Nāth

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Nāth or Nātha (Skt., ‘Lord’). A medieval yoga tradition of India, influenced by Tantrism, Śaivism, and Buddhism. The tradition traces its origin to Matsyendranāth, one of the eighty-four siddhas, who is regarded as its adiguru, and his pupil Gorakhnāth (c.1200 CE). Originating in N. and NE India, the tradition became pan-Indian, tending to adopt the religious forms of a particular region. Thus most Nāths follow Śaiva practices, though in W. India Nāths tend towards Vaiṣṇavism, and in Nepal towards Buddhism.

The aim of Nāth yoga is liberation in this life (jīvanmukti) which is attained in a perfected or divine body (siddha/divya deha). The practice of developing the body (kāyā sādhanā) under the guidance of a guru, involves a long process of purification, Haṭha, and Kuṇḍalinī yoga which creates a ripe (pakva) body out of an unripe (apakva) one.

An oral tradition of songs in the vernaculars, especially Bengali and Hindī, praises the Nāth saints, and a written literature in Skt. describes yoga practice. Gorakhnāth is credited with writing the Haṭha Yoga, now lost, and the Gorakṣa Sataka. Other important texts of the Nāths are the Śiva Saṃhitā, the Gheranda Saṃhitā, the Haṭhayogapradīpika, and the Siddha Siddhānta Paddhati, which deal with yoga and the attaining of perfection in a perfected body.

The Nāth tradition still exists in India and has influenced other forms of Hinduism such as the Sant tradition, the Sahajīyās, and Indian alchemy (rasayāna).