By Swami Harshananda
‘Patañjali’ is a great name in Sanskrit literature, both in its secular and the sacred aspects. He is generally assigned to the 2nd century B. C.. He was the son of Goṇikā. His father’s name is not known. He had his education at Takṣaśilā. He was a familiar figure in the countries called Vāhīka and Gāndhāra.
The word ‘Patañjali’ means ‘one who fell into the cupped hand’. When a sage of Gonarda was praying to the Sun-god with water in his cupped- hands a little baby fell ‘from the ākāśa’ or sky into it. He gave that baby-boy to a woman called Goṇikā to be brought up.
According to another version, Goṇikā, the daughter of a sage, was offering arghya to Surya with the specific desire of getting a son when a baby-boy fell into her hands. This baby-boy was Ādiśeṣa, the king of serpents and the bed of Lord Viṣṇu.
Works by Patañjali
Tradition ascribes three works to Patañjali. He wrote them to help people to cleanse the impurities of their body, speech and mind. These three works are:
- The first one is a work on the Ayurveda which has not been traced till now. Some scholars opine that the Carakasamhitā is actually his work, though others disagree.
- The second one is his Mahābhāsya on the sutras of Pāṇini, a well-known work of Sanskrit grammar, called Astādhyāyī.
- The last one is the Yogasutras.
The Mahābhāsya is in 85 āhnikas or sections. Its diction is most elegant and has been considered as a model for Sanskrit prose. Apart from the explanations of the sutras of Pāṇini, this commentary contains a lot of additional information and discussions. Though this Mahābhāsya has several commentaries, the Pradipa of Kaiyata is the most well- known.
The Yogasutras is the basic text for Yoga philosophy and practice of yoga. It has several commentaries of which the Bhāsya of Vyāsa and the Tattvavaiśāradi of Vācaspati on this Bhāsya are the best-known.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore