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Books > Hindu > Yogi Heroes and Poets (Histories and Legends of the Naths)
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Yogi Heroes and Poets (Histories and Legends of the Naths)
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This book provides a remarkable range of information on the history, religion, and folklore of the Nath Yogis. A Hindu lineage prominent in North India since the eleventh century, Naths are well-known as adepts of Hatha yoga and alchemical practices said to increase longevity. Long a heterogeneous group, some Naths are ascetics and some are householders; some are dedicated to personified forms of Shiva, others to a formless god, still others to Vishnu.

The essays in the first part of the book deal with the history and historiography of the Naths, their literature, and their relationships with other religious movements in India. Essays in the second part discuss the legends and folklore of the Naths and provide an exploration of their religious ideas. Contributors to the volume depict a variety of local areas where this lineage is prominent and highlight how the Naths have been a link between religious, metaphysical, and even medical traditions in India.

“There is no book on the market now that can compete directly with this volume. It brings out new data for a fresh understanding of the religious landscape of medieval India.”

“Yogi Heroes and Poets expands our knowledge of historical, textual, and ethnographic issues related to the Nath yogis. These essays provide a strong sense of the context that helped them emerge, as well as their later evolution.”

 

About The Author

DAVID N. LORENZENis Professor of Asian and African Studies at the College of Mexico. He is the author or editor of several books, including Praises to a Formless God: Nirguni Texts from North India, and Who Invented Hinduism: Essays on Religion in History.

ADRIAN MUNOZis Associate Professor of Comparative Religion at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

 

Preface

Much scholarly work has been done in recent years on Sanskrit texts about yoga philosophy and yoga practices. Fewer discussions have appeared on the religious sect that has been the main carrier of yoga traditions in India, the sect known as the Nath Panth or Kanphata Panth. The principal aim of this collection of essays is to help redress this imbalance with discussions about the history of the Nath yogis and about the vernacular folklore and poetry that they have produced. The primary source materials for the essays include folktales, songs, verses, didactic texts, and oral interviews and recitations. These sources were written or spoken in a variety of languages: modern Hindi, Rajasthani, Bengali, Oriya, and Sanskrit.

The editors would like to thank all the contributors for their help in organizing the collection and editing their own essays. Thanks in part to the wonders of the Internet, it has been possible to efficiently assemble a team of scholars from several different countries: the Czech Republic, Great Britain, India, Mexico, and the United States. Short biographical notes on each of the contributors are found at the end of this book.

Not all the authors of the essays have used diacritics to transcribe Indian words, but where diacritics are used they follow standard practice for the language concerned. In most chapters, personal names and non-italicized words in Hindi or other vernacular languages appear without diacritics. However, words of these languages written in italics (including book titles) do normally have diacritics. Sanskrit words (e.g., hatha yoga), usually do have diacritics, even when not in italics. Sanskrit words that are common in English sometimes appear in their common English spellings (e.g., Shiva, Shakta, Vishnu, Vaishnava, Krishna, Shankaracharya) but in essays using mainly Sanskrit sources appear in their more scholarly form with diacritics (e.g., Siva, Sakta, Visnu, Krsna, etc). the non-aspirated “ch” sound in vernacular words is usually written as “ch” (e.g., Chand), but in Sanskrit words it is usually written as “c” (e.g., Candra). Palatal “s” and cerebral “s” in non-italicized Hindi words are both usually written as “sh”.

Much help has also been received from our colleagues in the Centro de Estudios de Asia y Africa of El Colegio de Mexico and from its administrative staff. We particularly would like to thank the director of the Centro, Benjamin Preciado Solis, and its administrative assistant, Adriana Villanueva. Many thanks also to Nancy Ellegate and her team at State University of New York Press.

 

Introduction

The Hindu religious path or sect of the Naths is variously known as the Nath panth or the Nath Sampraday. Its followers are called Nath yogis, Nath Pan-this, Kanphata yogis, Gorakhnathis, and Siddha yogis, among other names. Sometimes the term avadhuta is used, although this term is applied to ascetics of other Hindu groups as well. Most Nath yogis claim adherence to the teaching of the early yogi, Goraksanatha (in Hindi Gorakhnath). The school of yoga most closely associated with the Naths is the well-known one of hatha yoga. In more general terms, the combined religious and yogic teachings of the Naths are called the Nathmarga (the Path of the Naths), the Yoga-marga (the Path of yoga), or the Siddhamata (the doctrine of the Siddhas).

The term siddha means “someone perfected or who has attained [spiritual] perfection”. A Siddha (from the Sanskrit root SIDH, “to succeed, to perfect”) is an ascetic who has gained different perfections or “successes” (siddhis), the most famous being the eight magical siddhis achieved through intense yogic practice. The word nath or natha literally means “lord, master; protector, shelter,” and in the present context designates, on the one hand, a follower of the sect founded by or associated with Gorakhnath and, on the other hand, someone who has controlled the senses through the psycho-physical practices of hatha yoga. The word is also often used as a name for the god Shiva. In Nath texts, Shiva is often called "Adi-natha," the first or primeval Lord.

Linguistically, the word natha is associated with the Sanskrit root NATH, meaning "to have dominion or power" but also "to implore or beseech." Natha is also explained in traditional sources according to a homiletic etymology. Thus the Raja-guhya states that the syllable na connotes the anadi (literally "without origin")-i.e., the primordial form, whereas the syllable tha connotes sthapita, the "established." Natha then would mean the primeval form or dharma established in the three worlds (bhuvana-trayam) according to this religious speculation (Dvivedi 1980,3).

Most Naths are clearly Shaiva in orientation, but some Naths have assumed a more Vaishnava identity. In many Nath texts, their principal God tends to be nirguna, a God without form who is essentially indescribable, a semi-monistic God. In fact, a complex web of multiple religious identities has been a constituting feature of the Nath Panth. Naths have constructed their own identity with concepts taken from Hindus (both orthodox and heterodox), Buddhists, Muslims, and Sikhs alike. Usually the Naths have assumed the role of a reformist movement, while in recent times some Naths have fostered a Hindu communalist ideology, especially in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

The history of the Nath Sampraday is not easy to reconstruct, in part because we cannot be sure that the exemplary Naths really lived (Matsyendra, Gorakh, Jalandhar, Chaurangi, etc.). Wassiljew tried to fix the year 800 CE as the emerging point (in Chakravarti 1963, 23). However, if the Nath legendary personalities existed at all, it is rather unlikely that they lived at so early a date. It is more plausible to assume that the first Naths lived sometime between the tenth and the eleventh century, in the northern part of the continent, somewhere between Punjab and Bengal (Bhattacharya 1996, 315; Kienhle 1997; Lorenzen 1987). Although some scholars have suggested, probably rightly, that a period of decline began in the eighteenth century (Bouy 1994, 111; Dvivedi 2004, 273-74), the Naths continue to occupy important sites in both North India and Nepal: Gorakhpur, Hardwar, and Mrigasthali in Kathmandu are just a few examples.

The historical influence of the Naths often extended beyond the religious sphere. In several periods and regions they enjoyed royal patronage and were able to influence political events. In the Punjab, traditional royal support for the Nath yogis is well documented.' In Rajasthan, the most famous example is that of Man Singh, the raja of Marwar (jodhpur). During his whole career, he was influenced by the ascetic Deonath, a follower of Gorakhnath and Jalandharnath. Several historical alliances of this sort existed between Nath ascetics and Rajput rulers.

Tales and stories about legendary Nath yogis such as Gorakhnath, Matsyendra, Jalandhar, Gopicand, Bharthari, Kanhapa, and Chaurangi are still popular throughout most of South Asia. Contemporary Nath yogis who model their conduct on these earlier figures can still be seen in places such as Deccan, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Hardwar, Garhwal, Bihar, Bengal, Maharashtra, as well as at pilgrimage sites in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet, and Nepal. Traditionally, the ideal Nath yogi is considered to be a powerful miracle worker, an expert in controlling the senses and achieving a union with the Ultimate Reality, an individual capable of exerting power over rulers and populace alike. Present-day Nath yogis, however, are often regarded simply as storytellers, singers, and religious beggars. There is evidence to indicate that some Naths began to marry and create their own families as long ago as around 1500 or even earlier. Pitambar Datt Barthwal and Hazariprasad Dvivedi have suggested that the famous fifteenth and sixteenth-century religious poet Kabir may have come from such a family.

NATH STUDIES
One of the reasons why the Naths are so interesting is that historically they have been associated with a complex mix of competing ideals, practices, and soteriologies. Their outward features (earrings, turbans, matted hair, etc.) are mere ornaments that symbolize what it means to be a Nath yogi. Many Naths are ascetic renouncers, but others are householders; some stay in temple monasteries but other spend most of their time on the road; most are devotees of Shiva but some worship this god in anthropomorphic form and others as a formless spirit; some may even combine Muslim and Nath identities.

The Nath Panth has been historically linked to several different religious movements in South Asia. Its origins are to be found in the tantric schools of diverse traditions (Shaiva, Shakta, Buddhist). As the Nath Panth became consolidated, it influenced, and was influenced by, several devotional movements, both in the north (especially with the Nirgunis) and in the south (with the Varkaris and Nayanars). They even mixed with non-Hindu traditions' such as Islam and Jainism. These complex interactions still need to be much better researched and analyzed.

Possible scholarly approaches to the doctrines and practices of the Naths are many. Nath texts include yoga treatises and manuals, mostly written in Sanskrit, on the one hand, and folktales and devotional poetry, mostly transmitted in Hindi and other vernacular languages. The study of each type of source requires different skills and disciplinary approaches. The only attempt at a comprehensive study of the Nath sect and Nath literature is the now out-of-date classic by George W Briggs, first published in 1938. This work includes a classification of Nath subsects, a discussion of Nath doctrines and practices, and accounts of their legends and folklore. Despite the limits and weaknesses of the source materials available to Briggs, his work remains a necessary reference in modern Nath studies.

Some Nath texts, particularly vernacular folktales and devotional poetry belong largely to oral tradition and are not always available in written, much less published, form. In recent years, Ann Gold (1992) and other anthropologists have collected some of this oral literature, but much more work of this sort is still needed. The musical performance of Nath songs is another underdeveloped topic, although Edward Henry (1991) has published interesting studies in this field. An important study of early Nath songs composed in Marathi has been published by Catharina Kiehnle (1997). There is new book on Nath literature, chiefly focused on vernacular folktales, by Adrian Munoz (20lO). A pioneering older study that attempts to make a complete study of North Indian vernacular literature about Gorakh and the Naths is Hazariprasad Dvivedi's Nath sampraddy (1950) in Hindi. Other studies in this area written in Hindi include those of Nagendranath Upadhyay (1991, 1997) and Dharmavir Bharati (1968). Particularly important for the study of vernacular Nath literature are the collections of early Nath texts edited by Pirambar Datt Barthwal (Gorakhnath 1960) and Hazariprasad Dvivedi (1978).

The anthropological and historical study of the Nath Panth and the practices of the Nath ascetics is another large area of research. The recent work of Veronique Bouillier is notable in this regard, particularly her new book, ltinerance et vie monastique, Les ascetes Nath Yogis en Inde contemporaine (2008). Ann Gold (1989, 1991, and 1992) and Daniel Gold (1992, 1995, 1999, and 2005) have also done important work on the culture of Nath householders in Rajasthan (see also Gold and Gold 1984). Among the older studies that should be noted is a book by Shashibhusan Dasgupta (1995) which includes much information about the Naths in medieval Bengal.

Texts on hatha yoga and yogic anatomy, sources mostly written in Sanskrit, have been much better studied and good editions and translations of the main texts of hatha yoga such as the Hathayoga-pradipika and the Gheranda-samhita are easily available. Christian Bouy (1994) has published a good study of the so-called Yoga-Upanisads. An older work that should be mentioned here is the book on yoga by Mircea Eliade (1969). Another important older volume is the collection of various Sanskrit texts attributed to Matsyendra, the guru of Gorakhnath, including the Kaula-jnana-nirnaya, edited by Prabodh Chandra Bagchi in 1934 (Matsyen- dranatha 1986). The detailed introduction by Bagchi provides interesting data and suggestions regarding the origins of the Naths and the religious identity of Matsyendra. Also important in this context is the edition of the Siddha-siddhanta-paddhati and other Nath works, with an English introduction, by Kalyani Mallik (1954)

The relations between the Naths and alchemical tradition and between the Naths and Tantric religion have been studied in recent years almost single-handedly by David G. White, most notably in his book, The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India (1996) and in several other books and articles he has written (1996, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2009a, 2009b). The veritable flood of recent studies on tantric religion, particularly on Kashmir Shaivism, by Mark Dyczkowski (1989, 2004), Alexis Sanderson (1988), Teun Goudriaan and Sanjukta Gupta (1981) and others also contains much information relevant to a study of the Naths. Another topic at least indirectly relevant to the Naths is that of the influence of hatha yoga on the Muslim Sufis who wrote medieval vernacular romances such as Manjhan's Madhumalati. Aditya Behl and Simon Weightman's recent translation of this work (Manjhan 2000) has a valuable discussion about this in the introduction. Many studies of medieval Nirguni sects such as those of Kabir, Dadu and Nanak also contain information about Naths and their relations to Nirguni religion (see Lorenzen 1991, 1996; McLeod 1980a; McLeod 1980b; Solanki 1966).

THE PRESENT VOLUME
The essays in this volume fill important gaps in our knowledge about the Naths. Since the pioneering studies by G. W Briggs and H. P. Dvivedi and the recent work by Veronique Boullier, relatively little scholarly work has been done on the Naths, their vernacular literature and their institutions as historical subjects. The essays in the first part of this collection by Purushottam Agrawal, David Lorenzen, Daniel Gold and Ishita Banerjee-Dube all discuss important aspects of these topics. Work on Nath folklore and religious ideas is somewhat better covered by recent scholars, most notably by Ann Gold, but good interpretative studies of these topics are still hard to find. The essays in the second part of this collection by David White, Ann Gold, Adrian Munoz, Lubomir Ondracka and Csaba Kiss all examine aspects of these issues.

Here, the opening chapter by Purushottam Agrawal discusses the differing ways in which various key twentieth-century literary critics looked at the early Naths, most notably Gorakh, and the vernacular poetry attributed to them. These critics include the Mishra brothers, Ramchandra Shukla, Pitambar Datt Barthwal and Hazariprasad Dvivedi. Agrawal argues that behind the writing of a history of early Hindi literature there has usually been differing understandings of Indian and Hindu identities as well as differing literary tastes. The division between the religious poets of bhakti tradition and more literary, formalist poets (the riti school) has been a constant theme of Hindi literary criticism, as has been the differing assessments of the role and value of Nath poetry.

Agrawal discusses how Ramchandra Shukla, in his famous 1928 history of Hindi literature, introduced the key concepts of "the Hindu jati," in the sense of cultural and linguistic community, and of "lok-dharma,” meaning a settled moral and social order. For Shukla, the promotion of this Hindu jati and this lok-dharrna was considered to be one of the chief virtues and duties of Hindi poetry. Using these concepts as a yardstick, Shukla proposed a very positive appreciation of saguni (theistic) poets like Tulsidas and a much more negative evaluation of the poetry of Nirguni (semi-monistic) critics of the medieval social order like Kabir and Dadu. Shukla tended to place Gorakh somewhere between Kabir and Tulsidas on his scale of poetic values. Shukla appreciated Gorakh's promotion of social harmony between Hindus and Muslim, but suggested that Gorakh's interests were too esoteric and lacked "natural feeling of bhakti and love."

Agrawal next analyzes the work of Pitambar Datt Barthwal on the literature of the Nirguni poets like Kabir and Dadu. Barthwal especially praised their role in fostering Hindu-Muslim unity. About Gorakh and the Naths, Barthwal argued that they had had a strong influence on Kabir and also sponsored communal harmony. Barthwal's ideas about the influence of Gorakh on Kabir were further developed by Hazariprasad Dvivedi, although Dvivedi also recognized that Kabir could not really be regarded as an "instrument of Hindu-Muslim unity" since he in fact sharply criticized both religions. According to Agrawal, Dvivedi developed his own concept of lok-dharrna, one quite different from that of Shukla. Dvivedi's lok-dharrna was a more descriptive concept close to ideas like "popular religion" or "little tradition" and included both the Naths and the Nirgunis. This lok-dharrna was associated primarily with Hindu religion and was largely independent of Islam.

In his chapter, David Lorenzen discusses the complex ideas about religious identity found in the poetry of Gorakh and compares them with similar but contrasting ideas found in the poetry of Kabir and the Sikh gurus. All these poets proclaim a religious identity that rises above the contrast between Hindu religion and Islam. In one verse, Gorakh claims a religious identity that somehow combines Islam, Hindu religion, and yoga, although in other texts he seems to distance himself from both Islam and Hindu religion. In the poetry of Kabir and that of the Sikh gurus, there tends to be a clearer rejection of traditional practices of both Islam and Hindu religion, although both Kabir and the Sikh gurus use a theological vocabulary and metaphysical concepts that owe more to Hindu ideas than to Muslim ones. Another important difference between Kabir and Gorakh is in the role that the body plays in their respective religious ideas. For Gorakh and the Naths the human body is something to be controlled and purified. For Kabir, the body is chiefly important as the dwelling place of the formless divine spirit that Kabir usually calls Ram. Kabir's sadhana (religious practice) is directed at recognizing this Ram, not at controlling the body. In his chapter, Daniel Gold explores the interesting way in which the Nath tradition has merged into the local culture of Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh. This regional manifestation of the Naths is unique and quite separate from those in other parts of North India and Nepal. Whereas the figure of the king is present here as elsewhere in Nath culture, the Maharashtrian Naths are a curious blend of Vaishnava religious fervor and Sufi elements. This is particularly notorious in their gatherings at one temple where long, intense musical performances are conducted; these performances are played to the rune of intense drum beatings. The general ambience of these devotional gatherings is quite reminiscent of both Sufi musical practices and Vaishnava kirtan singing, the eventual cadence of rhythms leading to a quasiecstatic climax.

Gold maps the development of Nath cults in Gwalior since roughly the early eighteenth century until the consolidation of the cult of Raja Bakshar and the lineage of Dholi Buwa. As with Man Singh, king of Jodhpur, and Prithivi-Narayan Shah, in Nepal-here too a leading political figure, Maharaja Daulat Rao (r. 1794-1827), requested the aid of a follower of the Nath Panth, Mahipati Nath. The Dholi Buwa lineage began thus with Mahipati Nath and is still highly influential in Gwalior. In this way, a long-lasting association between the Scindia dinasry and a Nath lineage was established. At the same time, an interesting shift from celibate yogis to householder Naths took place.

A similar ambivalence is found in the case of the Nath lineage of Raja Bakshar as well. Some Maharashtrian Hindus claim that Raja Bakshar is but a Muslim name given to Baba Chaitanya Nath, who is traceable to a Nath yogi lineage. His tomb is thus worshipped both as a yogi samddbi (turnulus), and a Sufi shrine. Daniel Gold argues that through this amalgam, the common royal and popular role of Nath yogis can become a viable urban institution. In his view, this dual institution can bring about a form of cohesion and a healthy coexistence of different communal sensibilities.

Ishita Banerjee-Dube’s chapter traces the influence of Nath yoga and tantra on a religious sect of Orissa known as Mahima Dharma. This sect also has much in common with Nirguni movements such as the Kabir Panth. Mahima Dharma was founded in the 18605 by a celibate ascetic known as Mahima Swami. Like the Kabir Panthis, he rejected idol worship and many caste-based practices. Some of his ritual practices such as his celibacy and his use of the hearth-fire (dhuni), strongly suggest Nath influence. He apparently also introduced the name Alakh or Alekh as the designation of the God of Mahima Dharma. This name is clearly borrowed from the Nath name of Shiva, Alakh Niranjan.

Mahima Swami's chief disciple and successor was a man named Bhima Bhoi. While Mahima Swami did not leave any written texts, Bhima Bhoi was a poet and religious thinker who wrote a great variety of songs, verses, and metaphysical texts. Banerjee-Dube here identifies the many Nath and tantric ideas present in the compositions of Bhima Bhoi. She also suggests that Bhima Bhoi's personal choice to live with several women and father children may have been related to his association with tantric ideas and practices. Among the Nath and tantric terms and ideas used by Bhima Bhoi, one of the most important is that of the relation between the human body (pinda), with the body of the universe, the brahmanda, a theme that can also be found in the chapter by David White on a Nath text that features this same relation.

The Siddha-siddhanta-paddhati discussed by White is a text attributed to Gorakhnath. It is especially concerned with Nath philosophy, physiology, and anatomy. The third chapter of this work, translated in White's essay, offers what he calls a "complete and detailed identification of the human body (pinda) with the universe of the 'Puranic' cosmic egg (brahmart4a)." White makes the important point that this cannot really be called an identification of the human body as a microcosm of the macrocosmic universe. The body of the yogi is not described as a "miniaturized replica of the universal 'macrocosm.''' Rather his body is somehow identical to the universe. The full universe is located within the yogi's own body.

White further connects the ideas about the yogi's body found in the Siddha- siddhanta-paddhati with the discussions of the body (or multiple overlapping bodies) found in tantric sources such as Abhinavagupta and in the vernacular poetry of Gorakh. Finally, White ties these discussions to the ideas about the equivalence of the physical universe with the body of the cosmic man or Purusa, first found in Vedic sources, and with later ideas about the universe being contained within the body of God such as the description of the universe in Krishna found in the Bhagavad-gita. The aim of all this speculation is evidently to enable the yogi to become Siva's equal.

The Narh yogis have become a major icon in Indian folklore, bridging linguistic barriers. Throughout the Indian subcontinent, the yogis feature in a wide corpus of folktales. Whether all of these tales sprung from the yogis themselves or whether they were the elaboration of stories by others, they represent a key element of Indian folklore. Some of these tales reveal archetypal aspects of Nath personality and identity. Ann Gold has worked with oral Rajasthani/Hindi sources. Her important insights into Rajasthani folklore concerning Nath tradition are further developed in her essay here through a commentary on two Nath legends: those of Gopichand and Bharthari. In her analysis, Gold uncovers the anxieties of specific caste and religious communities. She reveals the way in which these tales are deeply embedded in the culture of rural Rajasthan and feature as leading characters, both merchants and artisans (potters). The Nath ascetics in the stories stress the contrast between the pursuit of the Ultimate Goal, i.e. Alakh Niranjan, and the ties of domestic life. One central motif in the two stories presented by Gold is that of fostering positive popular attitudes toward alms begging and alms giving. In his chapter, Adrian Munoz discusses a Hindi legend about Matsyendra and Gorakh and relates it to the larger body of Nath literature and uncovers unsuspected continuities in Nath literary production. Excerpts from Nath Sanskrit texts and from Nath Hindi poetry (Gorakh-bani) are compared and contrasted. At the same time, Munoz claims that narrative discrepancies among the texts possibly reveal ideological disputes experienced by competing Nath groups in different historical periods. Munoz argues that the tale of Matsyendra's stay in the Kingdom of Women and his eventual release by Gorakh can be read as an allegory of a conscious agenda to forge a "cleansed" form of hatha yoga and Nathism. This agenda was prominent in Nath poetry as well. In this way, a clear opposition between Kaulism (the tantric school traditionally attributed to Matsyendra) and Nathism was constructed. The key aim was to eliminate sexual rites from yoga practices. Nonetheless, the differing viewpoints found in the available Nath and hatha-yoga texts seem to indicate a lack of any definitive institutional stance in the extended praxis of the siddhas and yogis.

In Munoz's view, the historical Gorakh probably tried to expunge sexual practices from his own yogic school. In the end, the Nath Panth exorcised most directly sexual elements, but this was not necessarily done in hatha yoga, a school that was not completely controlled by the Naths and had attained a much wider popularity. Hatha-yoga practitioners were evidently able to retain or introduce sexual exercises in their religious practice. This would explain the problematic vajroli-mudra, an exercise described in the Hathayoga-pradipika that presupposes the active sexual participation of a woman and the emission of bodily fluids.

In his chapter, Lubormir Ondracka again discusses the efforts of Gorakh to rescue Matsyendra from sensual temptations, but bases his analysis on a Bengali version of the legend. In particular, Ondracka focuses on a key motif that lies at the very core of his Bengali text, namely the intriguing mention of four moons. According to this source, Gorakh claims that Matsyendra can escape death and decay by means of an esoteric practice employing these four moons. The identity of these four moons is precisely what Ondracka tries to elucidate. He relates the Bengali tale of Matsyendra to other religious practices found in Bengal, especially those of the Sahajiyas. He discusses all available hypotheses and in particular addresses the question whether these moons represent esoteric or exterior ascetic processes, or even sexual fluids. This possibility suggests again a link with Kaula practices.

The chapter by Csaba Kiss discusses one of the intersecting points between Nathism and tantra, Focussing on the Matsyendra-samhita, Kiss establishes links between tantric practice, especially that of a Shakta-oriented branch, and Nath praxis. This argument can be seen as highly controversial since most groups of the Nath Panth have made efforts to eradicate most traces of tantric religion. However, Matsyendra, Gorakh's former guru, is widely known as a reputed tantric teacher, and is said to have founded the Kaula-yogini school, which is believed to have engaged in ritual sexual intercourse.

Kiss seeks to establish the connections of the Matsyendra-samhita with other Kaula texts such as the Brahma-yamala, the Jayadratha-yamala and the Tantra-sadbhava. The recurrent Kaula vocabulary is a major indication of this relation: words like kula, kaula, kaulika abound in the Matsyendra-samhita. This text, in his view, belongs to a typical thirteenth-century Saiva tantric/yogic environment. In particular, Kiss locates the Matsyendra-samhita within the tradition of goddess Kubjika's cult known as Sambhava. The Sambhava cult was especially popular in South India, hence the constant references to a Cola King in the Matsyendra-samhita. Kiss then elaborates on the proper injunctions for yogini (female yogi) worship as laid clown in the text. In fact, the practices expounded in the Matsyendra-samhita differ greatly from those of the most famous hatha-yoga treatises. In the Matsyendra-samhita we find rules for sexual practices and various meditations using skulls. Thus, the yoga of this Sambhava cult is definitely tantric and not necessarily that of the Naths. Much more, of course, remains to be said about Gorakh and the Naths. The essays in this book give important glimpses of the ways in which the Naths historically have been a vital link between a large number of religious, metaphysical and even medical traditions in India. This philosophically and religiously Nath tradition is linked both to tantric and Nirguni religious currents, to Abhinavagupta and to Kabir. Through hatha yoga, the Naths are also linked to the classical yoga of Patanjali, to Sufi adaptations of hatha yoga beliefs and practices, and even to the world- wide spread of yoga exercise and meditation as aids to healthy living. In the case of Narh legends, these stories are still a vital part of the wider world of Indian folklore and offer an essential window on many basic social, metaphysical, and psychological concerns of Hindu culture. As the Naths say, "Alakh Niranjan."

 

Contents

 

  Preface vii
  Introduction  
  David N. Lorenzen and Adrian Munoz ix
  Part I: Yogis in History  
1 The Naths in Hindi Literature 3
2 Religious Identity in Gorakhnath and Kabir: Hindus, Muslims, Yogis and Sants 19
3 Different Drums in Gwalior: Maharashtrian Nath Heritages in a North Indian City 51
4 The Influence of the Naths on Bhima Bhoi and Mahima Dharma 63
  Part II: Theology and Folklore  
5 On the Magnitude of the Yogic Body 79
6 Awakening Generosity in Nath Tales from Rajasthan 91
7 Matsyendra's "Golden Legend": Yogi Tales and Nath Ideology 109
8 What Should Minanath Do to Save His Life? 129
9 The Matsyendrasamhita: A Yogini-centered Thirteenth-century Text from the 143
  South Indian Sambhava Cult 163
  Notes 199
  Bibliography 219
  List of contributors 221
  Index  

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Yogi Heroes and Poets (Histories and Legends of the Naths)

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Yogi Heroes and Poets (Histories and Legends of the Naths)

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Back of The book

This book provides a remarkable range of information on the history, religion, and folklore of the Nath Yogis. A Hindu lineage prominent in North India since the eleventh century, Naths are well-known as adepts of Hatha yoga and alchemical practices said to increase longevity. Long a heterogeneous group, some Naths are ascetics and some are householders; some are dedicated to personified forms of Shiva, others to a formless god, still others to Vishnu.

The essays in the first part of the book deal with the history and historiography of the Naths, their literature, and their relationships with other religious movements in India. Essays in the second part discuss the legends and folklore of the Naths and provide an exploration of their religious ideas. Contributors to the volume depict a variety of local areas where this lineage is prominent and highlight how the Naths have been a link between religious, metaphysical, and even medical traditions in India.

“There is no book on the market now that can compete directly with this volume. It brings out new data for a fresh understanding of the religious landscape of medieval India.”

“Yogi Heroes and Poets expands our knowledge of historical, textual, and ethnographic issues related to the Nath yogis. These essays provide a strong sense of the context that helped them emerge, as well as their later evolution.”

 

About The Author

DAVID N. LORENZENis Professor of Asian and African Studies at the College of Mexico. He is the author or editor of several books, including Praises to a Formless God: Nirguni Texts from North India, and Who Invented Hinduism: Essays on Religion in History.

ADRIAN MUNOZis Associate Professor of Comparative Religion at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

 

Preface

Much scholarly work has been done in recent years on Sanskrit texts about yoga philosophy and yoga practices. Fewer discussions have appeared on the religious sect that has been the main carrier of yoga traditions in India, the sect known as the Nath Panth or Kanphata Panth. The principal aim of this collection of essays is to help redress this imbalance with discussions about the history of the Nath yogis and about the vernacular folklore and poetry that they have produced. The primary source materials for the essays include folktales, songs, verses, didactic texts, and oral interviews and recitations. These sources were written or spoken in a variety of languages: modern Hindi, Rajasthani, Bengali, Oriya, and Sanskrit.

The editors would like to thank all the contributors for their help in organizing the collection and editing their own essays. Thanks in part to the wonders of the Internet, it has been possible to efficiently assemble a team of scholars from several different countries: the Czech Republic, Great Britain, India, Mexico, and the United States. Short biographical notes on each of the contributors are found at the end of this book.

Not all the authors of the essays have used diacritics to transcribe Indian words, but where diacritics are used they follow standard practice for the language concerned. In most chapters, personal names and non-italicized words in Hindi or other vernacular languages appear without diacritics. However, words of these languages written in italics (including book titles) do normally have diacritics. Sanskrit words (e.g., hatha yoga), usually do have diacritics, even when not in italics. Sanskrit words that are common in English sometimes appear in their common English spellings (e.g., Shiva, Shakta, Vishnu, Vaishnava, Krishna, Shankaracharya) but in essays using mainly Sanskrit sources appear in their more scholarly form with diacritics (e.g., Siva, Sakta, Visnu, Krsna, etc). the non-aspirated “ch” sound in vernacular words is usually written as “ch” (e.g., Chand), but in Sanskrit words it is usually written as “c” (e.g., Candra). Palatal “s” and cerebral “s” in non-italicized Hindi words are both usually written as “sh”.

Much help has also been received from our colleagues in the Centro de Estudios de Asia y Africa of El Colegio de Mexico and from its administrative staff. We particularly would like to thank the director of the Centro, Benjamin Preciado Solis, and its administrative assistant, Adriana Villanueva. Many thanks also to Nancy Ellegate and her team at State University of New York Press.

 

Introduction

The Hindu religious path or sect of the Naths is variously known as the Nath panth or the Nath Sampraday. Its followers are called Nath yogis, Nath Pan-this, Kanphata yogis, Gorakhnathis, and Siddha yogis, among other names. Sometimes the term avadhuta is used, although this term is applied to ascetics of other Hindu groups as well. Most Nath yogis claim adherence to the teaching of the early yogi, Goraksanatha (in Hindi Gorakhnath). The school of yoga most closely associated with the Naths is the well-known one of hatha yoga. In more general terms, the combined religious and yogic teachings of the Naths are called the Nathmarga (the Path of the Naths), the Yoga-marga (the Path of yoga), or the Siddhamata (the doctrine of the Siddhas).

The term siddha means “someone perfected or who has attained [spiritual] perfection”. A Siddha (from the Sanskrit root SIDH, “to succeed, to perfect”) is an ascetic who has gained different perfections or “successes” (siddhis), the most famous being the eight magical siddhis achieved through intense yogic practice. The word nath or natha literally means “lord, master; protector, shelter,” and in the present context designates, on the one hand, a follower of the sect founded by or associated with Gorakhnath and, on the other hand, someone who has controlled the senses through the psycho-physical practices of hatha yoga. The word is also often used as a name for the god Shiva. In Nath texts, Shiva is often called "Adi-natha," the first or primeval Lord.

Linguistically, the word natha is associated with the Sanskrit root NATH, meaning "to have dominion or power" but also "to implore or beseech." Natha is also explained in traditional sources according to a homiletic etymology. Thus the Raja-guhya states that the syllable na connotes the anadi (literally "without origin")-i.e., the primordial form, whereas the syllable tha connotes sthapita, the "established." Natha then would mean the primeval form or dharma established in the three worlds (bhuvana-trayam) according to this religious speculation (Dvivedi 1980,3).

Most Naths are clearly Shaiva in orientation, but some Naths have assumed a more Vaishnava identity. In many Nath texts, their principal God tends to be nirguna, a God without form who is essentially indescribable, a semi-monistic God. In fact, a complex web of multiple religious identities has been a constituting feature of the Nath Panth. Naths have constructed their own identity with concepts taken from Hindus (both orthodox and heterodox), Buddhists, Muslims, and Sikhs alike. Usually the Naths have assumed the role of a reformist movement, while in recent times some Naths have fostered a Hindu communalist ideology, especially in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

The history of the Nath Sampraday is not easy to reconstruct, in part because we cannot be sure that the exemplary Naths really lived (Matsyendra, Gorakh, Jalandhar, Chaurangi, etc.). Wassiljew tried to fix the year 800 CE as the emerging point (in Chakravarti 1963, 23). However, if the Nath legendary personalities existed at all, it is rather unlikely that they lived at so early a date. It is more plausible to assume that the first Naths lived sometime between the tenth and the eleventh century, in the northern part of the continent, somewhere between Punjab and Bengal (Bhattacharya 1996, 315; Kienhle 1997; Lorenzen 1987). Although some scholars have suggested, probably rightly, that a period of decline began in the eighteenth century (Bouy 1994, 111; Dvivedi 2004, 273-74), the Naths continue to occupy important sites in both North India and Nepal: Gorakhpur, Hardwar, and Mrigasthali in Kathmandu are just a few examples.

The historical influence of the Naths often extended beyond the religious sphere. In several periods and regions they enjoyed royal patronage and were able to influence political events. In the Punjab, traditional royal support for the Nath yogis is well documented.' In Rajasthan, the most famous example is that of Man Singh, the raja of Marwar (jodhpur). During his whole career, he was influenced by the ascetic Deonath, a follower of Gorakhnath and Jalandharnath. Several historical alliances of this sort existed between Nath ascetics and Rajput rulers.

Tales and stories about legendary Nath yogis such as Gorakhnath, Matsyendra, Jalandhar, Gopicand, Bharthari, Kanhapa, and Chaurangi are still popular throughout most of South Asia. Contemporary Nath yogis who model their conduct on these earlier figures can still be seen in places such as Deccan, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Hardwar, Garhwal, Bihar, Bengal, Maharashtra, as well as at pilgrimage sites in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet, and Nepal. Traditionally, the ideal Nath yogi is considered to be a powerful miracle worker, an expert in controlling the senses and achieving a union with the Ultimate Reality, an individual capable of exerting power over rulers and populace alike. Present-day Nath yogis, however, are often regarded simply as storytellers, singers, and religious beggars. There is evidence to indicate that some Naths began to marry and create their own families as long ago as around 1500 or even earlier. Pitambar Datt Barthwal and Hazariprasad Dvivedi have suggested that the famous fifteenth and sixteenth-century religious poet Kabir may have come from such a family.

NATH STUDIES
One of the reasons why the Naths are so interesting is that historically they have been associated with a complex mix of competing ideals, practices, and soteriologies. Their outward features (earrings, turbans, matted hair, etc.) are mere ornaments that symbolize what it means to be a Nath yogi. Many Naths are ascetic renouncers, but others are householders; some stay in temple monasteries but other spend most of their time on the road; most are devotees of Shiva but some worship this god in anthropomorphic form and others as a formless spirit; some may even combine Muslim and Nath identities.

The Nath Panth has been historically linked to several different religious movements in South Asia. Its origins are to be found in the tantric schools of diverse traditions (Shaiva, Shakta, Buddhist). As the Nath Panth became consolidated, it influenced, and was influenced by, several devotional movements, both in the north (especially with the Nirgunis) and in the south (with the Varkaris and Nayanars). They even mixed with non-Hindu traditions' such as Islam and Jainism. These complex interactions still need to be much better researched and analyzed.

Possible scholarly approaches to the doctrines and practices of the Naths are many. Nath texts include yoga treatises and manuals, mostly written in Sanskrit, on the one hand, and folktales and devotional poetry, mostly transmitted in Hindi and other vernacular languages. The study of each type of source requires different skills and disciplinary approaches. The only attempt at a comprehensive study of the Nath sect and Nath literature is the now out-of-date classic by George W Briggs, first published in 1938. This work includes a classification of Nath subsects, a discussion of Nath doctrines and practices, and accounts of their legends and folklore. Despite the limits and weaknesses of the source materials available to Briggs, his work remains a necessary reference in modern Nath studies.

Some Nath texts, particularly vernacular folktales and devotional poetry belong largely to oral tradition and are not always available in written, much less published, form. In recent years, Ann Gold (1992) and other anthropologists have collected some of this oral literature, but much more work of this sort is still needed. The musical performance of Nath songs is another underdeveloped topic, although Edward Henry (1991) has published interesting studies in this field. An important study of early Nath songs composed in Marathi has been published by Catharina Kiehnle (1997). There is new book on Nath literature, chiefly focused on vernacular folktales, by Adrian Munoz (20lO). A pioneering older study that attempts to make a complete study of North Indian vernacular literature about Gorakh and the Naths is Hazariprasad Dvivedi's Nath sampraddy (1950) in Hindi. Other studies in this area written in Hindi include those of Nagendranath Upadhyay (1991, 1997) and Dharmavir Bharati (1968). Particularly important for the study of vernacular Nath literature are the collections of early Nath texts edited by Pirambar Datt Barthwal (Gorakhnath 1960) and Hazariprasad Dvivedi (1978).

The anthropological and historical study of the Nath Panth and the practices of the Nath ascetics is another large area of research. The recent work of Veronique Bouillier is notable in this regard, particularly her new book, ltinerance et vie monastique, Les ascetes Nath Yogis en Inde contemporaine (2008). Ann Gold (1989, 1991, and 1992) and Daniel Gold (1992, 1995, 1999, and 2005) have also done important work on the culture of Nath householders in Rajasthan (see also Gold and Gold 1984). Among the older studies that should be noted is a book by Shashibhusan Dasgupta (1995) which includes much information about the Naths in medieval Bengal.

Texts on hatha yoga and yogic anatomy, sources mostly written in Sanskrit, have been much better studied and good editions and translations of the main texts of hatha yoga such as the Hathayoga-pradipika and the Gheranda-samhita are easily available. Christian Bouy (1994) has published a good study of the so-called Yoga-Upanisads. An older work that should be mentioned here is the book on yoga by Mircea Eliade (1969). Another important older volume is the collection of various Sanskrit texts attributed to Matsyendra, the guru of Gorakhnath, including the Kaula-jnana-nirnaya, edited by Prabodh Chandra Bagchi in 1934 (Matsyen- dranatha 1986). The detailed introduction by Bagchi provides interesting data and suggestions regarding the origins of the Naths and the religious identity of Matsyendra. Also important in this context is the edition of the Siddha-siddhanta-paddhati and other Nath works, with an English introduction, by Kalyani Mallik (1954)

The relations between the Naths and alchemical tradition and between the Naths and Tantric religion have been studied in recent years almost single-handedly by David G. White, most notably in his book, The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India (1996) and in several other books and articles he has written (1996, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2009a, 2009b). The veritable flood of recent studies on tantric religion, particularly on Kashmir Shaivism, by Mark Dyczkowski (1989, 2004), Alexis Sanderson (1988), Teun Goudriaan and Sanjukta Gupta (1981) and others also contains much information relevant to a study of the Naths. Another topic at least indirectly relevant to the Naths is that of the influence of hatha yoga on the Muslim Sufis who wrote medieval vernacular romances such as Manjhan's Madhumalati. Aditya Behl and Simon Weightman's recent translation of this work (Manjhan 2000) has a valuable discussion about this in the introduction. Many studies of medieval Nirguni sects such as those of Kabir, Dadu and Nanak also contain information about Naths and their relations to Nirguni religion (see Lorenzen 1991, 1996; McLeod 1980a; McLeod 1980b; Solanki 1966).

THE PRESENT VOLUME
The essays in this volume fill important gaps in our knowledge about the Naths. Since the pioneering studies by G. W Briggs and H. P. Dvivedi and the recent work by Veronique Boullier, relatively little scholarly work has been done on the Naths, their vernacular literature and their institutions as historical subjects. The essays in the first part of this collection by Purushottam Agrawal, David Lorenzen, Daniel Gold and Ishita Banerjee-Dube all discuss important aspects of these topics. Work on Nath folklore and religious ideas is somewhat better covered by recent scholars, most notably by Ann Gold, but good interpretative studies of these topics are still hard to find. The essays in the second part of this collection by David White, Ann Gold, Adrian Munoz, Lubomir Ondracka and Csaba Kiss all examine aspects of these issues.

Here, the opening chapter by Purushottam Agrawal discusses the differing ways in which various key twentieth-century literary critics looked at the early Naths, most notably Gorakh, and the vernacular poetry attributed to them. These critics include the Mishra brothers, Ramchandra Shukla, Pitambar Datt Barthwal and Hazariprasad Dvivedi. Agrawal argues that behind the writing of a history of early Hindi literature there has usually been differing understandings of Indian and Hindu identities as well as differing literary tastes. The division between the religious poets of bhakti tradition and more literary, formalist poets (the riti school) has been a constant theme of Hindi literary criticism, as has been the differing assessments of the role and value of Nath poetry.

Agrawal discusses how Ramchandra Shukla, in his famous 1928 history of Hindi literature, introduced the key concepts of "the Hindu jati," in the sense of cultural and linguistic community, and of "lok-dharma,” meaning a settled moral and social order. For Shukla, the promotion of this Hindu jati and this lok-dharrna was considered to be one of the chief virtues and duties of Hindi poetry. Using these concepts as a yardstick, Shukla proposed a very positive appreciation of saguni (theistic) poets like Tulsidas and a much more negative evaluation of the poetry of Nirguni (semi-monistic) critics of the medieval social order like Kabir and Dadu. Shukla tended to place Gorakh somewhere between Kabir and Tulsidas on his scale of poetic values. Shukla appreciated Gorakh's promotion of social harmony between Hindus and Muslim, but suggested that Gorakh's interests were too esoteric and lacked "natural feeling of bhakti and love."

Agrawal next analyzes the work of Pitambar Datt Barthwal on the literature of the Nirguni poets like Kabir and Dadu. Barthwal especially praised their role in fostering Hindu-Muslim unity. About Gorakh and the Naths, Barthwal argued that they had had a strong influence on Kabir and also sponsored communal harmony. Barthwal's ideas about the influence of Gorakh on Kabir were further developed by Hazariprasad Dvivedi, although Dvivedi also recognized that Kabir could not really be regarded as an "instrument of Hindu-Muslim unity" since he in fact sharply criticized both religions. According to Agrawal, Dvivedi developed his own concept of lok-dharrna, one quite different from that of Shukla. Dvivedi's lok-dharrna was a more descriptive concept close to ideas like "popular religion" or "little tradition" and included both the Naths and the Nirgunis. This lok-dharrna was associated primarily with Hindu religion and was largely independent of Islam.

In his chapter, David Lorenzen discusses the complex ideas about religious identity found in the poetry of Gorakh and compares them with similar but contrasting ideas found in the poetry of Kabir and the Sikh gurus. All these poets proclaim a religious identity that rises above the contrast between Hindu religion and Islam. In one verse, Gorakh claims a religious identity that somehow combines Islam, Hindu religion, and yoga, although in other texts he seems to distance himself from both Islam and Hindu religion. In the poetry of Kabir and that of the Sikh gurus, there tends to be a clearer rejection of traditional practices of both Islam and Hindu religion, although both Kabir and the Sikh gurus use a theological vocabulary and metaphysical concepts that owe more to Hindu ideas than to Muslim ones. Another important difference between Kabir and Gorakh is in the role that the body plays in their respective religious ideas. For Gorakh and the Naths the human body is something to be controlled and purified. For Kabir, the body is chiefly important as the dwelling place of the formless divine spirit that Kabir usually calls Ram. Kabir's sadhana (religious practice) is directed at recognizing this Ram, not at controlling the body. In his chapter, Daniel Gold explores the interesting way in which the Nath tradition has merged into the local culture of Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh. This regional manifestation of the Naths is unique and quite separate from those in other parts of North India and Nepal. Whereas the figure of the king is present here as elsewhere in Nath culture, the Maharashtrian Naths are a curious blend of Vaishnava religious fervor and Sufi elements. This is particularly notorious in their gatherings at one temple where long, intense musical performances are conducted; these performances are played to the rune of intense drum beatings. The general ambience of these devotional gatherings is quite reminiscent of both Sufi musical practices and Vaishnava kirtan singing, the eventual cadence of rhythms leading to a quasiecstatic climax.

Gold maps the development of Nath cults in Gwalior since roughly the early eighteenth century until the consolidation of the cult of Raja Bakshar and the lineage of Dholi Buwa. As with Man Singh, king of Jodhpur, and Prithivi-Narayan Shah, in Nepal-here too a leading political figure, Maharaja Daulat Rao (r. 1794-1827), requested the aid of a follower of the Nath Panth, Mahipati Nath. The Dholi Buwa lineage began thus with Mahipati Nath and is still highly influential in Gwalior. In this way, a long-lasting association between the Scindia dinasry and a Nath lineage was established. At the same time, an interesting shift from celibate yogis to householder Naths took place.

A similar ambivalence is found in the case of the Nath lineage of Raja Bakshar as well. Some Maharashtrian Hindus claim that Raja Bakshar is but a Muslim name given to Baba Chaitanya Nath, who is traceable to a Nath yogi lineage. His tomb is thus worshipped both as a yogi samddbi (turnulus), and a Sufi shrine. Daniel Gold argues that through this amalgam, the common royal and popular role of Nath yogis can become a viable urban institution. In his view, this dual institution can bring about a form of cohesion and a healthy coexistence of different communal sensibilities.

Ishita Banerjee-Dube’s chapter traces the influence of Nath yoga and tantra on a religious sect of Orissa known as Mahima Dharma. This sect also has much in common with Nirguni movements such as the Kabir Panth. Mahima Dharma was founded in the 18605 by a celibate ascetic known as Mahima Swami. Like the Kabir Panthis, he rejected idol worship and many caste-based practices. Some of his ritual practices such as his celibacy and his use of the hearth-fire (dhuni), strongly suggest Nath influence. He apparently also introduced the name Alakh or Alekh as the designation of the God of Mahima Dharma. This name is clearly borrowed from the Nath name of Shiva, Alakh Niranjan.

Mahima Swami's chief disciple and successor was a man named Bhima Bhoi. While Mahima Swami did not leave any written texts, Bhima Bhoi was a poet and religious thinker who wrote a great variety of songs, verses, and metaphysical texts. Banerjee-Dube here identifies the many Nath and tantric ideas present in the compositions of Bhima Bhoi. She also suggests that Bhima Bhoi's personal choice to live with several women and father children may have been related to his association with tantric ideas and practices. Among the Nath and tantric terms and ideas used by Bhima Bhoi, one of the most important is that of the relation between the human body (pinda), with the body of the universe, the brahmanda, a theme that can also be found in the chapter by David White on a Nath text that features this same relation.

The Siddha-siddhanta-paddhati discussed by White is a text attributed to Gorakhnath. It is especially concerned with Nath philosophy, physiology, and anatomy. The third chapter of this work, translated in White's essay, offers what he calls a "complete and detailed identification of the human body (pinda) with the universe of the 'Puranic' cosmic egg (brahmart4a)." White makes the important point that this cannot really be called an identification of the human body as a microcosm of the macrocosmic universe. The body of the yogi is not described as a "miniaturized replica of the universal 'macrocosm.''' Rather his body is somehow identical to the universe. The full universe is located within the yogi's own body.

White further connects the ideas about the yogi's body found in the Siddha- siddhanta-paddhati with the discussions of the body (or multiple overlapping bodies) found in tantric sources such as Abhinavagupta and in the vernacular poetry of Gorakh. Finally, White ties these discussions to the ideas about the equivalence of the physical universe with the body of the cosmic man or Purusa, first found in Vedic sources, and with later ideas about the universe being contained within the body of God such as the description of the universe in Krishna found in the Bhagavad-gita. The aim of all this speculation is evidently to enable the yogi to become Siva's equal.

The Narh yogis have become a major icon in Indian folklore, bridging linguistic barriers. Throughout the Indian subcontinent, the yogis feature in a wide corpus of folktales. Whether all of these tales sprung from the yogis themselves or whether they were the elaboration of stories by others, they represent a key element of Indian folklore. Some of these tales reveal archetypal aspects of Nath personality and identity. Ann Gold has worked with oral Rajasthani/Hindi sources. Her important insights into Rajasthani folklore concerning Nath tradition are further developed in her essay here through a commentary on two Nath legends: those of Gopichand and Bharthari. In her analysis, Gold uncovers the anxieties of specific caste and religious communities. She reveals the way in which these tales are deeply embedded in the culture of rural Rajasthan and feature as leading characters, both merchants and artisans (potters). The Nath ascetics in the stories stress the contrast between the pursuit of the Ultimate Goal, i.e. Alakh Niranjan, and the ties of domestic life. One central motif in the two stories presented by Gold is that of fostering positive popular attitudes toward alms begging and alms giving. In his chapter, Adrian Munoz discusses a Hindi legend about Matsyendra and Gorakh and relates it to the larger body of Nath literature and uncovers unsuspected continuities in Nath literary production. Excerpts from Nath Sanskrit texts and from Nath Hindi poetry (Gorakh-bani) are compared and contrasted. At the same time, Munoz claims that narrative discrepancies among the texts possibly reveal ideological disputes experienced by competing Nath groups in different historical periods. Munoz argues that the tale of Matsyendra's stay in the Kingdom of Women and his eventual release by Gorakh can be read as an allegory of a conscious agenda to forge a "cleansed" form of hatha yoga and Nathism. This agenda was prominent in Nath poetry as well. In this way, a clear opposition between Kaulism (the tantric school traditionally attributed to Matsyendra) and Nathism was constructed. The key aim was to eliminate sexual rites from yoga practices. Nonetheless, the differing viewpoints found in the available Nath and hatha-yoga texts seem to indicate a lack of any definitive institutional stance in the extended praxis of the siddhas and yogis.

In Munoz's view, the historical Gorakh probably tried to expunge sexual practices from his own yogic school. In the end, the Nath Panth exorcised most directly sexual elements, but this was not necessarily done in hatha yoga, a school that was not completely controlled by the Naths and had attained a much wider popularity. Hatha-yoga practitioners were evidently able to retain or introduce sexual exercises in their religious practice. This would explain the problematic vajroli-mudra, an exercise described in the Hathayoga-pradipika that presupposes the active sexual participation of a woman and the emission of bodily fluids.

In his chapter, Lubormir Ondracka again discusses the efforts of Gorakh to rescue Matsyendra from sensual temptations, but bases his analysis on a Bengali version of the legend. In particular, Ondracka focuses on a key motif that lies at the very core of his Bengali text, namely the intriguing mention of four moons. According to this source, Gorakh claims that Matsyendra can escape death and decay by means of an esoteric practice employing these four moons. The identity of these four moons is precisely what Ondracka tries to elucidate. He relates the Bengali tale of Matsyendra to other religious practices found in Bengal, especially those of the Sahajiyas. He discusses all available hypotheses and in particular addresses the question whether these moons represent esoteric or exterior ascetic processes, or even sexual fluids. This possibility suggests again a link with Kaula practices.

The chapter by Csaba Kiss discusses one of the intersecting points between Nathism and tantra, Focussing on the Matsyendra-samhita, Kiss establishes links between tantric practice, especially that of a Shakta-oriented branch, and Nath praxis. This argument can be seen as highly controversial since most groups of the Nath Panth have made efforts to eradicate most traces of tantric religion. However, Matsyendra, Gorakh's former guru, is widely known as a reputed tantric teacher, and is said to have founded the Kaula-yogini school, which is believed to have engaged in ritual sexual intercourse.

Kiss seeks to establish the connections of the Matsyendra-samhita with other Kaula texts such as the Brahma-yamala, the Jayadratha-yamala and the Tantra-sadbhava. The recurrent Kaula vocabulary is a major indication of this relation: words like kula, kaula, kaulika abound in the Matsyendra-samhita. This text, in his view, belongs to a typical thirteenth-century Saiva tantric/yogic environment. In particular, Kiss locates the Matsyendra-samhita within the tradition of goddess Kubjika's cult known as Sambhava. The Sambhava cult was especially popular in South India, hence the constant references to a Cola King in the Matsyendra-samhita. Kiss then elaborates on the proper injunctions for yogini (female yogi) worship as laid clown in the text. In fact, the practices expounded in the Matsyendra-samhita differ greatly from those of the most famous hatha-yoga treatises. In the Matsyendra-samhita we find rules for sexual practices and various meditations using skulls. Thus, the yoga of this Sambhava cult is definitely tantric and not necessarily that of the Naths. Much more, of course, remains to be said about Gorakh and the Naths. The essays in this book give important glimpses of the ways in which the Naths historically have been a vital link between a large number of religious, metaphysical and even medical traditions in India. This philosophically and religiously Nath tradition is linked both to tantric and Nirguni religious currents, to Abhinavagupta and to Kabir. Through hatha yoga, the Naths are also linked to the classical yoga of Patanjali, to Sufi adaptations of hatha yoga beliefs and practices, and even to the world- wide spread of yoga exercise and meditation as aids to healthy living. In the case of Narh legends, these stories are still a vital part of the wider world of Indian folklore and offer an essential window on many basic social, metaphysical, and psychological concerns of Hindu culture. As the Naths say, "Alakh Niranjan."

 

Contents

 

  Preface vii
  Introduction  
  David N. Lorenzen and Adrian Munoz ix
  Part I: Yogis in History  
1 The Naths in Hindi Literature 3
2 Religious Identity in Gorakhnath and Kabir: Hindus, Muslims, Yogis and Sants 19
3 Different Drums in Gwalior: Maharashtrian Nath Heritages in a North Indian City 51
4 The Influence of the Naths on Bhima Bhoi and Mahima Dharma 63
  Part II: Theology and Folklore  
5 On the Magnitude of the Yogic Body 79
6 Awakening Generosity in Nath Tales from Rajasthan 91
7 Matsyendra's "Golden Legend": Yogi Tales and Nath Ideology 109
8 What Should Minanath Do to Save His Life? 129
9 The Matsyendrasamhita: A Yogini-centered Thirteenth-century Text from the 143
  South Indian Sambhava Cult 163
  Notes 199
  Bibliography 219
  List of contributors 221
  Index  

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by Ravindra Kumar
Paperback (Edition: 2010)
Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Item Code: NAK414
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Shri Guru Bhagabat (Set of Five Volumes)
Item Code: NAM763
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Stories of Indian Saints: Translation of Mahipati's Marathi
Item Code: IDE418
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Text and Variations of The Mahabharata
Item Code: NAF684
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LIVES OF SAINTS
by Swami Sivananda
Hardover (Edition: 2005)
The Divine Life Society
Item Code: IDG058
$23.00$17.25
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Hindu Ethics (Purity, Abortion and Euthanasia)
Item Code: NAE694
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Music In Valmiki’s Ramayana
Deal 10% Off
by Subhadra Desai
Hardcover (Edition: 2008)
Shubhi Publications
Item Code: IHG001
$55.00$37.12
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A Mystery
Item Code: NAC547
$30.00$22.50
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Rosary of Saints
by Meera S. Sashital
Paperback (Edition: 2004)
Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan
Item Code: IHL251
$25.00$18.75
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