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PATANJALI, second-century-b.c., Indian scholar and grammarian. There is an old Indian tradition, accepted by ancient scholars such as Bhartrihari (who lived only a few centuries after Patanjali) that Patanjali contributed to yoga through the Yoga Sūtra, to grammar by his Mahābhāshya, and to Āyurveda through the Charaka Samhitā. Modern scholarship has discounted the authorship of the Charaka Samhitā by Patanjali, although he may have edited it. There is much evidence that the Mahābhāshya and the Yoga Sūtra were written by the same person. This article will consider only the contributions of Patanjali to grammar.

It is believed that Patanjali's mother was named Gorika and that he was born in Gonarda in Kashmir. He was educated in Takshashila, and he taught in Pataliputra. From the textual references in his works, it can be inferred that he lived during the second century b.c.

Patanjali's Mahābhāshya is a commentary on Pānini's Ashtādhyāyī. Although it comments on only 1,228 of the 4,000 rules of Pānini, it remains the most authoritative text on Sanskrit grammar. The Mahābhāshya is a most important text for Indian history, containing over 700 brilliant quotations from the Vedic texts, epics, and the Sūtra literature.

The Mahābhāshya calls itself the "science of words." It has three goals: to defend Pānini where Kātyāyana's emendations appear unreasonable; to examine the rules of Pānini that were not discussed by Kātyāyana; to make additions to Pānini's rules where they cannot account for the usage in Patanjali's time.

The Mahābhāshya is written as a dialogue among three speakers: Purvapakshin (who raises doubts), Siddhāntaikadeshin (who refutes the objections and provides partial answers), and Siddhāntin (who gives the final verdict). The pattern of argument follows an alternating process of questions and answers until a resolution is reached. Patanjali deals with three important subjects: formation of words, determination of sense, and the relation between a word and its sense.

The Mahābhāshya consists of 85 chapters. In the very first chapter, Patanjali's ideas on grammar and philosophy are summarized in his approach to his commentary. He speaks of the following tasks: (1) definition and nature of shabda, word; (2) methods of teaching words and their meanings; (3) meaning of grammar; (4) the uses of grammar; (5) knowledge of correct words and their uses; (6) the teaching of speech sounds; (7) whether words are permanent (nitya) or impermanent (karya); and so on.

Subhash Kak

See alsoAshtādhyāyī ; Pānini ; Vedic Aryan India ; Yoga


Pande, G. C., ed. Life, Thought and Culture in India (from c. 600BCto c.AD300). New Delhi: Centre for Studies in Civilizations, 2001.

Scharfe, H. Grammatical Literature. Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 1977.

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Patanjali was an Indian teacher traditionally thought of as the person who gathered and systematized the teachings of meditation and yoga. He is believed to have lived between 200B.C.E. and 450 C.E. However, he is credited with composing the small Sanskrit volume of Yoga Sutras from which the modern practice of yoga is derived.

The Sutras laid out a system of practice by which one can attain a pure state free of illusion. The practice begins with the adoption of a fivefold ethic (call yama ), very similar to that taught by Mahavida and the Jainsnonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, sexual restraint, and non-attachment. It is followed by the adoption of five virtues (niyama )purity, contentment, austerity, study, and dedication. These practices inhibit the negative influences of being in the world. After adopting a lifestyle centered on yama and niyama, one begins the step-by-step adoption of the asanas (postures), breath control, control over the sense, concentration, and meditation, each of which should lead to the goal of samadhi (variously described as absorption or liberation).

According to Patanjali, the practice of yoga has a number of side effects. For example, the practice of nonviolence will lead to the cessation of violence in one's presence. Some of these side effects involve distinctly paranormal activity. For example, truthfulness in one's life leads to the ability to speak the future. The practice of concentration and meditation grants a number of siddhas, unusual powers, such as the ability to remain hidden or to greatly increase one's strength. It also leads to an understanding of the subtle anatomy of the body, including an awareness of the mysterious psychic/spiritual centers generally referred to as chakras. The practice of yoga then leads to the valuing of the siddhas and those who practice them throughout Indian society.

The practice of yoga (especially that part of Patanjali's system that included the asanas, ) reached a low point in the nineteenth century, but was reborn early in the twentieth century. Simultaneously, hatha yoga, that aspect of the teachings devoted to the postures, was exported to the West as a discipline centered upon the improvement of bodily health. Hatha yoga has actually enjoyed a greater response in non-Indian cultures than in the land of its birth.


Majumdar, Sachindra Kumar. Introduction to Yoga Principles and Practice. Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1976.

Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: A New Translation and Commentary. Edited by Georg Feuerstein. Folkstoone, UK: Dawson, 1979.

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1. The reputed author of the Yoga Sūtra (2nd–3rd cents. CE), in which classical yoga is given systematic presentation.

2. An Indian grammarian of the 2nd cent. BCE who wrote The Great Commentary (Mahābhāṣya), an explanation of grammar based on the Aṣṭadhyāya of Pāṇini. His text is concerned with various philosophical and grammatical problems such as the relation of word to meaning. He has sometimes been collated with Patañjali (1), but whether the two are really one person is still uncertain.

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Patañjali: see yoga.