We have already seen the interesting post of the Tiger legged saint Vyagrapadhar. Today we are going to see his contemporary - The snake bodied saint - Patanjali. There are many versions and legends associated with this interesting person again liked to Chidambaram and the Dance of Shiva.
( Thanks to Mrs. Geetha Sambasivam for the excellent narration in tamil and Picasa contributor Ms. Komilla for the stunning pictures)
The dating of his time is difficult - some say its from time primordial. Legends associate him as an incarnation of Adhi Sesha, the mount of Vishnu with an interesting anecdote. Some say when Vishnu took the different incarnations, Adhi Sesha took to the earth as a Rishi- as he fell, he was found as though prostrating at the feet of a pious women and hence the name - Paadha - feet, anjali - oferring salutation. There is another interesting anecdoate - Once Vishnu was resting on Adhi sesha he was able to visualise the cosmic dance of Shiva in his dreams. As he smiled in his sleep, Adhi Sesha also realised the weight of the Lord increasing. When He asked the Lord for reasons for the same, Vishnu beautifully explained the delightful dance of Lord Shiva, hearing this Aadhi Sesha was filled with desire to personally witness the dance of Shiva, and hence Vishnu directed him to go to Chidambaram to wait to see the performance! I due course Adhi Seshan was born as the son of Rishi Athirki and Anusuya.
His contemporary is said to be Pusha Mitra ascertained to BC 3 rd C, so he is also dated to that period by some. Others ascertian him to be a contemporary of noted Siddhar Tirumoolar - one of the 18 Siddhars. Some others opine that Tirumoolar’s Tirumanthiram is the translation of the sanskrit work Maha Bhasyam of Patanjali. All these are theories and its very difficult to pass judgements on them. Lets see what Tirumoolar writes about him
Patanjali was born to Athiri maharishi and Anusuya. The Rishi had desired to have the three main gods of the Hindu trinity - and hence were born Thatatreyar, Durvasar and Patanjali. Also was born Arundathi who later married Vashistar. About 100 kms from Coimbatore is a place called tirumurthi hills, is ascertained as his birthplace ( in days of yore this area was referrred to as Southern Kailash). Athiri Rishi prayed to the Amanilingeshvaram shrine there and he counts Patanjali as one of the 18 Siddhars.
He also mentions that Patanjali along with his 7 friends learnt Yoga under the direct tutelage of Nandhi.
One of Siddhar, Bogar 7000 writes thus about Patanjali. In his quest for ultimate enlightenment through Yoga, he is led to the right part of Kundalini Yoga and asked to study the path set by Patanjali, Vyagrapadhar, sivayogi Munivar. There are many more references to patanjali in Bogar’s 7000.
The Patanajli who authored the dance scriptures and the one who authored Yoga scriptures along with the one who wrote the Maha Bhasyam - are they one and the same or different individuals. Is a questions that is difficult to answer.
It is said that since Patanjali’s very breath was toxic, he always tutored his pupils from behind a screen. However, one day, one of pupils had just left to answer natures call outside his class, when the rest got the best of human curiosity and lifted the veil - and were all destroyed. The only surviving pupil was the one who had gone out and he brought out the texts and since he missed part of the lecture there are missing infos!!
Here is an interesting anecdote on him: The very first people who witnessed the cosmic dance of Shiva are Patanjali , vyagrapathar but nandhi always claimed that he was the foremost to witness the divine spectacle. He had watched it standing by the side and it got to his head. Similarly Vyagrapahar also felt a bit heady that the feet of the tiger that the Lord gave him to fetch the fresh blooms even before the sun rose, made him resemble the lord who wore the Tiger skin as his garment. Further the tiger legs also gave him swifter speed to match the dancing steps of the Lord. So both of had great pride in themselves and looked down at Patanjali.
Further during the special days of Pradhosham, the Lord danced within the two horns of Nandhi - Nandhi visualised this eternally and even heard the ringing of his ankle bells and rhythmically shook his head often to keep the beat. Oneday, Shiva decided to introduce a new form of dance and there was a huge audience gathered comprising of Devas, Patanjali, Vyagrapadhar - Nandhi was standing with his Drum.
Nandhi started talking to Patanjali and Vyagrapadhar on he witnessing the Lord cosmic dance in Chidambaram. Vyagrapadhar sang the praise of his tiger legs and how with their benefit he too could match the Lord, and hence he is the one who enjoyed the dance more. And since he was watching, the Lord too showed his entrordinary prowess in dance on that day ! Hearing this Nandhi laughed, dismissing Vyagrapadhar claims, he talked of the special dance of shiva during Pradhosa days, for he dances specially for him. so saying both of them look down at Patanjali - belittling him, for he has no horns or tiger legs. Patanjali felt really sad and for once tought that maybe since he had a snakes body and a human head he could not fully appreciate the dance of Shiva.
Just at that time Shiva entered with tremendous fanfare, having known of the banter of Nandhi and Vyagrapadha, and wanting to teach them a lesson, he tells Patanjali - that he should set the rhythm and the song for his new dance. The specialty would be that there would be no horns or legs in the song ( pun - in tamil - the long vowels are written with additional marks - which are called horns and legs) - so Patanjali was filled with joy and gleefully composed a song without any long vowels. Thereby teaching both his learned friends a lesson in humility
We now see an interesting mural from Tanjore big temple corridor - The Lord of dance blissfully dancing away with Vyagrapadhar and Patanjali in rapt attention.