Patañjali (Sanskrit: पतञ्जलि) was a sage in ancient Tamilakam, thought to be the author of a number of Sanskrit and Tamil works. The greatest of these are the Yoga Sutras, a classical yoga text. There is doubt as to whether the sage Patañjali is the author of all the works attributed to him as there are a number of known historical authors of the same name. A great deal of scholarship has been devoted over the last century to the issue of the historicity or identity of this author or these authors.
Amongst the more important authors called Patañjali are:
- The author of the Mahābhāṣya, an ancient treatise on Sanskrit grammar and linguistics, based on the Aṣṭādhyāyī of Pāṇini. This Patañjali’s life is dated to mid 2nd century BCE by both Western and Indian scholars. This text was titled as a bhasya or “commentary” on Kātyāyana-Pāṇini’s work by Patanjali, but is so revered in the Indian traditions that it is widely known simply as Mahā-bhasya or “Great commentary”. As per Ganesh Sripad Huparikar, actually, Patanjali (2nd century B.C.), the forerunner among ancient grammatical commentators, “adopted an etymological and dialectical method of explaining in the whole of his ‘Mahābhāshya’ (Great Commentary), and this has assumed, in the later commentary literature the definite form of ‘Khanda-anvaya’.” So vigorous, well reasoned and vast is his text, that this Patanjali has been the authority as the last grammarian of classical Sanskrit for 2,000 years, with Pāṇini and Kātyāyana preceding him. Their ideas on structure, grammar and philosophy of language have also influenced scholars of other Indian religions such as Buddhism and Jainism.
- The compiler of the Yoga sūtras, a text on Yoga theory and practice, and a notable scholar of Samkhya school of Hindu philosophy. He is variously estimated to have lived between 2nd century B.C. to 4th century A.D, with more scholars accepting dates between 2nd and 4th century CE. The Yogasutras is one of the most important texts in the Indian tradition and the foundation of classical Yoga. It is the Indian Yoga text that was most translated in its medieval era into forty Indian languages.
- The author of a medical text called Patanjalatantra. He is cited and this text is quoted in many medieval health sciences-related texts, and Patanjali is called a medical authority in a number of Sanskrit texts such as Yogaratnakara, Yogaratnasamuccaya and Padarthavijnana. There is a fourth Hindu scholar also named Patanjali, who likely lived in 8th-century CE and wrote a commentary on Charaka Samhita and this text is called Carakavarttika. According to some modern era Indian scholars such as P.V. Sharma, the two medical scholars named Patanjali may be the same person, but completely different person from the Patanjali who wrote the Sanskrit grammar classic Mahābhasya.
- Patanjali is one of the 18 siddhars in the Tamil siddha (Shaiva) tradition.
According to Monier Monier-Williams, the word “Patañjali” is a compound name from “patta” (Sanskrit: पत, “falling, flying”) and “añj” (अञ्ज्, “honor, celebrate, beautiful”) or “añjali” (अञ्जलि, “reverence, joining palms of the hand”).
Many scholars including Louis Renou have suggested that the Patañjali who wrote on Yoga was a different person than the Patanjali who wrote a commentary on Panini’s grammar. In 1914, James Wood proposed that they were the same person. In 1922, Surendranath Dasgupta presented a series of arguments to tentatively propose that the famed Grammar text and the Yoga text author may be identical.
The view that these were likely two different authors is generally accepted, but some Western scholars consider them as a single entity.
Some in the Indian tradition have held that one Patañjali wrote treatises on grammar, medicine and yoga. This has been memorialised in a verse by Bhoja at the start of his commentary on the Yogasutras called Rājamārttanda (11th century), and the following verse found in Shivarama’s 18th-century text:
योगेन चित्तस्य पदेन वाचां मलं शरीरस्य च वैद्यकेन। योऽपाकरोत्तं प्रवरं मुनीनां पतञ्जलिं प्राञ्जलिरानतोऽस्मि॥
Yōgēna cittasya padēna vācāṁ malaṁ śarīrasya ca vaidyakēna. Yōpākarōttaṁ pravaraṁ munīnāṁ patañjaliṁ prāñjalirānatōsmi
English translation: I bow with my hands together to the eminent sage Patañjali, who removed the impurities of the mind through yoga, of speech through grammar, and of the body through medicine.
This tradition is discussed by Meulenbeld who traces this “relatively late” idea back to Bhoja (11th century), who was perhaps influenced by a verse by Bhartṛhari (ca. 5th century) that speaks of an expert in yoga, medicine and grammar who, however, is not named. No known Sanskrit text prior to the 10th century states that the one and the same Patanjali was behind all the three treatises.
The sage Patañjali is said to have attained Samadhi through yogic meditation at the Brahmapureeswarar Temple located at Tirupattur, Tamil Nadu, India. Jeeva Samadhi of sage Patanjali, which is now an enclosed meditation hall, can be seen near the Brahma‘s shrine within Brahmapureeswarar Temple complex.