History of Yoga from India

In order to grasp the essence of Yoga, understanding the history and evolution of Yoga would definitely help. Yoga is one of the oldest art, or you can say science, or philosophy of the world that originated in the Indian subcontinent thousands of years ago. The practice of Yoga is very beneficial not only for maintaining physical health but also for rejuvenating your mental, moral and spiritual health. The philosophy of Yoga is as ancient as civilization. According to one of the classical texts of Yoga known as HathaYoga Pradipika, Lord Shiva is the first teacher of Yoga when he preached the Ashtang-Yoga to Mata Parvati. As per Bhagavad-Gita, Lord Krishna is referred as the first teacher of Yoga.

A significant milestone in the history from where Yoga revived itself is considered to be the era of Maharshi Patanjali who systematized Yoga, its meaning and its related knowledge through his Patanjali Yoga Sutras around 400 A.D. So, for discussion on the historical development of Yoga, it may be divided into three phases:

Pre Patanjali Period [Before 400 A.D.]
According to Hindu culture beliefs, Yoga is an eternal philosophy – it has always been there. However, the historical evidences of Yoga were seen up to 4500 B.C. The main sources related to Yoga during those times are Vedas, Upanishads, Smrti, Teaching of Buddha, Jainism, Panini, Epics and Puranas.

Puranas are considered to be the oldest scriptures and among the available Puranas, eighteen are important. Out of these few Puranas give details about Yoga. The Bhagavata Purana explains Bhakti Yoga. Linga Purana gives the details about Yama, Niyama and Pranayama. Vayu Purana gives details about Pratyahara, Dharana, and Dhyana.

The Ramayana and Mahabharata are the two main epics that give the details about Yoga. Ramayana consists of 24,000 slokas distributed among seven chapters. The great book of Yoga known as Yoga Vasistha MahaRamayana was written in this time. In Ramayana, the moral disciplines, Yama and Niyama are explained in detail. Mahabharata is another important epic, which gives details about Yoga. The Bhagavad-Gita is known as jewel of Mahabharata gives the definition for Yoga.

Yoga is also explained in Jainism. According to Jainism, the movement of the mind and body towards the soul is called Yoga. According to Buddha, body is a fit vehicle to get the tranquility of mind. For getting the steadiness of mind the body should become steady at first. The methods of meditation are also explained in teachings of Buddha. According to that there are two types of meditations, Suksma dhyana and Nirhara dhyana.

Patanajali Period [400 AD – 800AD]
The period between 400 AD and 800 AD is considered as Patanjali’s period. Patanjali systematized Yoga in the form of sutras. Patanjali was the author of classics in three important fields. He wrote a treatise on grammar; the Mahabbhasya. He has also written book on Ayurveda. He has the credit of compiling Yoga Sutra. These Yoga Sutras systematically explain every aspects of Yoga. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra consists of 196 sutras which are divided in four chapters:

1. Samadhi pada: This chapter deals with the nature of Samadhi.
2. Sadhana Pada: This chapter deals with the methods for refining the body mind and senses.
3. Vibhuti Pada: In this chapter the properties of Yoga and art of integration through concentration, meditation and absorption. The manifestation of super natural power is discussed.
4. Kaivalya Pada: In this final section, Patanjali draws the attention of the Yogi to the soul. The various types of Samadhi are explained in this chapter.

Post Patanjali Period [800 AD onwards]
The Yoga developed gradually after the period of Patanjali. Many classical texts about Yoga were written during these periods. The great personalities who contributed for the popularity of philosophy of Yoga are:

Shankaracharya (8th Century): Sri Shankaracharya proposed Advaita Philosophy. He has written Yoga Taravali, which tells about Hatha Yoga and Saundarya lahari that explains Kundalini Yoga. He has also written commentary on Patanjala Yoga Sutras.

Ramanujacarya (11th Century): He has written the book Tantra Sara that explains Kundalini Yoga. He proposed Vishistadvaita philosophy.

Bhakti Yoga was popular during 12th century to 16th century. Narada Bhakti sutra, the famous text on Bhakti became popular at that time.

Surdasa, Tulasidasa, Purandara dasa, Kanaka dasa, Vittala dasa, Merabai were some of the famous Bhakti Yogis. They popularized the Bhakti Yoga through devotional songs. They have also written devotional songs.

The Hatha Yoga period is from 9th century to 18th century. The development was at its peak during the 14th century. Adinatha was the founder of Hatha Yoga. Amongst the famous Hatha yogis that contributed by writing the scriptures are Matsyendranatha, Goraksanatha, Svatmarama, and Shrinivasa Bhatta.

After the Hatha yogis period, Yoga was popularized by a lot of Saints. Amongst them are Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Parama Hamsa Yogananda gave their contributions for Raja Yoga. The great disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, has written commentary on Patanjali Yoga Sutras.
Yoga in the present world
Yoga is gaining popularity day by day. As the modern man is realizing that long lasting happiness cannot be attained by physical luxuries of life, more and more people are getting attracted towards Yoga. In fact, United Nations while recognizing the universal appeal of Yoga, on 11 December 2014, proclaimed 21 June as International Yoga Day by resolution 69/131.

In his statement before the vote on the resolution, the President of the 69th session of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa emphasized this point: “For centuries, people from all walks of life have practiced yoga, recognizing its unique embodiment of unity between mind and body. Yoga brings thought and action together in harmony.”
In the words of one of its most famous practitioners, the late B. K. S. Iyengar, “Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day-to-day life and endows skill in the performance of one’s actions.”

History of Yoga from India

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