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History of Yoga

Here we describe the History of Hatha Yoga as given in the ‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’ and analyse the link to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

According to legend, Lord Shiva is credited with propounding hatha yoga. It is said that on a lonely island, assuming nobody else would hear him, he gave the knowledge of hatha yoga, ‘the Hatha Vidhya’ to his consort, the Goddess Parvati, but a fish heard the entire discourse, remaining still throughout. The fish (Matsya) later became a siddha and came to be known as Matsyendranath. Matsyendranath taught hatha yoga to his disciple Gorakshanath and to a limbless man, Chaurangi. Hatha Yoga Pradipika mentions many other famous hatha yogis. Hatha yoga was thus passed down in disciplic succession. Hatha vidya was set down in the Hatha yoga pradipika by Yogi Svatmarama who, it is thought, lived between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries.

At the very beginning of his treatise, in verses 4-9, Svatmarama invokes the names of many of these sages who came before him and who practised and passed on the noble art of hatha yoga. A consideration of this list of names leads to the conclusion that the Hatha yoga described by Svatmarama is contemporary with that of Patanjali (whose Yoga Sutras were also a codification of long-established theory and practice).

If Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras, codified the eight limbs of yoga (astanga yoga), Svatmarama did the same for hatha yoga. If the former is a scholarly exposition with gems of wisdom woven together, the latter is a direct practical and technical handbook.