On pata~njali And His Works

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

|| namaH bhagavate pata~njalaye ||

“…we know little about the yoga author Patanjali. We know of Patanjali the grammarian and have good reason to date him to the 2nd century BC. Apart from the name, we have no solid reason for assuming that he was the author of the famous Yoga Sûtra as well. Possibly an anonymous author tried to give his own book a wider readership by attributing it to an ancient authority”,

So writes Dr. Koenraad Elst.

We feel much indebted to Dr. Elst for his monumental intellectual services in the causes of Hindu survival and revival; we are something like a fan of his.  But then what he says is quite disturbing, besides dissidence being our second nature, so here goes:

While what he says above has long remained the majority Indologist view in contrast to the Hindu tradition of identifying a single author to the famous mahAbhAShya and yogasUtra-s, but so far even those who opposed the traditional position had only thought it as a simple case of eponymy of two authors having confused the later commentators to conflate them into a single personage. Therefore with his suggestion, Dr. Elst is breaking new grounds, that the real author of the yogasUtra simply stuck the famous name of the renowned mahAbhAShyakAra to his own petty product for marketing considerations.

Those familiar with the yoga-sUtra-s (YS) would be easily shocked by the flippant conjecture which not only borders on slander towards the yoga-sUtra author, but also trivializes the essential worth of the work which is considered one of the cornerstones of the Hindu philosophy. YS, although tiny in size, can be seated next only to the bhagavad-gItA on the copious shelf of all the Hindu philosophicals ever composed. In fact, to the popularity of the yoga-sUtra Dr. Elst himself indirectly alludes in a separate earlier blog note where he wrote, “While numerous Asian philosophical texts remain untranslated, a few suffer from a surplus of translations: the Bhagavad-Gītā, the Yijing, the Daodejing, and also Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra.”

The popularity, and even more, the practical worth of the YS account for, and fully justify, not only its numerous translations but also the width and diversity of various commentaries produced on it throughout the ages from old to modern. Indeed like the numerous translations, in the matter of commentaries too, yoga-sUtra can be comfortably placed next only to the bhagavad-gItA, since excepting probably the latter no other book of philosophy has been commented upon so many times in so many ways and by so many people as diverse as vyAsa to AchArya rajanIsha and shaMkara to svAmI vivekAnanda, and rAjA bhoja deva to Aurobindo, so that there is not a single class of commentary known in the saMskR^ita universe, from TIkA to vyAkhyA, vArtika to vR^itti, bhAShya to bodhinI, and vivaraNa to dIpikA, that has remained not utilized in the study of the pAta~njala yoga-sUtra-s.

But we are asked to believe that the author of this yoga-sUtra, who is counted by the Hindu philosophical traditions in the same class of the dArshanika-s as kapila, gautama, kaNAd, jaiminI and bAdarAyaNa, was simply ignorant or unsure about the worth of the work he was composing, so that he had to resort to such a gimmick as to fake it as having come from another person!

Now, first off, if the “real author” of the yoga-sUtra-s had to use another’s name, wouldn’t it be natural for him to pick up the name of an “authority” from the same subject matter to which his own work belongs? Why would a yoga author pick up a grammarian’s name?

There are of course surer known situations where authors applied another’s name to make their work popular, but at least the name thus used belongs to a recognized authority of that field. The best example would be some collections of nIti that come with the name of chANakya, although the author of artha-shAstra had nothing to do with these books. His name is chosen by the real authors/editors of these books, as chANakya is an established authority of nIti. We can see this phenomenon more clearly in the medieval Hindi literature, where we find a certain spurious poetries bearing the names of “tulasIdAsa” and “bhUShaNa” are clearly written by others and given the renowned name of these poets. However, even in these cases, such works at least belong to their respective subject matters and genre. If an author of yoga had to, at all, utilize someone else’s name for propagating his own petty work, he had better choices available than that of a “grammarian’s” name. Wouldn’t have the name of an earlier established authority on yoga (or sAMkhya) been more practical to pick for him for the YS, say, “kApilya-yoga-sUtra” or even better the “hairaNyagarbha-yoga-sUtra” or “vArShagaNya-yoga-sUtra”? (The hiraNyagarbha being the known original teacher on yoga whose redacted treatise was apparently long lost by the time of YS-author, and who is mentioned by name as the original yoga-teacher in the mahAbhArata. vArShagaNya being another ancient authority, named in yoga texts like the vyAsa-bhAShya.)

There is another possible issue in accepting the view that yoga-sUtra author deliberately picked the grammarian’s name for his own work. It is known to the students of the saMskR^ita vyAkaraNa that after the initial century of popularity, mahAbhAShya had gradually lost its readership and went largely out of circulation, until later when it made a comeback. kalhaNa records in rAjataraMgiNI as well as bhartR^ihari in vAkpadIya, this rise and fall of pata~njali-the-grammarian’s popularity, where he says that unlike their own times when mahAbhAShya was widely popular, in the “old days” the circulation of pata~njali’s bhAShya was limited to the households only of South India, where too it was like just another book shorn of all its glory, and it was hardly ever heard of, until being reintroduced by the efforts of a certain scholar and a king whom they mention by name. This receded popularity of pata~njali’s grammar makes it very unlikely for the “yoga-sUtra author” to have been in that era and having used the pata~njali’s name. Being after that period is also unlikely, as bhartR^ihari is already familiar with YS, and even before, the jaina scholar umAsvAti has already quoted from it. And if it is before that period, then we go too close to the compilation of mahAbhAShya itself, dated with certainty to the mid second century BCE, which makes most objections of Indologists against accepting the traditional view of identifying both the works to have come from the same author fall flat in themselves.

We have to thus abandon the baseless conjecture that the author of yoga sUtra is not pata~njali but some imposter who assumed this name only to deliberately attribute his work to pata~njali the grammarian.

Now whether these books are written by one person named pata~njali, or two different eponymous persons, is next for us to examine.

There are not just these two, but at least four major works that carry the name of pata~njali as their author:

1. mahAbhAShya (MB), the most authoritative work on the grammar of saMskR^ita that perfected the pANini’s system, and considered one of the most important milestones in the intellectual development of the Hindus. By virtue of producing this work, pata~njali gains place in the traditional muni-trayI, the Sage Triad, of saMskR^ita language, alongside pANinI and kAtyAyana. In size, MB’s canvas nearly approaches the width of mahAbhArata, while it likewise retains a perfectly lucid and systematic flow and content as a work of instruction. Notably MB is the only commentary on any subject-matter ever written, to have been given the prefix of ‘mahat’, The Great. So, even as all the other commentaries, esteemed as those are and written by such luminaries as the AchArya-s shaMkara, vyAsa and sAyaNa, those are still entitled as mere bhAShya-s, while the title of mahA-bhAShya is reserved for the product of pata~njali alone. For many centuries the education of a man in India was not considered complete without its study. Although being only a commentary in itself, MB came to exert such tremendous influence over generations of Hindu linguists and grammarians that several commentaries, glosses, expositions and critiques were written on it. Notable among these being the oldest TikA of bhartR^ihari now only extant in parts, besides vAkpadIya of his which is entirely based on MB, pradIpa written by kaiyaTa upAdhyAya of kAshmIra, three works siddhAnta-ma~njUShA, shabdendu-shekhara and pradIpodyota written on MB by nAgojIbhaTTa, shabda-kaustubha by bhaTTojI, and vaiyAkaraNa-bhUShaNa of koNDA-bhaTTa. All of these produced over centuries, and varying in scope and purpose, are entirely devoted to the analysis and study of pata~njali’s mahAbhAShya.

2. yoga-sUtra (YS), a short compilation, all of 195 terse crisp and memorable formulae, providing a complete synopsis of yoga not only as a philosophy but more as a systematic practical process. The significance of YS is not in bringing forth new techniques or methods – indeed it uses the material which existed before it and makes some quotations in verbatim – but its true significance is in being the first work to impersonally lay down the overarching foundational superstructure of yoga as a precise well-defined system. YS has been unanimously considered an authority by the yogis of all lineages, indeed by the proponents of all major spiritual traditions within the Hindu society, and it has remained extremely popular throughout all the periods, much commented upon and quoted from. There are several famous commentaries available, which include the most popular exposition being the yoga-bhAShya by vyAsa in the 7th century, tattva-vaiShAradI by vAchaspati mishra in the 8th century, yoga-sUtra-vAkya-vivaraNa of a similar date ascribed to AchArya shaMkara, and rAja-mArttaNDa-vR^itti by rAjan bhoja-deva the pramAra in first half of the 11th century. Besides these, there are dozens of many other important commentaries from varying view-points and in numerous styles, like maNiprabhA of rAmAnanda yati, yoga-siddhAnta-chandrikA and sUtrArtha-bodhinI both by nArAyaNa tIrtha, vR^itti by nAgojI bhaTTa, yoga-dIpikA of bhAvA gaNesha, and a very important yoga-vArttikA of vij~nAna bhikShu from the 16th century, not to mention a complete explosion in the translations, expositions and commentaries on the yoga-sUtra witnessed in the last two centuries, which works can easily number in the hundreds.

Besides the above two, pata~njali is also attributed with the authorship/codification of the following important branches of the Hindu knowledge.

3. charaka saMhitA (CS), the oldest available systematic and organized presentation of medicine and therapeutics as a holistic philosophy. The work is counted as the first of the three pillar of Ayurvedic literature, the next two being the saMhitA-s respectively of suShruta and vAgbhaTa to complete the brihat-trayI, the Grand Trilogy, of the Hindu medicine system. As is well known and declared by the work itself, most of the ideas that CS presents were pre-existing, having came down to its author from a variety of sources and very ancient times through various teachers whom it enumerates. The novel contribution of CS is in systematizing, organizing, and expanding those ideas into a holistic philosophy. Like YS and MB, CS is also an authoritative work on its subject matter, much commented upon and translated throughout the ages. The first recorded commentary, although now available only in some fragments, is the 6th century charaka-nyAsa by bhaTTAra harichandra, a 9th century nirantara-pAda by jejjaTa from kAshmIra, followed by the most authoritative commentary on it charaka-tAttparya-dIpikA by chakrapANi datta of 11th century, and charaka-tattva-pradIpikA by shivadAsa sena in the 15th century. From very old times, CS was also well known to the Greco-Latin practitioners of medicine, referred as the Sharaka Indianus, recorded from at least the 7th century. Al-Biruni also mentions the work to have been an old authority on therapeutics and that it was already widely translated and available in the Arabic by his time.

4. nidAna sUtra (NS), one of the ten authoritative and established shrauta-sUtra-s on sAma-veda belonging to the kauthumi shAkhA. The references from such sources as the bR^ihad-devatA and R^igvedAnukramaNI indicate the existence of two independent recensions of the nidAna sUtra-s: the one attributed to bhAllavI is no more extant, and the other which reaches us is authored by pata~njali. Divided in ten prapAThaka-s of thirteen khaNDa-s each, the specific purpose of the nidAna-sUtra is to provide concise, short and memorable instructions to the performers of the sAmaveda rituals about the accurate specifications of the rituals. A small portion of the NS, the opening seven khaNDa-s in the first prapAThaka, also forms an independently circulated work in itself, known as the pAta~njala cHandovichati, which deals with the specifications of the meters of the sAmavedic mantra-s. Since accuracy in observing the meters makes for one of the very crucial points, cHandovichati is an important work of instruction. The significance of nidAna sUtra is reflected by the attention given to it by several commentators on the vaidika performances like sAyaNa, varadarAja, dhanvI, deva-yAj~nika, rudra-skanda and agni-svAmI, who have all freely quoted from the NS, some also mentioning pata~njali with great reverence as its author. In addition, entire commentaries have also been written on the cHandavichati portion independently, notable being tattva-subodhinI by tAta-prasAda of an unknown date, and a late but complete TikA by hR^iShikesha sharman.

Besides these works there are some more not so well known works that indirectly imply pata~njali as their author. This includes a notable paramArtha-sAra (PS), a very short work of all but 85 verses in AryA meter, hence also called AryA-pa~nchAshIti, and which explains the sAMkhya principles in a vaiShNava-vedAntika framework. There are some more obscure works like metallurgical loha-shAstra and a medicinal handbook vAtaskanda-vaidyaka, whose author is also indirectly named as pata~njali. All of these however carry no allusion to the author of the earlier mentioned books, nor do any commentators or traditions recount these under the authorship of the famous yoga-sUtra-kAra or the mahAbhAShya-kAra. About the author of the earlier mentioned ones however, traditions and the commentators do speak about the identity of their author as a single sage named pata~njali.

The oldest reference about these books having been authored by one single pata~njali comes from bhartR^ihari’s vAkpadIya, dating at least from the 600s of the C.E. This celebrated bhartR^ihari was very closely connected with the studies on pata~njali, especially from the grammar stand point. In fact, he credits his own teacher to have re-introduced the studies of pAta~njala mahAbhAShya throughout India which had otherwise become by his time, as noted before, obscure and found only in the households of south, reduced there too to just being “another book”. bhartR^ihari had also written a TIkA on MB, which is now not available except for some fragments as noted earlier. In vAkpadIya, he expresses his gratitude towards the sage like this:

kAya-vAg-buddhi-viShayA ye malAH samupasthitAH / chikitsA-lakShaNAdyAtma-shAstraiteShAM vishuddhayaH (vAkpadIya, bramha-kANDa 1.147/8)

[“All that was unclean in the Body, Speech, and in Mind; has been cleansed away by (your) treatises respectively on the Medicine, Grammar, and Spirituality.”]

Now Indologists like J H Wood of Harward and others following him are not satisfied that the above refers to pata~njali at all or that it really means what is written above. But, considering the overwhelming symmetry in the references that would now follow, the above could not have but referred to pata~njali alone and to his contribution in the different fields.

Chronologically next reference comes from the TIkA on charaka-saMhitA by chakrapANi-datta in the 11th century, who prays to pata~njali, the sage who prepared all these shAstra-s:

pAta~njala mahAbhAShya charaka pratisaMskR^itaiH
manovAkkAya doShANAM hartre-hi-pataye namaH (charaka-tAttparya-dIpikA, ma~NgalAcharaNa)

[To Him, who by preparing the pAta~njala-(yoga-sUtra-s), the mahAbhAShya, and the refinements over the charaka-saMhitA has wiped out all the afflictions that affect respectively the Mind, the Speech, and the Body; to that Master, we pray.]

Here chakrapANi is very explicit in saying that the CS was only refined/redacted by pata~njali, and thereby is noted as last in the sequence. Interesting to note is that the title pAta~njala, i.e. “Of pata~njali”, is reserved not for MB, but for the work dealing with spirituality. Some Indologists have felt a little room for doubt here, whether this book, simply called pAta~njala here, refers to YS or some other work dealing with spirituality. Notably, in the same century as chakrapANi, Al-Biruni also alludes in his India, to a work called pAta~njal, earlier translated in Arabic as Qitab Patanjal by himself. Some scholars had speculated, going by the synthesis of Al-Baruni, whether he was not referring to some other book that was attributed to pata~njali albeit indirectly, such as the paramArtha-sAra, which would meet the Al-Biruni’s description to large extent. However, a single manuscript of Qitab Patanjal of Al-Biruni has been discovered and published later in translation, which confirms that pAta~njal really meant pata~njali’s YS and no other work (See Shlomo Pines and Tuvia Gelblum).

However, there is an even better and more direct proof that pAta~njal i.e. “Of Patanjali” is the epithet used for YS alone, and not even for the MB. A near-contemporary of both chakrapANi-datta and Al-Biruni, the illustrious rAjan bhoja-deva the pramAra provides a remark which makes it clear that not only it is yoga-sUtra-s alone that went by the name of pAta~njala but also reinforces the contemporary Hindu belief of a single pata~njali being the author of YS alongside the mahAbhAShya and charaka-saMhitA. bhojadeva, multifaceted as his talents were, seems to have much idolized the sage-author of such diverse interests. In the opening of his commentary on the pata~njali’s yoga-sUtra, the learned rAjan thusly places himself with the sage pata~njali:

shabdAnAmanushAsanam vidadhatA pAta~njale kurvatA \ vR^ittiM rAja-mR^igA~Nka saMg~nakAmapi vyAtanvatA vaidyake \ vAkchetovapuShAM malaH ShaNabhUtAM bhatreva yenodadhR^itastasya shrI-raNa-ra~Nga-malla-nR^ipate vAcho jayantujjvalauH ||

[Victorious be the radiant utterances of that Sovereign, The Wrestler on the Arena of Battlefields (this being the name of another work by bhoja deva as well as one of his regal titles), who has by preparing a work on grammar, by writing this commentary on pata~njali’s work, and by composing rAja-mR^igA~Nka, a work on medicine, has wiped out all the defilements respectively afflicting the Speech, the Mind, and the Body, just like as was done by the Sovereign of all the Serpents (alluding to Adi-sheSha personified in pata~njali )]

So here, “pAta~njala” comes to unambiguously mean the famous yoga-sUtra-s and no other work. bhoja seems to be not only aware of several commentaries done on this work before his time, but says he has referred to all those that were present. Indeed he tries to even remain critical about the text: one sUtra in the fourth book he considers being a later interpolation, and refuses to comment upon it.

In the next century, circa 1187 CE as per Max Muller, saDgurushiShya the vaidika commentator on kAtyAyana’s sarvAnukramaNI, refers to sage pata~njali, who is the author of all these books, mahAbhAShya, nidAna sUtra and of course the yoga-sUtra-s. In praise of kAtyAyana he says:

yatpraNItAni vAkyAni bhagavAnstu pata~njaliH / vyAkhyachcHAntaviyena mahAbhAShyena harShitaH / yogAchAryaH svayaM kartA yogashAstra nidAnayoH

[Being greatly pleased by this vArttikA written by the descendant of shAntanu (alluding to kAtyAyana), bhagavAn pata~njali, himself being a great teacher of yoga and the celebrated author of yoga-sUtra-s as well as of the nidAna-sUtra-s, decided to further elucidate on these grammatical rules in his mahAbhAShya.] (See Prof. Kailash Nath Bhatnagar, Introduction in the Nidana Sutra of Patanjali, Lahore, 1939)

Writing from kAshmIra in the same century, grammarian kaiyaTa upAdhyAya holds a similar view, and expresses it with a beautiful opening verse of his bhAShya-pradIpa, a commentary on the MB:

yogena chittasya padena vAchAM malaM sharIrasya cha vaidyakena
yo.pAkarottaM pravaraM munInAM pata~njaliM prA~njalirAnatosmi (bhAshya-pradIpa, opening)

[The impurities of chitta by yoga, of speech by the (MB’s) pada-s, and those of the body by the treatise on medicine; That First of all the muni-s, sage pata~njali, who has removed all these impurities, to Him I bow with joined palms]

We find the same view continuing down to the later centuries among the grammarians. nAgojIbhaTTa writing in the late 16th century speaks thus in his vaiyAkaraNa-siddhAnta-ma~njUShA: Apto nAma anubhavena vastutattvasya kArtsyena nishchayavAn / rAgAdivishAdapi nAnyathAvAdI yaH sa iti charake pata~njaliH. The same scholar says in his paspaSha adhikaraNa of MB, “yoga-sUtre-pata~njalokte” as well as elsewhere “taduktaM charake pata~njalinA sendriyaM dravyaM nirindriyamachetanam”, implying throughout, that the three works, YS, MB, and CS were authored by the same pata~njali.

In the 18th century, rAmabhadra dIkShita dedicated a whole work in compiling a biographical sketch of pata~njali, entitled pata~njalicharitam, where he holds the author of all these works to have been one single pata~njali, and remarks:

sUtrANi yogashAstre vaidyakashAstre cha vArttikAni tataH / kR^itvA pata~njalamuniH prachArayAmAsa jagadidaM trAtuM

[yoga-sUtra-s, followed by the treatise on medicine, and then the grammatical rules, Sage pata~njali created and propagated all these three in the world]

So we can easily see that for a long time, starting at the least with bhartR^ihari in the sixth century, all the way down to rAmabhadra dIkShita in the Eighteenth, pata~njali was considered to have been a single author of all the diverse books, and this has remained a firm tradition and a widely held view among the Hindus for over a millennia.

It is not until the 19th century british colonial era that we come across such views being inserted in the saMskR^ita dictionaries like vAchaspatyam and Shabda-kalpa-druma that the two pata~njali’s are different:

vAchaspatyam: “ayaM cha yogashAstrakArAt bhinna iti saralAyAmasmAbhissamarthitam| anayorabheda iti pAshchAtya vaiyAkaraNAH ” [And this pata~njali is different from the author of the yogashAstra, this is the simple view we hold. Conversely that they are the same was a view held the later grammarians.] Also, shabda-kalpa-druma: “keShAnchinmate yogasUtrakAra pata~njalerbhAShyakR^it pata~njalirbhinna eva| anayorabhedatAm tu nirdishanti pAshchAtyAH” [Some consider the yoga-sUtra author pata~njali to have been different from the mahAbhAShya author pata~njali. That they are the same is a view developed by the later people.] It seems strange that these colonial-period dictionaries should say that the “later people” considered the one-pata~njali theory, whereas indeed it is they, the still “later people” who thought otherwise!

But what does an examination of all these texts directly reveals internally from the texts of the four works? Are there some grounds from within the works to support the traditional view that they have come from the same author?

First, let us look at the structure and arrangement of the respective works.

1. Each of the four books is concerned with systematizing and perfecting a particular pre-existing body of knowledge. YS that of sAMkhya-yoga, CS that of Ayurveda, MB that of pANini grammar, and NS that of sAmaveda ritual specifications. Each is concerned in not bringing forth some striking new techniques, but indeed presenting that which existed from the old with robust structures and system of instruction.

2. The foundational concepts of all the works are fascinatingly octal! Yoga-sUtra lays down the famous Eight-fold process of yoga, the aShTA~Nga-yoga, comprising the Eight essential limbs of yama, niyama, Asana, prANAyAma, pratyAhAra, dhAraNA, dhyAna and samAdhi, and presented under four pAda-s.

The mahAbhAShya is anyways based on pANini’s legendary “Eight-Chapters”, the aShTAdhyAyI, and follows exactly the same structure and sequence of those Eight chapters, dividing each into four pAda-s (like the four-pAda-s of yoga-sUtra).

Ayurveda deals with the same number of parts, it’s own aShTA~Nga including the kAyA (general medicine), shalya (surgery), shAlakya (supraclavical, ENT and Ophthalmology), Agad-tantra (toxicology), kaumAra (pediatrics and obstetrics), bhUta (psychiatry and demonology), rasAyana (rejuvenation and healing), and bAjIkaraNa (infertility treatment and virilification).

While the charaka saMhitA deals with only some of these aspects, even then CS is also divided exactly into Eight books or sthAna-s: sUtra (fundamental concepts), nidAna (diagnosis, pathogenesis and general patho-physiology), vimAna (chemical & physiological processes, clinical procedures, infections and epidemics), sharIra (anatomy and embryology), indriya (symptomatology and prognosis), chikitsA (prescriptions and some drug formulations), kalpa (pharmacy proper), and finally the siddhi (evacuation and cleansing procedures). Very interestingly, three of these eight sthAna-s, the books of nidAna, vimAna and sharIra, are further sub-divided into exactly eight adhyAya-s or chapters.

Now, on this point, nidAna-sUtra may appear to be an outlier at the outset, as it does not have eight but ten pra-pAThaka-s. Interestingly however, an annotated, reorganized and supplemented work heavily drawing from and following nidAna-sUtra, called upanidAna-sUtra or the Little nidAna-sUtra, of an unknown date but being quite ancient and authoritative, brings the body of knowledge back to an Eight-chaptered organization!

3. sUtra-s: each of the books is tightly connected with the genre of the sUtra-s in one way or the other. In the MB, which is the only of the four works that is written not in an impersonal tenor, pata~njali shows his extreme mastery over as well as the liking for the sUtra genre, when he mentions and quotes the sUtra-s from various subjects besides the sUtra-s of pANini such as the vArttika sUtra-s, saMgraha-sUtra-s, kalApaka sUtra-s, as well as the various kalpa-sUtra-s and gR^ihya-sUtra-s for vaidika performances. In MB he expresses his liking for the concise short sentances of sUtra-s when he says that, “an author as much rejoices in the economizing of half a short vowel, as much as he does in the birth of a son!”

Pata~njali’s profound mastery over sUtra-s or his extreme liking for them actually shows up in all the four works we are looking at!

The yoga-sUtra is of course one of the most pristine samples of the sUtra genre, NS is also written in the sUtra-s. mahAbhAShya, though written in prose and verse, is tightly linked with the sUtra-s anyways, being a discussion on the sUtra-s of pANini and kAtyAyana besides quoting other sUtra-s as we have mentioned above. charaka saMhitA while in verse, names its opening section as the “sUtra-sthAna”, which is the largest of all the sections, spanning almost one-fourth of the whole book in laying out the fundamentals of Ayurveda.

[Note: Here, it would be interesting to cross-read the Max Muller’s amazement at the sUtra genre, which holds absolutely valid for all these four pata~njalian works: “It is difficult to explain the peculiarities of the style of sUtra literature to anyone who has not worked his way through the sUtra-s themselves… impossible to give anything like a literal translation… the most artificial, elaborate, and enigmatical form… one uninterrupted string of short sentences twisted together into the most concise form …; not only express their fundamental doctrines in this concise form of language, if language it can be called, by which they succeed in reducing the whole system of their tenets to mere algebraic formulas… to understand these is quite impossible without having key to the whole system… generally given in separate sUtra-s called paribhAShA-s…” ]

4. As is true of the sUtra-s of any subject-matter, each of these four works attributed to pata~njali is intended to be a practical companion and aid to the practitioner of the respective field, while presented in a way that need for learning the respective subject from a Master is only more emphasized. For instance, only by reading yoga-sUtra-s without any commentary and previous knowledge of its technical terminology, one cannot even decipher what it says, leave aside practically following it without a siddha yoga Master. The same can be said of charaka saMhitA, mahAbhAShya, and nidAna sUtra – that they yield instruction only to an already trained pupil not without a preceptor.

5. The opening: Prof. Surendranath Dasgupta of Calcutta Univ. had shown many decades back the striking similarity in the opening statements of both YS and MB. We can take that observation even further. All the four works begin without any elaborate ma~NgalAcharaNa or traditional invoking, rather simply with “atha”. YS: “atha yogAnushAsanam”, MB: “atha shabdAnushAsanam”, NS: “atha nidAna sUtram”, and CS: “athAto dIrgha-jIvitIyam-adhyAyam vyAkhyAsyAmaH”. This wonderful inaugural word “atha” literally means, “Now Then, Therefore…”, and signifies the ultimate authority that the author has on the respective subject matter. Commentators add that this also means both a ma~NgalAcharaNa, the auspicious beginning, as well as a pre-qualification for the reader or student: that only someone who has done the needed preparatory groundwork can be initiated with a “Now Then, Therefore…”

6. Proximity to the veda-s: Each of the work is closely connected with the ArSha subjects and have affinity to the veda-s. MB fits in the vyAkaraNa a vedA~Nga, even consdiered an Agama; CS, the first pillar of the Ayurveda represents an upa-veda; NS is anyways one of the shrauta-sUtra of sAmaveda; and although YS does not speak of or refers directly to the veda-s at all but that the yoga is the very “vidyA” spoken of in the veda-s, is the claim of the yogi-s (see for instance the preface of haThayoga-pradIpikA or the taittarIya brAhmaNa) and sAMkya yoga teachers like pata~njali are tightly connected with sAmaveda (such as vArShagaNya who is pre-pata~njala, pre-mahAbhArata teacher of yoga, and a sAmavedika teacher).

7. What about the language of the texts? Could a comparison of the language used in the texts yield some conclusions? Some people have indeed tried to analyze the language of MB and of YS from difference standpoints, such as done briefly by Jacobi long time back, and more systematically by Adolph Janacek in 1958. In his “Two Texts of Patanjali and a statistical correspondence of their Vocabularies”, Janacek built a comparative statistical model by using words used in MB and YS to see if they could have come from the same author. He remained inconclusive, either to support or to reject the tradition. And it is not surprising, since the very difference in size of the two (YS is just 195 short statements and MB is like an epic) as well as the stark differences in the subject matter, makes the statistical comparison less sound.

And still, if we look up the shabdAnukramaNI (word index) of MB prepared by paNDita-s shrIdhara shAstrI and siddheshvara shAstrI, to search for the terms used in the YS, almost all of these are used here. “yoga” appears over a hundred times, not counting the variants like yogya, yogatva etc., nor the sandhi-samAsau derived from “yoga” like “yogavibhAga”, “yogArambha” etc. “yogA~Nga”, the limbs of yoga, although the term is used here in a different sense, occurs 7 times in MB. Names of almost all the yogA~Nga-s appear in MB at different places. “dhya” with its various forms like “dhyAyati”, “dhyAnavat” etc. occurs so does “dhAraNa” and “dhAraNakriyA” more than once and so also “Asana” and “Asana-kriyA”. “pratyAhAra” occurs over a dozen times besides its derived words like “pratyAhArArtha” and “pratyAhAragrahaNa”. Drilldowns likewise of the types of yama-niyamau are most present here besides many pAribhAShika terms of YS. MB is also full of the terminology that is encountered both in the nidAna-sUtra and charaka-saMhitA, to which we shall return in the next point. We must mention though that the available MSS of the nidAna sUtra make many grammatical mistakes of various kinds, which makes it hard to believe to have been so written if its author was a great grammarian of pata~njali’s fame. What seems likely, since the mistakes vary from one MSS to the other, is that these mistakes were introduced by the scribes and remained in texts in absence of critical editing.

Now, we don’t have the wherewithal and resources to carry out the full scope lexical analysis of the four texts; we can only recommend and appeal to the professionals to take up such a study; at present, we can only say that there is nothing in the at a glance lexical comparison to contradict the traditional view of one-pata~njali.

8. It is not impossible for the author of mahAbhAShya to have also written the nidAna sUtra, as from the internal evidence of the MB he does certainly appear to have been not only a practitioner of vaidika sacrifices but also a remarkable vaidika scholar of all the four veda-s.

Like any smArta he expresses his belief that the veda-s existed from eternity and are un-created (nahi cHandAnsi kR^iyante nityAni cHandAnsi). He not only refers to each veda and quotes from them, but actually goes on to enumerate each shAkhA of each veda. His mastery over all the four veda-s is also evident from his profuse quotations from them: right in the first AhnikA he quotes five R^igvedic passages. There are several instances where he quotes the fragments of vedic verses; in the beginning of shabdAnushAsana he reproduces the opening lines of the first verses of each veda.

Not only is pata~njali an erudite scholar of the veda-s, he was also a learned performer of rites. In fact one of the important arguments of Dr. R G Bhandarkar in how he dated him precisely and conclusively to the middle of the 2nd century BCE is because at one place he explains the peculiarity of a tense when the activity has begun but not yet finished and will continue personally by the kartA, exemplifying by a sentence that “we perform a certain rite on behalf of rAjan puShyamitra”, this puShyamitra being the famous shu~Nga emperor. He mentions the five great classes of sacrifices, the deva, pitR^i, bhUta, nR^I, and bramha, besides naming the specific rituals. He names rAjasUya, vAjapeya and ashvamedha ya~jna-s, the last of which he mentions having been performed by the king puShyamitra, besides talking of the lesser ones like the nava, pAka, agniShToma, chAturmAsya, and the pa~ncha-mahA-ya~jna-s remarking that the last one is done by every householder. Several objects and tools which only a vaidika ritualist would be concerned with are mentioned by him such as yUpa, chaShAla and sruk etc. as well as the concepts like the svastivAchana, puNyAhavAchana, and shAntivAchanas. mahAbhAShya quotes from many brAhmaNa-grantha-s as well as from their auxiliary texts to mention the specific mantra-s to be employed in the specific rites. He even goes to the limit of giving the instructions about how the case endings of vaidika mantra-s should be suitably modified by the yA~gyanika-s for the performances of rituals. He also shows close familiarity, indeed mastery, over the concepts of sAmaveda rituals. He mentions clearly the “uktha” of sAmaveda (4.2.60) and clearly refers to the musical recitations (kaliyaM sAma gIyate), besides mentioning by name the meters of jagatI, triShTubha and anuShTubha.

Could this eminent vaidika scholar not be the same person who also wrote the nidAna-sUtra-s for compiling the specifications of the sAmaveda rituals? Indeed it seems quite extremely possible.
There is yet another little known tradition that makes a single pata~njali’s association with both sAmkya-yoga and sAmaveda at the same time, more likely. That is that sAmavedins are considered closely connected with the sAMkhya and yoga. This includes the less known pre-pata~njali Teacher of yoga vArShagaNya, who is named by mahAbhArata as a sAMkhya-yoga master on one hand, and on the other recalled as a great sAmaveda ritualist by the gR^ihya sUtra of jaiminI. The similarity in the case of pata~njali about dealing with both sAmaveda and sAMkhya-yoga, like his predecessor, makes the traditional view point even more credible.

9. As becoming of a great vaidika scholar, pata~njali is also quite familiar with the atharvan veda. In MB, he explains the term “AtharvaNika” as someone who is a thorough scholar of the fourth veda. He also explicitly mentions that certain concepts must exclusively belong to the atharvan veda and not the first three. Reading this, one should recall the statement in the charaka saMhitA which says that a physician, when asked as to which saMhitA he belongs, should only declare that he is affiliated with the atharvan-saMhitA.

10. That brings us to look at the works from the angle of medicine. Although tradition only attributes pata~njali as an organizer of charaka-saMhita and not an original author, it presupposes his mastery over medical knowledge. Does the author of mahAbhAShya show enough familiarity with medicine and therapeutics?

The many references to medical concepts in the mahAbhAShya make it obvious that its author had fair knowledge of medicine. Not only does pata~njali refer in MB to the Ayurvaidika idea that a disease is caused by the misbalance in the three doSha-s of the body, namely vAta, kapha and pitta (MB 5.1.38), and mentions the diagnostic term to be used when one of them is found dominating the body – vAtika, slaiShmika etc., but also mentions some prescriptions for curing their prakopa (MB6.1.12): Clarified butter destroys excess bile (pittaghnam ghR^itam) and honey the cough and phlegm (shleShmaghnam madhu). He mentions by name certain diseases like pAman, a type of chronic itching (MB1.1.23); gaDu, a type of goiter, bronchocele or scrofula (MB4.3.39); gaDushiras, a condition of excrescence on the head (MB2.3.35); dadru, a type of leprosy (MB5.2.97); atisAra, diarrhea (MB3.3.17), sannipAtika, the fevers of typhoid, and utkandaka (?), besdies jvara, the common fever; and pAdarogaH – certain skin ailment of feet (MB1.1.58/6.1.32). At one instance, pata~njali provides in MB a passage, by way of a grammatical example, containing a dialogue about increasing and decreasing of fever: “’How is the devadatta’s ailment?’ asks someone, to which ‘increasing’ answers one or ‘it is decreasing’ says the other.”
pata~njali also mentions remedies at many places in mahAbhAShya: for curing urinary tract he mentions administering rice-gruel and for force-clearing the bowels barley juice (MB2.3.13), and also names i~Ngadatailam, a certain medicinal oil (MB 5.2.29). For pAdarogaH he observes the domestic drain-water (na~Ngalodaka) helps, and also mentions some herbal remedies in bringing down the fever (MB1.1.58/6.1.32). At many places pata~njali mentions in MB varieties of herbs, grasses and so on. He also demonstrates knowledge in toxicology, such as when he says the curd mixed with lead causes fever.

To the conception, pregnancy and obstetrics, MB provides much attention. First, at one place MB refers to the essential physiology difference between the male and female according to which the outer signs of distinguishing features (such as lack on hair on female and masculinity in male) occur. At another place MB refers that the distinction between genders is essentially for reproduction, and that which forms the basis of embryo is ovum (strI), and the agent of conception is sperm (pumAn). MB further alludes to the mode of growth of embryo, saying that when embryo grows it develops the organs of body progressively (MB8.2.106). pata~njali also notices the obstetric troubles associated with the process of labour, noting that sometimes these may even lead to the death of the mother, especially during the first child-birth (MB1.1.21). pata~njali also mentions at another place about the process of miscarriage (MB1.3.1).

All of the above suggest that pata~njali the author of MB had sufficient knowledge about medicine and was inclined towards that science. It is not at all impossible that he might have systematized the charaka saMhitA as the Hindu tradition holds.

By the way, yoga-sUtra 4.1 mentions OShadhi, medicine, as one of the ways to attain the yaugika siddhi. And “nidAna” in nidAna-sUtra literally means diagnosis and pathology.

11. sAMkhya: charaka-saMhitA and mahAbhAShya both show tremendous influence of the classical sAMkhya philosophy. Yoga-sUtra is anyways consdiered the practical part of the sAMkhya, referred as sAMkhya-yoga; vyAsa-bhAShya even called YS by the name of sAMkhya-pravachana. Regarding nidAna-sUtra of sAmaveda, we have already noted the affinity of sAmavaidika-s and sAMkhya.

12. Observational and Experimental temperament: mahAbhAShya reveals its author to have been inclined towards keen observation of the natural phenomenon. He also hypothesizes their explanation on natural principles rather than seeing anything supernatural it those.

At one place we find him observe the phenomenon of gravity: a stone when thrown skywards returns back to earth, explaining that it is because the stone is also but a modification of earth itself to which it is attracted. In fact, elsewhere, although he does not connect it to the phenomenon of gravity, he wonders by which force the celestial bodies are held and bound together in their orbit rather than falling astray. Elsewhere he observes how the magnetic iron attracts iron, and that earth’s atmosphere also contains water in vaporous form. He also observes that the fire is really a modification of Sun, and flame like its rays and energy. He also says that not only the earth but the Sun must be also moving around some celestial bodies. He wonders why the sky appears blue, but does not give an explanation.

pata~njali also comments about the concept of density, noting that a piece of cloth and iron, both of equal dimensions, weigh differently because of their different dravyatA (~density). Elsewhere he wonders how it may be possible to figure out the amount of water mixed in an amount of milk. His explanation of sphOTa principle of sound is quite accurate. He explains how the sound is formed, how it travels through the ether, (noting correctly that without ether sound cannot travel), then how it is received by the listener’s hearing organ which is a continuum of the ether, transformed then into the sensory signal, and finally interpreted by the mind leading to there to cognition of what was uttered.

So we see that pata~njali displays in MB a very keen temperament of observations and rational reasoning; of seeking natural rather than supernatural explanations. Not that he rejects the existence of supernatural, but he only approaches the natural principles for the solutions.

The same temperament is displayed in the yoga-sUtra-s where the yoga process depends upon no beliefs or supernatural, but on direct practice, experimentation and observation.

In charaka saMhitA also, the text shows a profound reliance on direct observation and pure analysis for the diagnosis and cure of ailments. Indeed, CS although claiming affiliation to the atharva veda as noted before, flatly departs from the latter’s reliance on magical therapeutics and diagnosis as the work of the supernatural forces. In CS, the overwhelming stress is laid instead on direct clinical observation for diagnosis and for treatment on the diet, drugs, nursing and prognosis. It explicitly refers the yukti-vyapAshraya or Rational Therapeutics as its basis. It says that a successful cure depends upon the Rational Therapeutics and that is based on proper diet and administration of drugs. (CS does allow the use of magico-religious therapies only in curing the cases of mental disorders, which is understandable.)

The critical and purely rational character of CS makes first arriving at the accurate judgment about the ailment and its causes most important, and asks the doctor to answer these questions: What are the immediate and long-term causes of the overall ill health of the patient? How to infer the patterns of disease from the observed and reported symptoms? How to approach the remedy? In all of its approach, CS emphasizes and re-emphasizes on the direct physical observation of the patient’s symptoms, like, does the hair of patient stand before the occurrence of high fever, or also during the fever, or as well after the fever subsides? How does the patient react to the changes in different environment variables and alternative drugs, and the combination of variables?

We may note another point here that is about prohibiting the use of beef in both MB and CS. MB treats cows as venerable and says that the sale and eating of their meat is prohibited. CS also prohibits beef on account of its disadvantages as a dietary input, explaining it being heavy, hot, adverse for appetite and not agreeable for health in general, except in curing certain diseases when beef can be prescribed as medicine. CS also presents one tale speaking against beef eating.

There are many other points which can be made by comparing the four texts, such as complete conformity to and reliance on the classical nyAya to present the arguments. But after seeing the texts so far the conclusion we can draw is that there is hardly anything in the texts themselves that militates against the traditional Hindu belief of these texts having come from the same author, that is the brilliant sage pata~njali, who because of his diverse talents is called the manifestation of Adi-sheSha with his thousand fangs. We can safely go with the tradition.

Indologists objections revolve around the usual suspects: that there are interpolations, the non-homogeneity of texts, some philosophical concepts are allegedly imported from or influenced by the nAstika doctrines and therefore the resulting dating issues, some concepts that allegedly contradict and therefore could not have come from one person, dissecting the texts to such absurd level that the whole loses the meaning and then at that level showing the minor differences, and so on. But having seen those arguments we are convinced that none of them really stand the test of scrutiny and we shall take a raincheck without getting into discussing those. We shall only say that the real issue here is the hankering to somehow give these texts absurdly late dates, besides of course trivializing their authorship, devaluing their worth and integrity, as well as obfuscating their origins and genesis.

That reminds us of some other questions raised by Dr. Elst (and by Deepak Chopra) related with the “true” origins of the haTha-yoga (maybe from chInAtya-s it seems, no less), to which we shall return some other time.

For now, namaH bhagavate pata~njalaye…


6 Responses to “On pata~njali And His Works”

  1. There need not be any doubt on the authorship of Yoga sutras. One does not find infinite books attributed to Patanjali. Tradition is consistent. And it always points out Patanjali as the author of these four texts only. Thus, one need not have any doubt on this issue (unlike in the case of Sri Adi Shankara’s ‘stotras’).

    As for Chinese origin of Hatha Yoga, I find it implausible. I don’t think that there are any claims about Sri Gorakhnath borrowing it from Chinese. SSC sites have yielded terracotta figures which seem to show some simple Hatha yoga positions. Thus, Hatha Yoga seems to have been an invention of India (not an import from China).

  2. This peculiar habit of western scholars (even somebody like K Elst) of debating the authorship of seminal Bharatiya treatises stems in part — this is my personal opinion – from the complexity, the astonishing scope and depth of these great works. I mean there is nothing Remotely Comparable to the Mahabharata or the works of Patanjali or Panini etc. in the western world. Therefore the controversy — how could a single individual like Krishna Dvaipayan or Patanjali have produced works on different areas and that too of such staggering wisdom. I mean compared to the Mahabharata (in its entirety) the Bible or the Greek classics are mere puddles. Hell, forget about these great sages, the western world has not even produced a mind like Aurobindo. Anyway, Sarvesh, thanks for the great article.

  3. Wonderful research. The unanimity of the scholarly tradition in considering the works by the same author, all through the centuries from Bhartṛhari, ought to be convincing… but modern (esp. Western) scholars unfortunately tend to disregard such consensus, thinking they are uniquely in a position to reinterpret history, and that those who were themselves closer in time are to be ignored. Even for such people, the rest of your evidence should be convincing — there is strictly no evidence against the traditional position, which ought to be the default position.

  4. Wonderful research. Not enough words to say about it.

  5. Not only this is a treasure of information, but it also argues compellingly against the Western mindset about scholarship. Especially to speak about works like Gita and Yoga Sutra, mere punditry is bound to be hollow. Any critic or historian should first put one’s own self under the microscope to evaluate whether one is worthy of attempting a critique. Because if they do and decide to practice a few lines from these masterpieces, they would either shy away or devote themselves to further practice and not utter a word. The single testimony to the humongous knowledge and authority of Gita and YS is in the fact that one can practice without changing a word; thus rendering a debate over the age and the authorship as a pointless exercise.


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