Wednesday, December 3, 2014

History of Yoga

Soon International Yoga Day will be a reality reflecting increased enthusiasm towards this science and art of integrated lifestyle. Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed for International Yoga Day during his maiden speech in the United Nations general assembly. As of now 130 nations have supported this move. Modi's proposal is just a reflection of last few decades of increased awareness about Yoga all over the world.

When I come across practicing yogis from India and from the West, an interesting fact I come across is, their ignorance about the history and tradition of Yoga. Western approach to yoga ranges from physical exercises to body stretches with the funniest variations - like vikram yoga, hot yoga, power yoga - brought out recently to make the 'sale' of yoga training an attractive proposition.

Indian tradition has always treated Yoga as a lifetime commitment to evolve more conscious. It is the methodology & practice that helps one reach supreme consciousness. Yog Shastra (Science of Yoga) is part of six Darshans of Vedic knowledgebase that help us understand the complexity of life.

All the learned yogis & sadhus I have met in my life have always mentioned Samkhya & Yoga together. And they believe Kapil is the originator of Samkhya Yoga. While first teacher of Yoga is called as Hiranyagarbha (The Sun). And Kapil is one of the most ancient Rishis known to us. He finds mention in the Rigveda verses. So Kapil is from Vedic period. Thus Yoga was a popular practice and philosophy during the Vedic period. The term Ýoga'has been mentioned in the all four Vedas namely; Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samveda, Atharveda. Time of Rigveda is considered as 8000 years old.

References of Yoga in Rigveda, Samveda & Atharvveda

Many Upnishads also have reference of Yoga with details of philosophy and practice. योगप्रवृत्तिं प्रथमां वदन्ति says Shwetashvatar Upanishad, which means 'First salutations to the commitment for Yoga'. This same Upnishad says, न तस्य रोगो न जरा न मृत्युः प्राप्तस्य योगाग्निमयं शरीरम् which means 'the one who burns his body in the fire of Yoga, he will be free from the diseases, ageing and death'. Maitrayani Upanishad, Garbhopanishad, Brihadaranyak Upanishad, Kathakopnishad have not only mentioned yoga but have praised the practice as an ultimate means of liberation.

Practice of Yoga took a different form after Upanishadic period as it slowly got disassociated from Samkhya and focused more on Samadhi aspect. The same trend reached its peack during the time of Mahavira & Buddha. Bhagvat Geeta also mentions about loss of some aspects of Yogic theory of Kapil Muni with the passage of time.

एवं परम्पराप्राप्तमिमं राजर्षयो विदुः I
स कालेनेह महता योगो नष्टः परन्तप II

Patanjali is the most important name after Kapil Muni in the field of Yoga. There are different opinions about the time period of Patanjali. Dr S N Dasgupta, Shri Jwalaprasad, Richard Grabey,
Mircea Eliade have given multiple references and opinions. After studying various references one can come to conclusion that the time of Patanjali was 200 BC. I don't like to go into dates of existence of great people as their work should inspire us and not their birthdates or death dates. Patanjali was such a great saint that he is considered as the most knowledgeable authority on Yoga, Grammar & Medicine (Ayurveda). One interesting tradition is important to be referred in this regard:

In the gurukuls, which follow the ancient tradition of learning Sanskrit, the students offer the yellow mustard & yogurt in the name of Patanjali before the start of learning of 'Mahabhashya' . The mantra recited during the offering is as follows:
वाक्यकारं वररुचिं भाष्यकारं पतञ्जलिम्
पाणिनिं सूत्रकारं च प्रणतोऽस्मि मुनित्रयम्
योगेन चित्तस्य पदेन वाचां मलं शरीरस्य च वैद्यकेन
योऽपाकरोत्तं प्रवरं मुनीनां पतञ्जलिं प्राञ्जलिरानतोऽस्मि
These shlokas help us confirm that Patanjali is the great sage who authoritatively wrote the three scriptures of Yoga Sutra, Maha Bhashya & Charak Samhita. Yoga Sutras are the most famous compilation of Yogic science aphorisms by Patanjali. And one must not forget that study of other darshans; namely, Purva Mimansa, Uttar Mimansa, Nyaya, Vaisheshik & Samkhya is necessary before studying Yoga Sutras.
Patanjali Muni (who is considered as a snake with 1000 hoods because of his intelligence and authority over many subjects)
Some of the major philosophers and practitioners of Yoga after Patanjali include:  
Bhashyakar Vyasa (2nd Century)
Vachaspati Mishra (Tattva Vaisharadi) (841 AC)
King Bhoj (11th Century)
Vijnanbhikshu (Yoga Vartik)(16th Century)
Bhavaganesh (Vritti)(17th Century)
Nagoji Bhatta (Chhayaa) (17th Century)
Ramananda Yati (Maniprabha) (18th Century)
Narayan Teertha (Sootrarthprabodhini) (18th Century)
Apart from this lineage of Kapil school of Yoga, which invariably is a culmination of Samkhya philosophy, various other proponents of time specific philosophies and practioners have entriched the field of Yoga. They include: Matsyendra Nath, Gorakh Nath, Swatmaram etc.
Modern yogis who followed philosophy as well as practice include: Paramahansa Yogananda, Lahiri Mahashaya, Vivekananda,Yukteshwar, Krishanammacharya, Pattabhi Jois, BKS Iyengar, Baba Ramdev etc.
The flow of Yoga brought to us by these great masters is the best gift to mankind. May the practice of yoga help you experience the supreme consciousness.

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