Patanjali, a Northerner or a Southerner?

The northern territories near Ayodhya and the lands as far south as Sri Lanka both stake a claim to Patanjali. Patanjali. French Indologist, Louis Renou of the 19th century, sided with the oral traditions about there having been two Patanjalis. Many scholars have gradually come to the same conclusion. It is far more likely that the grammarian Patanjali who wrote a commentary on Panini’s Sutras was different from the author of the Yoga Sutras. There is more evidence to the time of the former than the latter.

Patanjali is an important personality among the Siddhas of the South. The medical system of Siddhars developed in parallel to the Ayurvedic system. Siddhars are reputed for their special powers to heal and to bless. According to the Siddhar tradition, Patanjali was born in Triconamalai in Sri Lanka and took Jeeva Samadhi in the famous Nataraja temple in Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu. The Chidambaram temple’s unique domes consists of 21600 tiles, the number of breaths in a 24 hour period, an illustration of 72000 Nadis and few other facts quoted in the Yoga Chudamani Upanishad. Cosmic visions such as the one which Patanjali had of Shiva’s dance at Chidambaram are a part of advanced Yogic practices according to Patanjali’s own Yoga Sutra text.

Patanjali breaks the myth of a Dravidian divide at the Vindya mountain range. Patanjali is mentioned in early Tamil literature and the Chidambaram site finds mention in the Skanda Purana,  Patanjal continues to be as enigmatic today as he is in a story related to his students. Patanjali warned his students to not to peer beyond the curtain which he placed between them and him while teaching. His students except one were burnt when they tried to part the curtain to take a look at him. Gaudapada the Grand Guru of Shankaracharya was the only survivor. According to oral traditions Patanjali was reborn as a student of Gaudapada. Perhaps, this is the reason that the oral traditions attributed both personalities to be Patanjali!

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