Maharishi Patanjali is a saint who is believed to have lived some time during the 2nd century BCE. Known for his treatise on Yoga, entitled “Patanjali Yoga Sutra”, he was not only an authority on the Science of Yoga, but was also a scientist and a doctor whose clarity and wisdom was remarkable.
Tradition says that Patanjali was also the author of the treatise “Mahaabhaashya” which is an exposition on Paanini’s “Ashtaadhyaayi”, although there has been considerable debate as to whether the two works “Yoga Sutras” and Mahaabhaashya” are by the same author. In addition, tradition claims that he has to his credit, a medical text “Charakapratisamskrtah”, which is a revision of the medical treatise of Charaka – however this work was lost.
Hence tradition extolls Patanjali thus, “I bow with my hands together, to the eminent Patanjali, who removed the impurities of the mind through Yoga, of speech through Grammar, and of the body through medicine” (Translation of the verse from Bhoja Rajamaarttaanda Commentary on the Yoga Sutras).
But the question as to whether all the three treatises belong to the same author remains unanswered. There are a number of legends regarding his parentage. One popular legend says that he was the son of Atri, and Anasuya.
Maharishi Patanjali is said to be the incarnation of Anantha, the holy serpent on whom Maha Vishnu reclines in Yoga Nidra. According to another legend, seeing Vishnu enraptured watching the dance of Siva, Adisesha wanted to learn the dance so that he could please his Lord. Impressed by this, Vishnu blessed Adisesha and said that Lord Siva would bless him for his devotion. He would take birth so that he could bless the human race and master the Art of Dance, said the Lord. It was at this time that a virtuous woman named Gonika, who was totally devoted to Yoga, was praying for a worthy son, with a handful of water, when she saw a tiny serpent moving in her hand. Very soon, it turned to human form. This serpent was none other than Adisesha, who had incarnated as Patanjali.
As to the place of his birth, tradition says that he was not born in any ordinary place. He was from an exalted place, an ethereal celestial abode.His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji holds Maharishi Patanjali in high esteem. He has given a simple yet beautiful commentary on Patanjali Yoga Sutras .The commentary excels in its authenticity and depth. Sri Sri in his commentary on the Yoga Sutras narrates an interesting story about how Patanjali taught the Science of Yoga thus: Maharishi Patanjali decided that he should have thousand students to learn the science. People from different parts of the land came to him as students. They all gathered in the Southern part of the Vindhya Mountains. Before beginning to teach, Patanjali put a curtain between him and his students. He also put forward a condition that none of his students shall leave the hall during the class. He also said that none should peer through to the other side of the curtain. The students agreed.
The knowledge flowing from the other side was astoundingly profound. At this juncture, one of the students could not resist nature’s call. He went out thinking that the Master seated on the other side would not know that he had left the hall. At the same time, another student, inquisitive to know what was going on, on the other side, lifted the curtain. At that moment, the nine hundred and ninety nine students were turned to ashes. It was then that the person who went out, returned to the hall.
Patanjali, with compassion, told the remaining person that he would share the knowledge with him. But since he had not obeyed the instruction of the Master, he would be turned into a Brahma Raakshasa. He would be free from the curse only if he gets a student to whom he could transmit the knowledge acquired from Patanjali. Saying this, Patanjali disappeared. The Brahma Raakshasa waited for a student for a long time until Patanjali, out of compassion came disguised as a student and freed him from the curse. The student in disguise, wrote the knowledge he got, on leaves. Half of the leaves were eaten by a goat. It is said that Patanjali collected the remaining notes and went to the Himalayas.
The Jeeva Samadhi of Patanjali is believed to be in Tirupattur Brahmapureswara Temple.