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Yoga Yatra – A Trial to Experience Patanjali’s Astanga Yoga


Abstract

Yoga, presently marketed as an alternate form of physical exercise has deep-rooted essentiality in today’s stressful world. This trend has even more failed to signify the importance of invoking a deeper understanding of Yoga as an efficient apparatus to master our minds eventually leading to the betterment of life.

To comprehend the meaning of yoga in all it’s completeness, a study of the Yoga Sutras by Sage Patanjali is very essential. The text is composed by Sage Patanjali around 4th century BCE explaining a series of practices to be followed to acquire the highest level of serenity and purity of mind. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is constituted of four chapters – Samadhipadah, Sadhanapadah, Vibuthipadah and Kaivalyapadah which together contains 196 sutras.

Through this paper, we have weaved out an Experiential Tourism trail based on the eight practising principles (ashtangani) – Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Prathyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi of Sadhanapadah. The expedition launches from Madurai (Tamil Nadu), the city of temples to conclude at the abode of the divine mother also known as the hugging saint, Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (Amma) at Amritapuri (Kerala), covering a distance of 500 kms approximately. The trail is designed for 6 nights and 5 days visiting temples, historical monuments, dwellings of sages, natural formations like hills etc. to appreciate and imbibe each practices prescribed in the Sadanapadah. In total the trail touches 18 places (Abhyasa and Vairagya of Samadhipadah are also added to the practices).

Local folklore, puranic references and historical incidents has served as the criterion for mapping the yogic components with various places. To supplement in creating an emotional connection between the traveler and the environs of visit, daily practices of asana and pranayama, optional walking trails around the places of interest and cultural performances based on yoga darshana are envisioned.

This well studied and curated tour route of yoga sutra provides its participants an unrivalled experience as it appreciates the practical understanding of Yoga than a normal classroom lecture session. The worldwide acceptance of Yoga through the International Day of Yoga has made the practise of yoga popular in every nook and corner. Such a framework of popularity also inquisites for a deep and precise understanding of yoga. This recent popularity of Yoga will certainly make this unique Yatra highly favourable for Yoga aspirers around the world.

The expedition focuses on multi perspectives by establishing the Indic origin of yoga and its reclamation, attracting the foreign visit by providing yoga in comprehensive form through experience and in familiarising some of the lesser-known sacred sites of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, which demands more acclaim and footfall.

Keywords – yoga yatra, yoga trail, Patanjali yoga

Introduction

Yoga is an age-old living tradition, which masters oneself to lead to fullness, the eternity. Yoga being a spiritual practise is in trend to be popular as a physical form of exercise. This popularity has paved yoga into the mainstream western culture, only at the cost of appropriation of yoga. Though yoga being appreciated universally, it creates a concern regarding to extend of effect to its original philosophy after its appropriation. The true zeal of yoga, the spiritual tradition for appropriation was de-spiritualised, digested to remodify the essence and thus commodified into today’s flea market. The contemporary yoga marketed in form of physical exercise emerged with logical claims, evidence and explanatory frames for improved health among the experts of medical science (Askegaard and Eckhardt, 2012, p. 47). This additional asset of yoga helped the medical practitioners customise the positive result of pranayama and asana for reducing stress, lower blood pressure and heart attack, improve self- efficacy (Khalsa et al., 2008; Chaoul and Cohen, 2010), anxiety and depression (Valanciute and Thampy, 2011) and drug addiction (Khalsa et al., 2008).

The alarming reason that lead to appropriation is the misinterpretation of yoga to be considered religious and not spiritual. Spirituality is not restricted to any religion even though religions (may) entails spiritualism (Aumann, 1980, p.9). This miscomprehension of the West towards Yoga can be considered to some tension points such as chanting of Mantra, Aum and the mention of terms as Kundalini Awakening, which is considered religious thus creating unacceptance of its original philosophy. At the same time, the chanting of mantras or vedas and Aum is not religious but teaches to lead life with a higher goal, which is self realization.

Yoga appropriation also addressed cultural appropriation which involves “the use of cultural symbols, artifacts, genres, rituals or technologies by another culture” (Roger 2006,p.474) which is more than just borrowing and making one’s own of another culture element (Roger 2006, p476). This result an alert because whenever there is a discontinuity in knowledge that is accompanied by commodification, authenticity and expertise gets into the frame (Appadurai,
1998).

When we enjoy Yoga, as a resurgence in popularity, the final turn takes its effect back on India, where the popular Western appropriation is re-exported into the Indian heads (Bourne,2010,p.11). Thus the gradual copying of West over the time, fragments the original grandmother practise of yoga as an indigenous symbolism to result in a hybrid multiplicity of experience and thus losing the pride of yoga to be an Indic origin.

This paper, therefore, aims at creating an overview and record Yoga to be from an Indian root through Yatra. The yatra entrail focuses on the great codifier of Yoga Darshan, the sage Patanjali.

Through his text, Patanjali Yoga Sutra he teaches yoga darshan, a reverential view of highest level of serenity and purity of mind through the art and philosophy of yoga. The text is believed to be composed around 4th Century BCE constitutes four chapters – the Samadhipadah, the Sadahanapadah, the Vibhuthipadha and the Kaivalyapadah which in total contains 196 sutras.

The first chapter, Samadhipadah defines yoga, its characteristics and the problems faced in and how to manage in reaching the state of yoga. Thus, exploring different aspects of samadhi and the process of introspective contemplation. Samadhipadah deals with five vrittis (absence of control) and stresses on importance of abhyasa and vairagya to cease the vrittis. It also explains the numerous levels and sub-levels of samadhi.

The Sadhanapadah, second chapter of patanjali yoga sutra describes the step by step practises required to effectively direct the mind from state of distraction to attention and stresses on what the practise entails. Sadhanapadah comprises of five out of ashtangani – Yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara. The yama-niyamas are further classified as ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya and aparigraha and saucha, santosha, tapah, svadhyaya and isvarapranidhani.

Maharishi also details the siddhi, the psychic accomplishment attained through the state of perception by regular practise.

The third section, Vibhuthipadah explains the capacity of mind achieved through sadhapadah – first 5 practises and emphasises on next 3 padah.

The final section or stage, the Kaivalyapadah presents the possibilities for an individual with highly refined mind or the liberation known as kaivalya. He discusses the concept of reincarnation, karma, discrimination, samsakra to be dealt with in care.

The curated tour focuses on these practises to prove that yoga is a living tradition to be learned under a realised Guru and is much more than a textual practise.

Selection of Yogic Practices

We have chosen 18 practices from Patanjali’s yoga sutra. These practices forms the alphabets of spirituality, which has a presence in various streams of Indic faiths1. The 18 selected along with the representative object/site/art form are listed below. While selecting the sites/Arts for representing the yoga components, we used the following parameters – Folklore, Scriptural references and documented history.

Yoga practices and the tour locations

1. Abhyasa and Vairagya – Ravana anugraha murti , Kambatthadi mandapam Madurai
Meenakshi temple 2

Patanjali says “Yogah citta-vritti-nirodaha”, yoga is restraint to the point of stoppage of Citta Vrittis. Then he gives the techniques to stop them. In the case of Uttamadhikari, an adept, Patanjali prescribes the two pronged methodology of

Abhyasa Vairagya. So the sutra says abhyasavairagyabhyam tannirodhah. The citta vrittis can be stopped by abhyasa and vairagya. Abhyasa means practice, which includes inherently in it, the element of repetition, so repetitive practice and vairagya refers to detachment. Abhyasa and vairagya, both are necessary for citta vritti nirodaha – one is the positive and one is the negative aspect. Abhyasa speeds up your progress towards samadhi and vairagya ensures that you do not go in the wrong direction. Abhyasa generates energy through which your spiritual progress happens; vairagya ensures that additional energy is dissipated in areas which are not yogic.

The story of Ravana is taken to illustrate the complex nature of Abhyasa Vairagya. Irrespective of his wisdom and strong penance, Ravana failed in life, due to his attachment to sensual pleasure. This shows that, mere Abhyasa will not lead you in yogic path unless Vairagya accompanies it

2. Ahimsa – Kalugumalai Jain temple complex 3

Ahimsa refers to non-violence at all three levels of physical, mental and through speech. The
deeper significance of Ahimsa is presented through the story of Jain monks.

3. Satyam- Sugarcane to stone elephant sculpture at Pudumandapam and Harischandra
family sculpture at 1000 pillar mandapam .

Patanjali says satya-pratisthayam kriya-phalasryatvam (II:36).

This sutra on truth explains that a yogi who is perfectly established in truth, such a yogi will be able to predict the relationship of one-to-one between the act and the fruit. In another sense of this sutra, it is said that a yogi who practices truth perfectly, whatever he or she says will come to be true, it can never become an untruth. Interestingly, what this points out is that even nature helps you when you are practising truth perfectly, whatever you say will happen.

This Yama is illustrated through the story of Stone elephant eating sugar cane4. The siddhis displayed by the siddhas has a deeper meaning and has to be judged in the proper context. One important sutra of Patanjali as regards to yamas say jati-desa-kala-samayanavacchinnah sarvabhauma mahavratam (II:31). Mahavratam means great vows. Yamas are great vows to be taken by the yoga practitioner and it is sarvabhauma, it is universally applicable. The following or complying with yamas has to be irrespective of jati (caste or species in which you are born), desa (place in which you are there), kala (time), samaya (circumstances in life). Probably, Patanjali is only dictatorial in this sutra. Here he says, as a practitioner of yoga, you have no excuse not to follow the yamas.

The universality of this practice of Satya is revealed through the story of King Harischandra5 represented by two statues in the 1000 pillar mandapam of Meenakshi temple. The story of Harischandra, who lived for truth, renounced everything, even his wife, son and himself for the cause of truth inspires oneself to practice satya. Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathy being pleased with his sacrifice for truth boons him with their appearence and blesses him with his lost legacy.

4. Asteyam – Bhoganather , located in Sathuragiri Hills6

Asteya means non-stealing/non-robbing, non appropriation of things which do not belong to you.

asteya-pratisthayam sarva-ratnopasthanam (II:37).

When a yogi practices asteya perfectly, sarva-ratnopasthanam, ratna means wealth, sarva means all. upasthanam means making themselves present.

Bhoganathar also known as the Palani Malai Sidhar, on among 18 siddhas by birth belonging to the caste of goldsmith became a sidhapurusha under the guidance of Kalanginathar. Among many of his acquired siddhis or powers acquired through yoga practice, his sidhi to discover hidden gems, gold and other treasures remained unknown to many. Though blessed with this siddhi he was never attracted to attain the shining gems or treasures and never did he reveled this to others.

5. Aparigraham – Sri Ramana mandiram, near Madurai temple

The last yama, Patanjali says a-parigraha-sthairye-janma-kathanta sambodhah (II:39). Aparigraha is non-possessiveness. Sthairye means stability. On being stabilised perfectly in the state of aparigraha, when the occasion is not there at all, for violating the aparigraha, for such a yogi, janma-kathanta sambodhah – complete knowledge of the purpose of life happening to a yogi who practices aparigraha perfectly. A very long drawn line of thinking says that aparigraha in course of time will lead to perfect practice of vairagya or detachment, which will in turn lead to citta vritti nirodaha, which will lead to kaivalya…so the whole goal of life will become visible.

The inward searching approach of ramana maharshi will be presented here. Sri Ramana mandiram near Madurai temple will be the location7.

6. Brahmacharya – Swami Vivekananda memorial, Kanyakumari

The sutra, brahma-carya-pratisthayam virya-labhah (II: 38) gives the result of practicing brahmacharya. On the perfect practice of brahmacharya, virya – meaning vigour/strength/power, this is not the strength of a normal person. Ordinary practice of brahmacharya leads to minimisation of the dissipation of energy. When energy is not dissipated, you are automatically becoming powerful. Therefore, a yogi who practices brahmacharya perfectly attains virya or tremendous power, physically and mentally. Incidents from the life of Swami Vivekananda8 with emphasis on his physical and mental strength will be discussed here.

7. Soucha – Papanasanathar temple and Agasthiyar falls

The first niyama is soucha – cleanliness/purity. Patanjali devotes two sutras for this – one on the physical side and the other on the mental side. The significance of Papanasam temple and waterfalls will be explained here. How Indra got relieved from the sin of Brahmahathya and the metaphorical meaning of Indra will also be discussed9.

8. Santosha – Mayiamma samadhi

Patanjali says santosad-anuttamah sukha-labhah (II: 42). You attain to unparalled happiness from the perfect practice of contentment.
Incidents from the life of Avadhootha Mayiamma10 of Kanyakumari will be discussed here.

9. Svadyaya – Kanthalloor sala

Patanjali says svadhyayad-ista-devata-samprayogah (II:44). By the perfect practice of svadhyaya, one attains to union with ista-devata, with one’s own desired God or deity. Now we get a correct perspective of svadhyaya, which refers to repeatedly studying that part or chapter of the scripture towards which you are inclined and in which your desired deity is there. The ancient university of kanthaloor near Thiruvananthapuram, known as dakisna nalanda will be introduced to the audience. As the archeological remains of this university remains elusive, we will be visiting Valyasala Mahadeva temple premises11.

10. Tapas – Thirukoodal malai near Madurai
kayendriya-siddhir-asuddhi-ksyat-tapasah (II:43) – On the practice of austerities perfectly, asuddhi-ksyat – all the impurities reduce to the point of disappearance and that leads to kayendriya-siddhi – perfection in body and senses. You will have perfect body and perfect sense organs when you practice tapas perfectly and when the impurities disappear.

Thirukoodal mala is the abode of Siddhas who performed many such tapas12.

11. Isvarapranidhana – Sriviliputhur Andal temple

Patanjali says, samadhi-siddhir-isvara-pranidhanat (II:45).

By the perfect practice of Ishvarpranidhan, the yogi attains to perfection in the highest type of samadhi. In other words, when the surrender to Ishvara becomes complete, the state of samadhi is the highest state to which the yogi can attain. This sutra highlights the significance of Ishvarpranidhan as a practice for not only stopping the citta vrittis, but going to the highest point in the process of stopping the citta vrittis.

The concept of total surrender to divinity will be discussed in the background of saint Andal’s
life.13

12. Asana – Matsendranath samadhi, Thiruparankundram

The samadhi of Matsendranath , the founder of hathayoga tradition is selected to emphasis the principles of Asana. Asana in its current form has eclipsed the original purpose mentioned in yoga sutras. This progressive transition of asana tradition will be made familiar during this visit. The cave of Ghoraknath, another major yogi in Hatha yoga tradition located in Saturagiri hills will be also visited.

13. Pranayama – Kundalini paatu Mohiniyatam performance

The dual benefit of the practice of pranayama is (1) the removal of the covering of the inner light and (2) the mind becomes fit for doing meditation practices.

Pranayama involves the control of breath, and this has been introduced from the perspective of Hatha yoga. Just like asana, here also the various stages of pranayama will be discussed. A Mohiniyatam performance of Kndalini Pattu of Sri Narayana guru will be performed to represent the Pranayama. This is “a poem explaining as far as words can do so the mystic experience of once identity with the Absolute detailing the six steps of the Yoga Sadhana14”.

14. Pratyahara – Sadasiva brahmendra’s Kritis performance

Pratyahara is the step before the final inwards going process or meditation happens. Pratyahara can be visualised as the tortoise withdrawing its limbs inwards under its protective shell, whenever there is a threat appearing in the external horizon. Similarly, the yogi in the inward going process withdraws the senses inwards.

This yogic sadhana component is introduced through the life of Sadasiva brahmendra, the great yogi of 18 th century. Some carnatic compositions of him will be performed to introduce the
saint and his teachings15.

15. Dharana

16. Dhyana

17. Samadhi

Patanjali has coined a term for these three steps of meditation when they happen together.

When dharana, dhyana, samadhi happens together, it is called as samyama by Patanjali. It starts with concentration, which leads to meditation and that leads to samadhi wherein intuition starts happening, the yogi learns about the secret of the object which is vibhuti or the supernatural accomplishment that happens to the yogi. There is a process of deepening of this intuition, which happens in stages. The final stage is where the yogi or the meditator attains to viveka khyati, the discriminating enlightenment, the distinction between Purusha and Prakruti, where Kaivalya happens.

These three are clubbed together as done by Patanjali and represented by the sacred mountain Maruthwamala. This holy mountain was the abode of saints like Swami Sri Narayana guru, Chattambi swami etc and still continues to attract spiritual seekers.

18. Kaivalya – Amritapuri Ashram

The last sutra of Patanjali defines Kaivalya. When Kaivalya happens, the purpose of Prakruti is over, the purpose of Purusha is attained and the Purusha is established in its own pure, pristine nature, which is pure consciousness. Here ends the philosophy of Yoga. Life and teachings of Amma, Sri Amritananda Mayi; the personification of Yoga sutras will be presented to the seekers.

Tour Itinerary

Introduction to the tour – resource kit etc for the participant

Day 1

Maduri Meenakshi temple

Yoga Philosophers
A. Pathanjali
– Sculpture at Pudumandapam
B. Nandi – Sculpture at Pudumandapam
C. Thirumular – Nayanmar Panel , Lord Sundareshwarar shrine

Satyam

A. Sugarcane to stone elephant sculpture at Pudumandapam
B. Harischandra family sculpture at 1000 pillar mandapam

Abhyasa and Vairagya

A. Ravana anugraha murti , Kambatthadi mandapam
Sri Ramana mandiram , Near Madurai Temple

Aparigraham

Ramana Maharshi’s teachings on Aparigraha
Thiruparakundram Hill shrine

Asana

Matsendranath samadhi, Thirupurakundram
Thirukoodal mala

Tapas

Hill were siddhars like Mayandi swamy and Sundara nandan did tapas
Evening performance of Kailasodharanam Kudiyatam to emphasise Abhyasa and Vairagya

Day 2
Early morning to Sathuragiri Hills
Sathuragiri Hills

Asteyam and Tapas

Bhoganather story related to his ability to locate treasures
Siddhas land of penance – caves etc

Evening stay at Srivilliputtur

Lecture on various streams of Yoga

Evening performance of Araiyar Sevai to introduce Nathamuni , 9th century yogi and founder
of most of the modern yoga schools

Day 3

Pranayama and Asana practice
Srivilliputtur Arulmigu Andal sametha rangamannar Temple

Isvarapranidhana – Visit to the temple and related stories of Andal

Kalugumalai Jain temple complex
Ahimsa – introduce the yogic concept of Ahimsa and its interpretation by various commentaries
Stay at Tirunelveli

Day 4

Pranayama and Asana practice
Shri Papanasanathar Temple and Agastya waterfalls
Soucha – Inner and Outer purity – stories associated with the place
Towards Kanyakumari to reach by 3 pm
Swami Vivekananda rock memorial
Brahmacharya – Swami Vivekananda’s adherence to Brahmacharya
Stay at Kanyakumari
Evening performance of Sadasiva brahmendra Kritis . Story of Pratyahara from the life of
Sadasiva brahmendra

Day 5

Pranayama and Asana practice
Maruthwamala
Dharana and Dhyana – stories of siddhas and avadhoodhas who did penance in Maruthwamala
Mayiamma samadhi
Santosha – Mayiammas’ life
stay in Kanyakumari
Evening performance of Kundalini paatu Mohiniyatam

Day 6

Pranayama and Asana practice
To Thiruvananthapuram

Svadyaya – Kanthalloor salai . as the exact location of this ancient university in unknown , we
will be visiting the Kanthaloor Mahadeva temple
Evening stay at Amritapuri

Day 7

Amritapuri Ashram
Pranayama and Asana practice
Satsang with Amma
Amma’s Darshan

Debriefing

Conclusion of the tour by 7 pm

Take home experiences for the traveler
1. Understand that , yoga is not just asana and pranayama
2. Deep rooted , living nature of Yoga
3. Yoga as a spiritual unifier of Bharatavarsha. Sri SP Singh aptly presents the unifying role
of Yoga in History of Yoga, Volume XVI Part 216

As is obvious from the range of topics included and elaborated upon in this volume, hardly does it leave any notable aspect of yoga from its purview. Here yoga is discussed in operation not only in its mutually complementary but also contradictory areas of ideology. If, on the one hand, it serves as the common measuring rod of the formulations of the six systems of Indian philosophy tracing their source in the Veda, it, on the other hand, holds no less an important place in such non-Vedic systems of thought as Jainism and Buddhism. If yoga were to be considered from the usually held viewpoint as a device to bring together two most important factors of the human understanding about the reality as God and the soul, Jainism has no God while Buddhism has neither of the two in its perspective. Yet, both of them have an important place for yoga in their respective systems. Not so acute and yet quite obvious is the divergence between Vaisnavism and Saivism making them enter into conflict against each other sometimes. Even then, both of them entertain yoga with equal warmth of spirit. If Vaisnavism has helped mainly in the growth of bhakti-yoga through devotion to Vişnu and His incarnations Rāma and Krşņa, Saivism, lacking in the provision of incarnation, has led to the growth of hatha-yoga, kundalini-yoga and Tantra in particular. While Kapila gave rise to the Sānkhya system of understanding about the world on the basis of the yoga of Prakrti, and Purusa as the Supreme Being, coming in his footsteps, Patañjali has diluted the position of the latter into an optional aid to meditation shorn of Creatorship, etc., of the world. Buddhism, on the other hand, has not only dispensed with God and the soul, but also with consciousness as a continuous universal substratum and further as a vacuum of it, too, from the fear of making his bhikkhu getting attached to the same.In spite of these variations of extreme kind in the ground-reality on which it has had to play its role, yoga has kept itself up unfalteringly as a common measure of all ideologies.

This unifying nature of yoga has been experienced through this Yatra and will help the participant to appreciate the spiritual unity of Bharatavarsha.

Conclusion

Having designed this tour with the theme of Yoga, now it is time to open it for market. We
seek help from team INDIC YATRA for participatory development or knowledge transfer for
executing the same.

References

1. Singh, Satya Prakash. “History of Yoga.” (2010).

2. Deepa, C. “Images of siva at the kambattadi mantapa of madurai temple complex.” International
Journal of Research in Social Sciences 8, no. 3 (2018): 737-746

3. Datta, Satwati Sona. “Material culture in the early pantiya era tamil nadu, 6th-11th century ce.” PhD diss., Cardiff University (United Kingdom), 2010.

4. Holt, Amy-Ruth. “Shiva’s divine play: art and literature at a South Indian Temple.” PhD diss., The Ohio State University, 2007.

5. From Markandeya purana

6. Ganapathy, T. N., and Pōkar. The Yoga of Siddha Bōganāthar. Babaji’s Kriya Yoga and Publications, 2003.

7. Natarajan, A. R., and Eliot Deutsch. Timeless in Time: Sri Ramana Maharshi. Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2006.

8. Nikhilananda, Swami. Vivekananda: A biography. Advaita Ashrama (A publication branch of Ramakrishna Math, Belur Math), 1982.

9. Folklore

10. Folklore

11. Vijayalekshmy, K. G. Educational Development in South India. Mittal Publications, 1993.

12. Folklore

13. Chabria, Priya Sarukkai, and Ravi Shankar, eds. Andal: The Autobiography of a Goddess. Zubaan, 2016.

14. Omana, S. “The Philosophy of Sree Narayana Guru.” (1979).

15. Krishnamurthy, R. The saints of the Cauvery delta. Concept, 1979.

16. Singh, Satya Prakash. “History of Yoga.” (2010).


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