A pan-Indian tale of the nAtha yogin-s
The lore of the nAtha siddha-s is of pan-Indian distribution. Its colloquial forms are fast evolving like genetic loci involved in host-parasite interactions. Yet, these colloquial forms of the tradition have such a grip on the lay masses that in many cases one could hardly believe that in its original form this system was not exactly practiced as it is today. The roots of the system deep in the shaiva-shAsana, particularly the kaula tradition, need a more detailed exposition to be properly elucidated. But for now we will note a tale of the nAtha-s that I suspect may have acquired pan-Indian distribution but I have no clear way to establish this.
The story of the story begins long back: In the year before first great war, Mis-creant and I on our gardabha-s descended down the sloping road that curled below the hill of chaNDikA and made our way towards the mahiSha-hrada. There was a temple of the three-headed one that I used to visit. So tying our gardabha to a post I decided to enter the temple. Curious, Mis-creant also came along. I used to be tremendously fascinated by a painting in that chaitya that displayed the great machChanda vibhu along with his successors headed by jAlandhara and gorakSha, and also had the dattAtreya manu inscribed on it. At that point I had not known Mis-creant to have any kind of shAstra-j~nAna – I was not even aware that she was a female version of the “chupA-rustam”. So I was surprised when she named those siddha-s, albeit using their Hindustani names. For me they stood as the link to the pashchimAMnAya – a connection that only the insiders know. I was also aware of their presence in the colloquial cults of mahArATTa, drAviDa and Andhra countries. But I was not much aware of the colloquial links to the north. So I quizzed Mis-creant about what she knew – she was rather terse and taciturn then. But it gave me a hint. Today hemmed in by the hima-pralaya we had a little chat when she narrated an interesting tale that she swore was a native one. I remembered reading a close variant of it in mahAraTThI pamphlet picked up near one of the nAtha shrines. I am also aware in translation of a similar work in the va~Nga bhASha written by a number of va~Nga-s, including a turuShka convert to the dharma Shaikh Faizullah. A narrative of this form might be seen in:
1) The mahArATThI pamphlet named nav-nAth-kathA most likely of very modern provenance based on an earlier yogi-saMpradAyAviShkR^iti.
Medieval to early modern:
2) Any of the several gorakSha-vijaya-s from the va~Nga country. The currently accessible ones are those by kabirAj bhIMasen, vidyApati and Faizullah.
3) mIna-chetana of shyamAdas sen also from the va~Nga country.
4) gopichandra-nATaka from Nepal.
Of uncertain provenance:
5) The Tamil chittar mahimai also a pamphlet-like publication.
6) R’s narrative apparently from a version of the tale floating around in the Punjab and the Himachal.
I follow the mahArATThI in large part.
In the beginning there was only shUNyata. From this manifested a bubble that was the hiraNyagarbha. In that hiraNyagarbha the unmanifest puruSha manifests as AdinAtha. AdinAtha performs tapasya for an enormous length of time. Thereafter from him emerged a devI named ketakI [Footnote 1]. From her mouth arose brahmA, from her crest arose viShNu and from her womb arose rudra. The three deities were taking a stroll along the celestial ga~NgA when they encountered a corpse on its banks. The corpse was actually AdinAtha who had placed himself there for the emanation of the mAhAyogin-s. The gods look at the corpse – viShNu and brahmA declare it is defiling and suggest that they leave it alone and move on. However, rudra declared that no corpse should be left uncremated and that he would perform the task of cremation. For this purpose viShNu becomes the firewood; rudra hauls the corpse who is AdinAtha, places him atop the pyre and set is alight with the brahmA in the form of the funerary fire. As the corpse is burning away from its from its navel first arose matsyendra, from its jaTa emerged gorakSha (colloquially gorakh), from its bones emerged jAlandhara (hence, he is also called colloquially as haDDipAda; haDDi is bone in mahArATThI; he is hADIpA in the va~Nga version), from the limbs emerged chatura~Nga and from the ears emerged kR^iShNa (some times called kANerInAtha in the colloquial tradition and conflated with another siddha Aryadeva. Hence, we have the folk etymology kAn – ear for his origins. In the va~Nga version he is called kAnha-pA) [Footnote 2]. Upon his emergence chatura~Nga (colloquially chaura~NgI) ascends to found the siddha-loka from where he would return later to perform magic on earth as the son of the legendary Andhra king shAlivAhana. Then rudra takes ketakI as his wife and the four emergent nAtha-s who are left behind are taken as their children. Of them, matsyendra acquired the mantra and yoga shAstra-s first by hiding in a fish and hearing their transmission in the conversations between shiva and ketakI. He became the guru of jalAndhara, who in turn initiates gorakSha who further transmitted them to the others. Then ketakI, also called durgA or gaurI, tests their yoga-niShTha by attempting to delude them. All of them, except gorakSha who sees her as his mother, fail the test and are variously cursed: matsyendra was to lose his interest in performing the feats of yoga and instead retire to a grove of banana plants, where he was to enjoy dalliance with 1600 beautiful women. kR^iShNa was exiled to wander amongst mlechCha-s and other unclean tribes (the va~Nga version says to a country called Dahuka identified by some as shrI-lankA). jAlandhara right away became a sweeper who had to clean the royal toilets. But all of them were to recover their yogic splendor under after undergoing tribulations. In their recovery gorakSha was to be central hero and other great yoga practitioners both male and female were to emerge in the process. For his yoga-niShTha gorakSha was rewarded with a son who supposed to have been born out the water wrung out of his kaupIna. This son was sharvarinAtha (more commonly called charpaTi or charbaripA in some eastern sources). R mentions that a li~Nga supposedly installed by him is particularly famous in Himachal not far from her ancestral regions. He was later to attain the state of complete yoga mastery.
Then the narratives diverge somewhat but their central theme in each case revolves around the magical feats of gorakSha. All of them showcase one of these as his major feat – the retrieval of matsyendra from the grip of the women in the banana grove. Under the curse of ketakI devI, matsyendra is lost in the kadalI-vana. He takes the Amazonian queen of kadalI, kamalA, as his partner and becomes the king of that land. Due to the outward flow of his retas he loses his yogic immortality and is sliding downwards towards death. This is perceived by kR^iShNa-nAtha who conveys it to gorakSha. Seeing that matsyendra is just 3 days away from death, gorakSha tries to rush into the banana-grove. But he is prevented from entering the pleasure garden where matsyendra is in dalliance. So he assumes the form of a female dancer and goes in. There he sees matsyendra lost in maithuna. There, in the form of the dancer gorakSha sounds his Damaru and matsyendra comes out of his delusion partially. He finds something familiar in the song being sung by gorakSha, who is urging him to regain his yogic body and release himself to the path of immortality. Then gorakSha kills his son bindunAtha who was born from his dalliance with kamalA and hangs his corpse from a hook. Still in the grip of his delusion matsyendra and kamalA lament the death of bindunAtha. But gorakSha restores 108 bindunAtha-s. At this point matsyendra regains of his own self and remembering his yogic powers leaves the banana-grove with gorakSha. The women of the grove try to attack gorakSha but he turns them into birds and they fly away.
A key feature of these tales is the ascendancy of gorakSha. While all the accounts accept gorakSha to be a disciple of matsyendra, the latter is clearly downgraded and needs the superior yogin gorakSha to save him. Thus, they retain the memory of the old order but give gorakSha the edge. Moreover, by placing the simultaneous origins of the major nAtha-s close to that of the world itself they to a degree neutralize the chronological and preceptor-pupil hierarchy between the nAtha-s. We suspect that these features found in the above narrative record (in the language of myth) a major evolutionary shift in the nAtha system even as it branched out of its old roots in the shaiva shAsana to disperse throughout India into a series of cults that assimilated all manner of influences – a process that is ongoing to this date. This mythic narrative is reflected to a degree in the textual material pertaining to the nAtha-s. Most of the work attributed to matsyendra is in saMskR^ita (e.g. kaula-j~nAna nirNAya). In the case of gorakSha he has a few major saMskR^ita works to his name but the bulk of the material attributed to him is apabhraMsha poetry collected by HP Dvivedi in his comprehensive work nAth saMpradAy. In contrast, matsyendra has at best a rare apabhraMsha poem attributed to him in Dvivedi’s collection. Further, in the earliest sources that mention any nAtha-s (e.g. trika tantra-s of the kaula stream) we find matsyendra with his wife kumkumAMbA and their several sons as the founders of the tAntra-shAstra in this yuga. Consistent with this abhinavagupta invokes only matsyendra in his exposition of trika and he is placed next to baTuka in the northern door of the siddha-chakra of trika. A similar siddha-chakra with matsyendra is used in rasAyana system of the kaula marga as expounded in its central work the rasArNava tantra. His successors like gorakSha start coming to fore in the rasAyana stream as siddha-s, but here again they are not accorded any primacy relative to matsyendra.
The ordering with a primal matsyendra is also supported by the nAstika-s of Tibet. A Tibetan work called the grub thob, which is a translation of the work on siddha-s by abhayadatta from the 1000s of CE gives the following names:
The list begins with matsyendra. Others of note are: gorakSha (9); chaura~Ngi (10); kAnha (17)/karNari (18); jAlandhara (46); charpaTi (64); kanthali (71); kapAla (72);
These are mixed along with various authors of bauddha mantra prescriptions collected in the sAdhanamAlA and composers of certain charyAgIti-s. The fact that some of the nAstika siddha-s in the list were composers of charyAgIti-s in an Eastern apabhraMsha suggests the apabhraMsha works collected by Dvivedi might have a kernel of truth in being associated with nAtha-s, albeit in considerably mutated form due to prolonged oral transmission. But we do not find most of our Astika nAtha-s as authors of any nAstika mantra-sAdhana-s. So it is quite likely that they were purely Astika figures from the shaiva shAsana who were absorbed by the nAstika-s rather than the other way around. The catalog of the material in the Tanjur produced by the misguided communist scholar Rahula Sankrityayan suggests they did have Tibetan translations of the apabhraMsha gIti-s of gorakSha, chaura~Ngi and charpaTi. It would be of interest to examine if these are homologous to those collected by Dvivedi. In the haThayoga pradIpika we see a similar list with matsyendra as the first siddha after AdinAtha, who is shiva. But the remaining order is slightly different with gorakSha coming down the line.In both the bauddha and the haThayoga-pradIpika list gorakSha does not come immediately after matsyendra but he is preceded by certain number of separating siddha-s (e.g. he is 7th in HP list with AdinAtha as 1st). Even if the siddha-s are apocryphal this separation between matsyendra and gorakSha is also corroborated by the Tamil chittar mahimai where matsyamuni (matsyendra) and korakkar (gorakSha) are separated by at least 2 siddha-s. Thus it appears that the weight of the evidence is in favor of them not originally being a teacher-student pair. There is another enigmatic nAtha called mIna who is often placed before gorakSha in several traditions throughout India, including the HP. mIna is distinct from matsyendra. In some traditions he is called matsyendra’s son. Historically, he might have been the real teacher of gorakSha who was eventually conflated with the older matsyendra. Subsequently, gorakSha came to be listed as the student of the conflated mIna-matsyendra. This mIna-gorakSha conflation seems to be the case in the rasAyana work known as the Anandakanda. Based on all this it appears that gorakSha was a siddha in the hoary tradition of matsyendra but coming much after him. He probably did compose in northern desha-bhASha-s and consequently came to be more widely known across society than the founder matysendra whose real works were only known to erudite tAntrika-s. Consequently, gorakSha appears to have enjoyed much greater folk popularity throughout India.
But the above story that we narrated explicitly tries to present gorakSha as superseding his guru matysendra, who is condemned as being lost in amorous pursuits. We believe that this is not a coincidence at all, but a reflection of an internal revolution going on within the kaula tradition. To understand this we have turn to the definitive kaula tantra dealing with rasAyana, namely the rasArNava. It opens thus:
deva-deva mahAdeva kAla kAmA~Nga-dAhaka |
kula-kaula-mahAkaula- siddhakaulAdi-shAsana ||
Here umA begins to request shiva to discourse on rasAyana. She calls him the instructor of the kaula streams including siddhakaula that matsyendra explicitly identifies himself with. The text also has the siddha-chakra which follows the pUrvAMnAya (i.e. trika) pattern.
Then we interestingly see the following (RA1.9-12):
piNDapAte cha yo mokShaH sa cha mokSho nirarthakaH |
piNDe tu patite devi gardabho .api vimuchyate ||
yadi muktir bhaga kShobhe kiM na mu~ncanti gardabhAH |
ajAsh-cha vR^iShabhAsh-chaiva kiM na muktA gaNAmbike ||
tasmAt saMrakShayet piNDaM rasaish-caiva rasAyanaiH |
shukra-mUtra-purIShANAM yadi muktir niShevaNAt ||
kiM na muktA mahAdevi shvAna-shUkara-jAtayaH |
ShaDdarshane .api muktis tu darshitA piNDapAtane ||
karAmalakavat sApi pratyakShaM nopalabhyate |
Here shiva clarifies that the mokSha that comes when the corporeal frame falls off (as indicated by the 6 darshana-s; RA 1.12) is not mokSha at all. Even asses get that mokSha. It should be apparent like an amlaka in the hand. He then condemns the practices such as excitement of the bhaga, and the use of viN-mUtrAdi as paths of mokSha – verily bulls, goats, asses, dogs and swine will get their mokSha by such means. Instead he says the body should be preserved with the rasa-s of rasAyana.
madya-mAMsa-ratA nityaM bhaga-li~NgeShu ye ratAH |
teShAM vinaShTa-buddhInAM rasaj~nAnaM sudurlabham ||
Thus, shiva states that the fools who indulge in the pleasures of intoxicants, meat and sex are not destined for attaining knowledge of chemistry.
He then states (RA 1.20):
j~nAnAn mokShaH sureshAni j~nAnaM pavana-dhAraNAt |
tatra devi sthiraM piNDaM yatra sthairye rasaH prabhuH ||
Through j~nAna one attains mokSha and for j~nAna one needs to hold the prANa-s (i.e. pavana or the yogic practice of prANadhAraNa). For that one needs a firm frame and this firmness is achieved through the substances prepared by rasAyana.
Thus, what we see in this central tantra of the rasAyana stream, which explicitly identifies itself with the kaula tradition of matsyendra, is a conscious dissociation from the “makara-based” rituals and an emphasis on the development of the body through yoga and rasAyana. While the RA covers the latter, the haThayoga facet of this process is emphasized in the haThayoga pradIpika, which is another offshoot of the same tradition. However, the connection to the old kaula tradition with its sexual ritual was not completely lost despite its condemnation in the RA. The practice of rasAyana necessarily needs a female partner (e.g. the kAkinI) without whom there is no success. She is the equivalent of the dUtI in the older kaula system. While we have no explicit evidence that gorakSha was behind this new emphasis, we know on the evidence of the rasArNava that certainly it happened within the tradition. As gorakSha was the more recent nAtha of the tradition, and also one who had a wide popular following, he was probably presented as the upholder of this revised yogic tradition. On the other hand matsyendra being the older founder of the system was clearly associated with the ancestral elements such as the sexual ritual of the old kaula-s. Hence, in the above story he is shown as engaging in debauchery.
Thus, within the rasAyana and haThayoga tradition we believe that there was an internal transformation of the kaula system. However, in the case of the shrIkula we have evidence suggesting that the parallel movement away from the “makara-based” ritual happened due to extrinsic interactions with the smArta supporters of the sha~Nkara tradition. Interestingly, after this transformation, we see that the nAtha system started devolving into various local “miracle” siddha cults along with numerous syncretic interactions.
Footnote 1: ketakI is an unusual name because it is the word for the flower that is specifically proscribed in the worship of rudra. Originally rudra used to wear this flower on his head. When rudra manifested as the li~Ngodbhava mUrti the flower betrayed the identity of rudra to brahmA. So it was condemned by rudra and not used in his worship.
Footnote 2: Note the reappearance of the vaidika mythic motif of the origin of the bhR^igu-s and the a~Ngira-s from fire in which the semen of prajApati slain by rudra was burnt.