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Maharshi Patanjali History
July 17, 2021

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History of Patanjali that every Yogi must know
The second article in the series of Exploration of Patanjali discusses the meaning of the name ” Patanjali” on the basis of Sanskrit grammar and also tries to shed light on the scholarly references about the contribution of Patanjali to humanity.

History of Patanjali

Meaning of “Patanjali”

The compound name Patañjali has been explained by Sanskrit commentators in two ways.
The first explanation of the word is añjalau patan iti patañjali (Patañjali is one falling into folded hands).
The name comes from a legend about his birth which says that Sesa, the divine serpent-king, incarnated as a snake let and fell into the folded hands (Anjali Mudra) of a Brahmin Yogini Gonika which was discussed in the previous article.
The second explanation praises the word as patanto namaskaryatvena jananamañjalayo yasmin visaye sa (He for whom the folded hands of people are falling is Patañjali). The compound name Patan jali: “Patan” is ‘bank’ and “Jal” is ‘water’, in the Sindhi language of the Indus Valley Civilization.

Patanjali’s Contribution and related arguments

Yogena cittasya padena vacam malam  sarirasya ca vaidyakena
yopakarottam  pravaram muninam patanjalim  pranajaliranato’smi
                                                    – in Raja Martanda by Bhojadeva
Let us bow before the noblest of sages Patanjali, who gave yoga for serenity and sanctity of mind, grammar for clarity and purity of speech and medicine for perfection of health.
                                                         – Translated by B K S Iyengar
King Bhoja, who wrote a well-known commentary in the tenth century, was inclined to ascribe both works to a single author, perhaps partly as a reaction to others who placed Patanjali several centuries C.E. owing to his alleged implicit criticisms of late Buddhist doctrines.
Bhoja, it seems must have been influenced by a verse of Bhartihari (5th Century CE) that speaks of an expert in yoga, medicine and grammar who, however, is not named.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali:

The scholars most often, however, reject this identification altogether and hold that the author of the Yoga Sutras lived long before the commentator on Panini.
In this view, oblique references to Buddhist doctrines are actually allusions to modes of thought found in some Upanishads.
It would have been interestingly the other way that the Buddhist thought is influenced by the much prevailed Upanishad doctrines.
A deeper study of Yoga sutras makes us reject the idea of the influence of Buddhist thought on Patanjali and the Sutras vividly point out the Vedic influence on his philosophical framework of Yoga techniques.
Here is how Dr Deepak Chopra summarises ‘Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Mahabhashya on Sanskrit Grammar by Patanjali

In the grammatical tradition, Patañjali is believed – for the reason given above – to have lived in the second century BCE.
Some say that he lectured on Paninian grammar at a place called Nagakupa, which is identified with modern-day Nagakuan.
He lectured for 85 days, which resulted in the 85 Ahnikas or “daily lessons” of the Mahabhasya.

The author of an unspecified work of Ayurvedic Medicine.

In addition to the Mahabhasya and Yoga Sutras, the 11th-century commentary “Ayurveda Deepika” on Charaka Samhita by the Bengali scholar Cakrapanidatta, and the 16th-century text Patanjalicarita ascribes to Patañjali a medical text called the CarakapratisamskrtaH which is apparently a revision (pratisamskrtah) of the medical treatise by Caraka. While in Carakasamhita, towards the end of the chapter ”sharirasthana”, Charaka mentions Ashtanga Yoga.
It is notable that it does not bear much resemblance to the Yoga Sutras, and in fact presents a form of Eight-Fold Yoga (Ashtanga Yoga) that is completely different from that laid out by Patañjali in the Yoga Sutras and the commentary Yogasutrabhasya.

The authenticity of Single authorship on all treatises

The literary styles and contents of the Yogasutras and the Mahabhasya are entirely different, and the only work on medicine attributed to Patañjali is lost.
Sources of doubt include the lack of cross-references between the texts, and no mutual awareness of each other, unlike other cases of multiple works by (later) Sanskrit authors.
Also, some elements in the Yoga Sutras may date from as late as the 4th century AD, but such changes may be due to divergent authorship, or due to later additions that are not atypical in the oral tradition. Most scholars refer to both works as “by Patanjali”, without meaning that they are by the same author.

Opinions on Patanjali and his works

1) Yoga Sutras may or may not have been recorded in writing during the time of Patanjali. With much Vedic literature, of various traditions, sutras were memorized and passed on orally for many generations prior to being set in writing. It is quite possible for centuries to have passed before his great work was ever physically recorded.
2) Patanjali is also a surname and a name attached to a lineage of teachers. Additionally, in India, as elsewhere in ancient times, it was common for later writers to attribute their works to one original great teacher, and also for later writers to attempt to build up the magnificence of their own teacher by combining multiple guru-stories into one. We face the same situation in understanding “Mahabharata” (the great Indian Epic) wherein a lot of verses are added by the later writers.
With these ideas in mind, it becomes easily understandable that two or three Patanjalis could be merged into one by later commentators and followers, and the biographical legends both blended and exaggerated. Having said that, no one can rule out the authenticity of the yogic experience of the Yogi by the name “Patanjali” and the significance of Patanjali, the author of Mahabhashya on “Ashtadhyayi”. Patanjali, along with Panini and Vararuchi is one of the Munitraya (three Yogis) having the final verdict with regards to Sanskrit grammar.
There is no other authority on Yoga like Patanjali, except the Vedas. Hence, whether it is two different authors or a single personality, the elevated soul(s) behind the creation of these magnum-opus works should be revered with the utmost respect.


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