Sage Patanjali is considered the father of Yoga, who compiled the various scattered knowledge of Yoga into 196 aphorisms called the Yoga Sutras, which is considered the authoritative classical text on Yoga. The Yoga Sutras talk about the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga which begins with Yama and goes all the way to Samadhi or liberation. Sage Patanjali is considered an incarnation of Ananta Shesha, the 1000 headed lord of the serpents on which Lord Vishnu rests. Here is a legend of his birth.
Once Lord Vishnu was seated on AdiShesha, the lord of the Serpents watching the enchanting dance of Lord Shiva. Being totally absorbed in the dance, the Lord’s body began to vibrate to the rhythm which made Him heavier and heavier. AdiShesha was gasping for breath and on the verge of collapse just when the dance came to an end and Lord Vishnu’s body became lighter again. AdiShesha was amazed and asked his master for the cause of these stupendous changes.
The Lord replied that the grace, beauty and grandeur of the dance of Lord Shiva made him undergo such changes. Amazed, AdiShesha expressed a desire to learn this dance to exalt his Lord. Lord Vishnu then predicted that Lord Shiva would grace AdiShesha to write a commentary on grammar and that’s when he would be able to devote himself to perfect the art of Dance. Overjoyed, AdiShesha began contemplating his incarnation on earth and he had a vision of a Yogini by the name of Gonika. Praying for a son to impart her knowledge, Gonika was about to offer water to the Sun God. As she was meditating on the Sun, she opened her eyes and looked at her palms, only to find a tiny snake moving there. The snake soon took the form of a human, who prostrated before her and asked her to accept him as her son. This she did and named him Patanjali because her hands were in a cupped shape (prayerful) – “Anjali” and he had fallen “pat” from heaven.
– Compiled from “Light on Patanjali Yoga Sutras” by Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar.
Lord Vishnu resting on Ananta Shesha
Sage Patanjali is considered the greatest exponent of Yoga. The Yoga Sutras are the most condensed traditional outline of the yogic path and are recommended to be studied in depth by all serious students of Yoga.
This article is part of a series on Yoga.