known it. His other uplifted hand holds the chakra or discus that embodies both the turning wheel of time and its associated law of cause and effect.

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