The medieval period was highly influenced by the saints. Compassion, equality, earnestness for the upliftment of downtrodden are the salient peculiarities of the saints. Gorakshnath was the first amongst them to travel throughout India to inspire others to lead spiritual life. Hence the study of his life and his sect is important in the history of medieval devotional sects.
Nath sect had amalgamated other contemporary streams of devotion. Hence it is a fountainhead of the devotional sects. In the cultural history of Maharashtra, Nath sect attains a unique position. Dnyaneshwar- the unparalleled saint poet of Maharashtra hailed from the Nath tradition. He himself has accepted that his pivotal works were invoked in the Nath tradition itself. Hence the study of Nath tradition occupies unique position in the devotional history of Maharashtra.
The background of the sect :
In the contemporary devotional sects, Yoga was a common ingredient. Abstinenece and purification of mind was essential for it. In the tenth and eleventh century, Buddhism in India was in declining phase. In this phase Buddhism accepted Tantric meditation. It was assimilated by Hindus as well. Hence Buddhists, Shaktas, Kapaliks were dominating in this period. Jain tradition was not away from it. Much experimentation during that period gave rise to obnoxious and bawdy rituals. Hence Gorakshnath staunchly opposed the 'Vamachar'(obscene irrational rituals). During the same period of 6th to 10th century, anti-Vedic tendencies were on rise. Thus all the streams such as Buddhists, jains, Saivas, Shaktas acquired tantrism. Shrishaila was an active centre for all these activities of Buddhists, Shaktas and Kapalikas. Thus Shri Shaila was a name equated to Tantra. In the literature in those days, Shri shaila was described as a centre of such activities.
Five hundred years later, a disciple of Ramdas, Dinkarswami has described the practices of Vamachari sect. It continued to be obnoxious.
Under such circumstances Gorakshanath accepted Yoga and rejected sexualities. He founded the Nath sect accepting the experience as a proof, rejecting external rituals. It is in the spiritual tradition of Shiva. He could free his mentor Matsyendranath, who was engulfed in the tantric rituals in a kingdom of women. Hence the Nath sect is known as Gorakh sect and not the Matsyendra sect.
Search for the place of origin of Nath sect : The Matsyendranath and Gorakhnath were presumed to be north Indians. The disciples from various monasteries are found to speak Hindi. The scholars did not have access to south Indian sources to the topic. Hence, many of the north Indian scholars have presumed that the sect originated in north India. Thus various scholars have presumed that Nepal, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh or Assam were the origin of the Nath sect. Exceptionally, a Marathi scholar Mirikar claimed that the sect was originated in south India- Maharashtra. In his times, enough of the resources supporting his claim were not available. Hence his claim was mainly based on his feelings rather than the solid evidences.
In general the claimants of north Indian origin stress on a place named ‘Kadaliban’ as a state of all women, where Gorakhnath went to rescue his mentor Matsyendranath. The scholars have shown some places having names or associations of the two Naths in places in the state of Punjab, Assam, Bengal, U.P. and Nepal. Actually, if Gorakshnath had to rebel, he must have so done in the very citadel of the tantrics that is Kadaliban. The scholars should have searched for the Kadaliban.
The Kadaliban is yet another name of the Shri Shaila. The evidences in support of Kadaliban to be near Shri Shaila can be narrated as follows :
- The founder of Mahanubhav sect, Chakradhar was closely associated with the Nath sect. He came across a Nath yogini – Muktabai, a disciple of Bhartrihari. She came from Kadaliban.
- Chakradhar has laid down a rule to avoid Karnataka and Telangana, since it was dominated by avadhoots (practitioners of the tantric tradition). It proves the predominance of Tantrics in south India.
- Some of the prominent personalities such as Allam Prabhu, Revansidhdha, Mahadevi Akka have attained interment near Shri Shaila – Kadaliban. It is a sacred place for Lingayats.
- The Nrisinha Saraswati, who reinstated Datta sect had entered Kadaliban to go for the final abode, as is described in Gurucharitra.
- Changa Vateshwar from Nath sect indicated in ‘Tatvasar’ the similar fact. He has described it as a place to be avoided for the anticipated disturbance in the meditation.
- Gouranna Mantri, a Telugu poet had written ‘Navanatha Charitramu’. In the nine naths, he has included some of the local sidhdhas. It is the most ancient historical account of the sect which was dedicated to Shri Shaila Mallikarjuna.
- A king Gopichand was described as arrested by a Yogini in South India.
- In ‘Leelacharitra’, a disciple of Jalandhar- named as Kanhapada died during an intercourse with a Yogini named Bahudi while proving his ability to retain his erection (without ejaculation). The Bahudi hailed from south India.
- Gorakhnath hailed from south India. It is described in later part of the work.
- Eknath describes various places in south India during purification trial of Seeta, which includes Kadaliban.
- In samvat 2013 a Sanskrit work is published named ‘Kadalimanjunath - mahatmyam’ In the work of sixty chapters Shri Shaila was taken as Kadaliban.
Thus it can be accepted that the sect might/must? have originated at Shrishaila – Kadaliban and spread in the nearby states of Andhra – Karnataka – Maharashtra.
Name of the sect :
It was named in different ways as follows : Nath Panth, Sidhdha Panth, Sidhdha mat, sidhdha marga, Yoga Marga, Yoga sampradaya, Avadhoota mat, Gorakh panth, Kanphata sampradaya, Gurumarg.
- Nath Panth: Refered to, in Maharashtra since 13th century, by people such as Dnyaneshwara, ‘Leelacharitra’ of Mahanubhava, Sohiroba and Giridharswami,
- Sidhdha mat: refered to, in ‘Sidhdha sidhdhanta saar’ by Goraksha, Nivritti, Dnyaneshwar, Changa Vateshwara in ‘Tatvasar’, Sidhdhantasaar by Dama Kondadeo, himself a follower of Nath sect.
- Avadhoot marga: Leelacharitra, Kabir, Meera, ‘Goraksh sidhdhant sangraha’. An entire chapter is devoted to Avadhoota in ‘Sidhdha sidhdhanta saar’ by Goraksha, containing many references in Marathi.
- Yoga Marga: A general name which includes the Nath sect.
- Gorakh panth: specifically referred to a branch of Nath sect founded by Goraksh Nath.
- Kanphata sampradaya: Some of the western scholars such as Leonard, Briggs have used only this term to indicate Nath sect.In Marathi,it is generally used in derogatory sense by Marathi saint poets.
Philosophy : It is influenced by Kashmiri Shaivism. Dnyaneshvar has acknowledged an influence of Kashmiri Shaivism. It was passed on to him through the Nath sect. There are many followers of the sect who had composed many treatieses. However, ‘Sidhdha sidhdhanta saar’ by Goraksha should be accepted as the most authoritative volume. It describes the philospophy as follows :
Shiva along with Shakti : Both of them are inseparable. Shakti sometime remains unexpressed.
Pindabrahmand: The entire universe is formed due to the expansion of the essence of Shiva. Hence whatever is observed in the universe is part and parcel of the essence of Shiva. Trying to understand it and to taste the beauty of such revelation is one of the aims of the Nathayogi.
Sadhana: Meditation as described in ‘Sidhdha sidhdhanta saar’ by Goraksha, Ashtanga Yoga having Yama, Niyama, Aasan, Pranayam, Pratyahar, Dharana, Dhyan and Samadhi.
Conduct of the disciple : The bodily yoga may not be sufficient. Hence the disciple ought to have a practice of controlling psyche. This , according to Nath sect philosophy is better achieved by emancipation of Kundalini-the vital energy of life.
Indispensability of Mentor : Gorakshnath has warned 'not to wander in a state of having no mentor'.
Sidhdha Purush : The disciple attaining a state of Samadhi reaches a state of Sidhdha Purush.
Sectarian attire : It is described variedly by different authors such as Jayasi in Padmavat, Kabir and Meera in their verses. However, some of the constituents widely noted are as follows. Detailed description of each of these constituents is given in the chapter.
Karnakundala : ornament worn in ear
Dhandahari : a type of circular puzzle, made up of strips of wood or iron, with holes pierced in it. A thread is knitted through the holes. It is also known as Gorakhdhandha.
Rudrakshamala : a necklace with beads made up of seeds of Rudraksha.
Kingari : a musical instrument like sarangi.
Mekhala : a thread tied to the waist. It is useful in tying the loin-cloth.
Janave : a thread mainly made up of wool of sheep, worn across the torso in diagonal manner.
Shringi or Shingi : a horn or a whistle made up of horn of a deer.
Kantha : a saffron coloured cloth, used to cover the body.
Danda : Staff
Khapari : a begging bowl made of baked clay or terra cotta.
Adhari : a wooden contraption that can be carried along. It is used to sit on it.
Nath sect and devotional meditation. Generally devotion or Bhakti has no place in the cult. However, ultimate devotion towards the precept is expected in the sect.
Dr.Dhere states here that later followers of the sect like Dyaneshvar intrduced Bhakti in the sect as well. A total devotion to Guru-the mentor of course was prevalent from early days.
Nath sect and Tantric vamachar: Gorakshnath was staunchly against it. However, in later parts some of the followers had taken to it.
Some of the accepted works :
Hathayogapradeepika : composed by Yogi Swatmarama. Nothing more is known about the author and his times. It consists of four chapters and 379 verses.
Sidhdha Sidhdhanta Sangraha : it is written by one Balabhadra. it is paraphrasing of Sidhdha Sidhdhanta Padhdhati. It was composed at Kashi due to the request of Krishnaraja
Goraksha Sidhdhanta Sangraha : It was written in grammatically incorrect Sanskrit prose.It consists of hardly eighty pages but refers to about sixty Sanskrit works.
The Deities worshiped : Shiva is the main god that is worshipped. After the inclusion of Shakta and Kapalika etc. their deities were also included. Datta is also worshipped. In addition to these, idols of Matsyendranath, the nine naths, eithy four sidhdhas, or Vishnu or Vitthal are also worshipped in different geographical locales.
Holy places : These are distributed throughout India. The prominent amongst them are Prayaga, Ayodhya, Tryambakeshwar, Dwaraka, Haradwar, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Vrindavan, Pushkar, Rameshwar, Pashupatinath in Nepal. Amaranath, Hinglas etc.- in addition to them, their traditional monasteries are spread across India.
Branches of the sect : There are about twelve branches. As per the folk belief, Gorakshnath himself re-organized all the branches of the Nath sect into the twelve. However, the twelve branches were initiated by Shiva. The other twelve branches were initiated by Goraksha. They had a constant struggle. Hence Goraksha shade off six branches from each to reclassify them into twelve branches.
The present chapter describes thirteen branches.
In the table at the end of chapter includes a table enlisting all the branches with their originator, their original place and state with their peculiarity if any.