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Gorakhnath is the traditional author of the first treatise on Hatha Yoga, now lost, and is called the founder of Hatha Yoga. Various texts are attributed to him which are all expositions of the practices and mystic doctrines of Hatha Yoga. The most important are the Siddhasiddhanta-paddhati and Goraksa-sataka written in Sanskrit and the Sabadi and Gorakhbodh written in old Hindi.
The Siddhasiddhanta-paddhati covers the theory of the anatomy of the subtle body and draws a series of correspondences between the universe as macrocosm and the body as microcosm. The Goraksa-sataka, Hundred Verses of Goraksa (Goraksanatha is a Sanskrit form of Gorakhnath), is a basic Hatha Yoga text and describes the six 'limbs' of yoga: asana, postures, pranayama, control of the breath, pratyahara, sense withdrawal, dharana, concentration, dhyana, meditation, and samadhi, cosmic consciousness. This excluded the two limbs of yama, restraints, and niyama, disciplines, in the Patanjali yoga system, which precede asana (see Yoga Schools). The yogic process of making the body perfect is kaya-sadhana, the cultivation of the body through yoga.
The sun in the yogic texts represents the element of change and destruction and the moon represents the element of creation and preservation. There are 72,000 nadis, channels in the subtle body, for prana, life energy, to flow. The main one is sushumna in the centre of the spinal column, with two major nadis parallel to the spinal column, ida, left, and pingala, right, which start at the respective nostrils. The left nostril is the moon and the right nostril is the sun. It is by balancing the ida and pingala that Hatha Yoga, which is union of ha, sun, and tha, moon, takes place by the passing of the kundalini, the coiled serpent energy at the base of the spine, up the sushumna. The moon is associated with Shiva, which is the part of the body above the navel, and the sun is associated with Shakti, which is the part of the body below the navel.
Yoga raises the Shakti from the lowest region of change to the head, the highest region of rest, to unite with Shiva. Shakti as kundalini raises through nine cakras, lotuses or wheels, which are energy vortices of the subtle body, from the Muladhara cakra, the lowest earth cakra, via the sushumna to the Sahasrara cakra in the head, the thousand-petalled lotus (the Goraksa-sataka mentions seven cakras). There are practices to open the bandhas, locks, to release the kundalini. This union produces the siddhis, supernatural powers, and attainment of anaman, 'nameless,' meaning supreme reality. The yogin is equal to Shiva after twelve years of practice.
The most important of the yogic practices is khecari mudra when the tongue is turned backwards into the hollow above. This seals the tenth door of the body and prevents amrita, soma or nectar, flowing from the moon in the Sahasrara cakra to be burnt up by the sun below. This amrita is the quintessence of the visible body and flows down a curved duct called the banka nala. The khecari mudra enables the yogin to drink the amrita, and by this he becomes immortal.


Gorakhnathis believe their sect existed before the world was created. When Vishnu emerged from the lotus at the creation, Gorakhnath was in Patala, the underworld abode of the Nagas or dragons. Vishnu was terrified at the waste of waters and went to Gorakhnath for help and was given a handful of ashes from his eternal fire. By sprinkling the ashes on the waters, Vishnu was able to create the world. After the creation, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva became the first disciples of Gorakhnath.
The doctrine of yoga was given by Shiva to Gorakhnath's guru Matsyendranath, but in an unusual way which is told in a story. The legend of Matsyendranath is that he was thrown into the sea by his parents because he was born on an unlucky day and he was swallowed by a fish. His name was then Lokesvara. By the sea Shiva was teaching the secrets of yoga to Parvati. She fell asleep but Lokesvara heard everything while hidden in the fish. In a carving of the legend at Srisailam he is shown with his head out of the head of the fish listening to the secret doctrine. From then Lokesvara was called Matsyendranath, 'Lord of the Fish.' But he was discovered and at Srisailam an adjacent carving shows Shiva pointing to a fish to show Parvati where the eavesdropper is hidden. Parvati was angry and cursed Matsyendranath to forget all the yoga in Kadali, the land of women. Gorakhnath disguised himself as a dancing girl and rescued Matsyendranath from his enchantment through the words of his songs.
The origin of Hatha Yoga is still obscure but probably emerged in the eighth or ninth centuries CE as the last phase of the widely spread Siddha cult in which kaya-sadhana, cultivation of the body, was of central importance. Scholars believe Gorakhnath lived sometime between 900 and 1225CE. He has been described as the most influential Indian since Shankara. Some scholars favour the early date, others the beginning of the thirteenth century, dependent on interpretations of lineage from Matsyendranath and whether Minanath is another name of Matsyendranath or a different person.
There are no reliable facts about the life of Gorakhnath. It is believed with what seems considerable truth that Gorakhnath spread the doctrine and practice of yoga throughout India. Salutations to him appear in the Sri-goraksa-sahasra-nama-stotra (hymns of the thousand names of Sri-goraksa), the Kalpa-druma-tanta, and Brahmanda-purana.
There are many fascinating legends about him from all over India. Bengal literature describes him as the purest and strongest of yogins. The goddess Durga was put to shame by Gorakhnath's purity and strength. Medieval saints such as Kabir composed songs to him and one tradition says they held a religious discourse together. He is said to have had a discourse with Guru Nanak of the Sikhs. Nath literature says that traditions throughout India saw Gorakhnath as the supreme Guru. Because of this mass of accumulated legends it is impossible to construct a historical account of the life and teachings of Gorakhnath.
Different legends account for his birth. In Bengal he came from the matted hair of Mahadeva (Shiva). In another legend he was born of a cow by Mahadeva. His place of birth is the subject of different controversial legends. One account gives the Punjab, another Kathiawar, while Nepalese tradition says he lived in a cave at Gorakhnath, the cave and town being named from him. The name Gurkha is sometimes said to be derived from Gorakhnath. Or he was the original inhabitant of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. A preponderance of tradition and the importance attached by Gorakhnathis to Tilla in Jhelum in the Punjab makes the Punjab the likely home of Gorakhnath.
In his life Gorakhnath travelled throughout India and is associated with Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Punjab, North-West India, Sind, Uttar Pradesh, Nepal, Assam, Bengal, Maratha in South India, and Sri Lanka.
Gorakhnath and Matsyendranath are included in the list of the Eighty-Four Siddhas. These are in both the Buddhist Sahajiya tradition and the Shaiva tradition. The Gorakhnathis include Gorakhnath as one of the nine Naths. Two of these Naths and Gorakhnath are the main participants in a cycle of legends about King Gopichand and his mother Queen Mayanamati. Gorakhnath is said to have been the queen's teacher.


Hatha Yoga has widespread use of symbolic language to describe and identify concepts and parts of the subtle body, as well as the names of the different practices. Examples are the sun and moon for Hatha Yoga itself and the names of the major nadis. The cakras are described as lotuses or wheels. Many yoga asanas, postures, are named after animals, such as the cobra, locust, and peacock, but these symbols have a real identification as the yogins observed the animals and based the asanas on how they moved.
The main symbol that characterises the Gorakhnathis are huge earrings worn in split ears. Gorakhnathis are also called Kanphatas or Kanphata Yogis (kan, ear, phat, split), because at the initiation ceremony the ears are split to insert enormous earrings. These earrings are commonly called yogi's earrings and are made of agate, glass, and various materials. Traditionally rhinoceros horn was a favourite because of its durability and because it is a sacred animal. Such rings covered with gold have been found. The wearing of the earrings is of great importance. If one is broken, another must be substituted before the yogin can eat, engage in conversation, or carry out religious duties. Modern adherents claim this piercing the central hollow of the ears is a technique by which the acquisition of magical powers is promoted.
Gorakhnathis in Bombay and Belgaum carry a trident (trisul), emblem of Shiva, and in Bombay they may also carry a drum, another symbol of Shiva. Bhairava is worshipped by Gorakhnathis, and in Gorakhpur they also worship a goddess called Bala Sundari, probably a form of Tripura-sundari of the Shaktas. Gorakhnathis wear a yellow or ochre robe. Shiva ordered the wearing of the ochre robe. Parvati dyed a cloth with her own blood and gave it to Gorakhnath. However, many yogins wear only a loin-cloth.
Dhinodhar, a sacred hill in western India is where Dharamnath, one of Gorakhnath's disciples, established a math, monastery, and started the order of Gorakhnathis. The math here is the most important for Gorakhnathis in western India and the chief object of worship is Dharamnath, who is called dada, father. The math is a large fenced and turreted complex of dwelling-houses, temples, and tombs of pirs, abbots. The legend of Dhinodhar is that Dharamnath was weighed down by his sins and to atone he stood on his head on a sacred hill. Two hills split apart under the weight of his sins, but Dhinodhar, which means 'the patiently bearing,' stood firm. The stone on which the saint performed penance is smeared with vermilion and venerated by pilgrims and yogins.

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