Patanjali – A Multifaceted Sage of Ancient India

Patanjali – A Multifaceted Sage of Ancient India

Patanjali, also known as Gonardiya or Gonikaputra, was a wise Hindu writer, mystic, and thinker. Scholars think he might have lived between the 2nd century BCE and the 4th century CE. Patanjali is considered an incarnation of Adi Sesha and is credited with various Sanskrit works, with the Yoga Sutras being his most significant contribution to classical yoga. However, there’s debate about whether he alone authored all the works attributed to him, given historical authors with the same name. Scholars in the 20th century have extensively explored the identity and historicity of this sage or possibly multiple authors named Patanjali.


Patanjali, a significant figure in ancient Indian scholarship, is known for his multifaceted contributions. Firstly, he authored the Mahabhasya, a renowned treatise on Sanskrit grammar and linguistics dating back to the mid-2nd century BCE. Referred to as the “Great Commentary,” this work, based on Katyayana-Panini’s Astadhyayi, has been a cornerstone in classical Sanskrit for over 2,000 years, shaping ideas on language structure and grammar.

Additionally, Patanjali compiled the Yoga Sutras, a pivotal text in Indian tradition exploring yoga theory and practice. Scholars estimate his life between the 2nd century BCE and the 4th century CE. The Yoga Sutras, foundational in classical Yoga, has been widely translated and influential across various Indian languages.

Beyond linguistic and yogic contributions, Patanjali is associated with a medical text called Patanjalatantra. Some scholars speculate about the possibility of two Patanjalis—one behind the Mahabhasya and another in the medical field. Notably, Patanjali is revered in modern postural yoga traditions like Iyengar Yoga and Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, underscoring his enduring impact on both ancient and contemporary practices. The name “Patanjali” itself is believed to derive from “patta” (falling, flying) and “anj” (honor, celebrate), emphasizing reverence and celebration in his name.


Scholars, including Louis Renou, have debated whether the Patanjali who wrote on Yoga was the same person as the one who authored a commentary on Panini’s grammar. In 1914, James Wood suggested they were the same, while in 1922, Surendranath Dasgupta proposed arguments indicating they might be identical. However, the prevailing view is that these were likely two distinct authors, although some Western scholars still consider them a single entity.

In the Indian tradition, there’s a belief that one Patanjali wrote treatises on grammar, medicine, and yoga. This notion, found in Bhoja’s 11th-century commentary on the Yogasutras and later reiterated in an 18th-century text by Shivarama, is captured in a verse expressing reverence for Patanjali’s contributions to purifying the mind through yoga, speech through grammar, and the body through medicine. However, this concept emerges relatively late in history, traced back to Bhoja and potentially influenced by a 5th-century verse by Bhartṛhari. Notably, no Sanskrit text prior to the 10th century explicitly claims that the same Patanjali was responsible for all three treatises.

According to tradition, the sage Patanjali achieved Samadhi through yogic meditation at the Brahmapureeswarar Temple in Tirupattur, Tamil Nadu, India. The Jeeva Samadhi of sage Patanjali is now an enclosed meditation hall near Brahma’s shrine within the Brahmapureeswarar Temple complex.

Grammatical tradition

In the grammatical tradition, Patanjali is thought to have lived around the second century BCE. He authored the Mahabhasya, a significant work in Sanskrit grammar, expanding upon Panini’s sutras and incorporating Katyayana’s varttikas. Scholars establish his dating by considering evidence from the Maurya Empire era, historical events in his examples, and mentions in ancient Indian literature.

Mainstream scholarship deems the mid-2nd century B.C. as a “reasonably accurate” timeframe for Patanjali. His Mahabhasya not only shaped Sanskrit grammar but also influenced Buddhist grammatical literature. Travellers, such as the Chinese pilgrim I-tsing, observed its study in India, highlighting that advanced scholars mastered it in three years.

Yoga tradition

In the world of Yoga, Patanjali is a highly respected figure known for his Yogasutras, a collection of aphorisms outlining the principles of Yoga. This work is accompanied by a commentary called the Bhasya, and while some suggest different authors for these texts, others attribute both to Patanjali himself. There is a bit of debate about when these teachings were composed, with estimates ranging from the 2nd century BCE to as late as the 5th century CE.

According to Radhakrishnan and Moore, Patanjali likely lived during the Maurya Empire in the 2nd century BCE. However, scholars like Phillipp Maas and Edwin Bryant propose later dates, with Bryant suggesting a timeframe around the turn of the Common Era. Despite these varying opinions on the chronology, the profound wisdom contained in Patanjali’s Yogasutras continues to inspire and guide practitioners on their spiritual journeys through self-study and communion with divinity.

Tamil Saivite legend

In his early years, according to the Tamil Saiva Siddhanta tradition from the 10th century AD, Patanjali is said to have learned Yoga from the renowned Yogic Guru Nandhi Deva, along with seven other disciples. This information is found in Tirumular’s Tirumandiram (Tantra 1). It is believed that Patanjali’s final resting place, or Samadhi, is at the Shiva temple in Rameswaram, and there is still a shrine dedicated to him in that temple.


Patanjali, a renowned figure, is credited not only for the Sanskrit grammar classic Mahabhasya but is also attributed to a medical text known as Patanjalah or Patanjalatantra. This text is referenced in various yoga and health-related Indian writings. Patanjali is recognized as a medical authority in Sanskrit texts like Yogaratnakara, Yogaratnasamuccaya, Padarthavijnana, and Cakradatta bhasya. Some quotes are specific to Patanjala, while others can be found in prominent Hindu medical treatises such as Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita.

It’s worth noting that there is another scholar named Patanjali, likely from the 8th century, who authored a commentary on Charaka Samhita called Carakavarttika. Although there is speculation about whether these two Patanjalis are the same person, it is generally accepted that they are distinct individuals from the one who wrote Mahabhasya.


Patanjali is respected in certain types of yoga, like Iyengar and Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. According to yoga scholar David Gordon White, Yoga Sutra teachings are part of many yoga teacher training programs, which he finds peculiar. He notes that the Yoga Sutra doesn’t focus much on postures, stretching, or breathing – key aspects of modern yoga practice.

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