The Tantric Origins of Hatha Yoga
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The Tantric Origins of Chandra Namaskāra


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Seven centuries or so before Pant Pratinidhi of Aundh (1868–1951) a Rāja of the India State of Maharashtra, attempted to revive the ancient Indian Yoga practice of Sūrya Namaskāra, Nīlakaṇṭhaśivācārya - a 14th century leader of the Vīraśaiva (‘Warrior-Śaivas’ or Tantrics who follow Śiva) movement of Tantric Śaivism - became one of the earliest Tantric commentators to provide a detailed exposition on the pan-Tantric daily yoga rite of [Sūrya] Namaskāra, drawing from source Tantras. Tantric Śaivism arose in Maharashtra and Karnataka and it still flourishes in these regions today. In his Kriyāsāra, a venerated work of the Vīraśaivas ("veera-shaiva") [1], Nīlakaṇṭha explains that those with the proper qualifications (adhikāra), namely Tantric initiates, are to engage a particular ‘Namaskāra’ practice towards a Śiva liṅgam placed at the center of a maṇḍala, wherein a sequence of bodily poses should be performed in both a clockwise and counter-clockwise direction (savyāpasavya) [2]. It is my conjecture that this sequence, one drawn in this case from the Vīraśaiva Tantras but found in numerous other Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava Tantric texts, equates in at least one variation to the modern postural practice known as ‘Chandra Namaskāra.’ In delineating this practice, Nīlakaṇtha draws from Vīraśaiva Tantras such as the Aṃśu and Ajita Tantras, which tell us that this particular sequence is the third of three total posture-based Namaskāra practices, respectively engaged at the junctures of dawn, mid-day, and at dusk and/or midnight.

The Place of Namaskāra Practice in the Daily Tantric Yoga Ritual

As demonstrated in my Yogavidhi Introductory class, posture-based Namaskāra practice seems to be prescribed in all Tantric scriptures as a 'preliminary rite' (upacāra, upavāsa) of Haṭha Yoga included in one's obligatory daily (nitya) practice. I base this conjecture on the fact that the Namaskāra Kriyā,  one of the several names by which it is known throughout the Tantric corpus, appears in all of the texts featured in in my recently completed Namaskāra Timeline. This timeline contains Tantric works representing more than ten different lineages, both Śaiva-based and Vaiṣṇava-based, and covers more than1,000 years of the medieval evolution of Yoga, a history mostly overlooked or ignored by modern scholars. Nīlakaṇṭha in his Kriyāsāra calls the daily pan-Tantric Namaskāra practice the 'Praṇāma Vidhi' (‘Ritual Sequence of Prostration’). In his Tantric sources, it forms the final part of the yogin’s prescribed daily retinue of sixteen upacāra rites, a list which begins with ritual bathing (snāna) at a river. This list is referenced in the 19th century commentary on the Haṭhapradīpikā, a fabricated text which, as I have shown in my Yogavidhi Introductory class, is comprised of material plagiarized and distorted from two older Tantras. In the verse comparison elucidated in my class, the HP commentator, eager to dismiss any and all Tantric practices which include any ritualized sequence (vidhiḥ) of body-based movements from the post-Tantric revisioning of Haṭha Yoga indicative of his lineage,  overtly dismisses (in his commentary on HY 1.61) the prescribed, pan-Tantric preliminary rites of Yoga, beginning with 'ritual bathing (snāna) and ending with the posture-based practice of 'Sūrya Namaskāra.' 

As Nīlākaṇṭha explains, for Tantrics the Namaskāra rite in all cases is performed within the rite of circumambulating (pradakṣiṇa) the practice maṇḍala [3]. In all of the Tantras, the practitioner of these rites is both a yogin and a householder (unlike most of the male-centric, renunciation-based post-Tantric Haṭha texts, such as the HP), and performs the Namaskāra sequence of prostration poses as a means of uniting his soul with that of the deity (saṃyogaḥ), wherein the descending series of poses simulates the ritual death of his karmic impediments, followed by the ascending postures, which represents the ritual rebirth of the yogin empowered by the mantric effulgence of the divine. For the postures are led by a sequence (vinyāsa) of respective seed mantras (see below) which represent the empowering sonic energies of God, and so in this way the body acts as the conduit of God’s transformative Power (śakti) [4]. Nīlakaṇṭha tells us that the Yogī worships Mahādeva' (Śiva) by becoming Mahādeva; is accomplished by first engaging ‘Brahma and the rest’ of the governing deities representing the series of elements, imbued within the sequence of respective poses, each of which corresponds to a single seed mantra (hrāṃ, etc.) which powers the given pose itself. He reports that the Yogī who moves through the first six prostration poses begins with his hands before his heart in añjali mudrā, who next he sweeps his hands into the air to again form this mudrā, is one whose body becomes the physical act of añjali mudrā itself; that is to say the Yogī is thus performing a [continual] act of worship - especially as he brings his body, led by his hands, into a full prostration on the earth before Śiva (the central mūrti) through the series of prostration poses [5]. Three major namaskar sequences are taught in the Tantras corresponding respectively to the three junctures of the day, dawn, noon, dusk, and sometimes midnight, these junctures are called sandhyās. Below is a list of these three practices.

#1 Namaskāra Sādhana: Dawn Sandhyā. The Standard Twelve Part (‘Classic’) Sequence

The first Namaskāra prostration sequence has twelve poses, and is performed at each of the eight directions facing the central mūrti or liṅgam while the yogin circumambulates the maṇḍala clockwise (savya), beginning and ending at the eastern direction, with his hands before his heart in añjali mudrā. During this rite of circumambulation (pradakṣiṇa), he is to recite a single verse of devotional poetry chosen from either the Vedas or Tantras. This first category of Namaskāra is known today as ‘Classic Sūrya Namaskāra.’  Each of its twelve consecutive poses are known as daṇḍas, or bending postures, while the series itself, as well as the one engaging it, is referred to as a daṇḍavat, ‘composed of bending postures.’ The twelve poses are broken down into four categories (caturvidhaḥ), - those comprised of ‘eight body parts (aṣṭāṅgaḥ),’ ‘five body parts’ (pañcāṅgaḥ), ‘three body parts’ (tryaṅgaḥ), or ‘one body-part’ (ekāṅgaḥ) [6].  Numerous variations are detailed by Nīlakaṇṭha for each of the four categories, although the total number of postures in this case remains twelve and follows the sequence (vinyāsa) of solar seed mantras (hrāṃ, hrīṃ, hrūṃ, hraiṃ, hrauṃ, hraḥ) [7] or six consecutive syllables repeated twice, with the venerated ‘eight-body part’ posture (aṣṭaṅga-praṇāma) as the pivotal sixth pose in the sequence [8].  The Kriyāsāra's four Namaskāra 'Daṇḍavat' categories are discussed in detail in my Yogavidhi Intro class.

 
 

 #2 Namaskāra Sādhana: Noon Sandhyā. Sixteen Poses Following the Syllables of a Vedic or Tantric Verse

The second Namaskāra sequence is comprised of sixteen rather than twelve postures, although it uses the same four categories of –aṅga based postures prescribed for the twelve-part Namaskāra series. It is also performed at each of the eight directions as one circumambulates the maṇḍala, but now that circumambulation is in a counter-clockwise (apasavya) direction.  Its sixteen postures are based upon the syllables comprising the verse of poetry recited in añjali mudrā during the circumambulation. The first eight poses or descending postures correspond to the first eight syllables of verse in śloka meter (sixteen syllables per line), with the second set of eight poses equating to the series of eight ascending postures in which the yogin comes back up to standing. The Vaiṣṇava exegete Vedānta Dīkṣita (14th century), a preceptor in Krishnamacharya’s lineage, confirms this by stating the ascending and descending poses of this sequence represent the two halves of a verse in śloka meter (mudrita-kārikāyāṃ ślokardham) [9]. 

As the yogin arises, he is said to be filled with the devotional fervor of having immersed his awareness with that of the divine, after prostrating on the ground in daṇḍa-namaskāra, that is to say ‘with the posture of eight body parts’ (sāṣṭāṅga-namaskāraḥ) [10]. In short, the sixteen poses (not counting the initial standing posture) represent the physical actualization of the devotional hymn into which the yogin’s awareness has already been immersed, as he circumambulates the maṇḍala. This second Namaskāra sequence, prescribed in innumerable Tantric sources, is comparable to the ‘Sun Salutation Series B’ as taught by Pattabhis Jois, who claimed to have based it on Vedic verses [11].  Most Tantras and Tantric exegetical works recognize that the Namaskāra sequence of sixteen body parts requires additional physical effort to perform (kuryāt ṣoḍaśānāṃ prayatnataḥ) than that of twelve body parts [12].

 #3 Namaskāra Sādhana: Dusk or Midnight Sandhyās. The Aṅga-Pradakṣiṇa-Krama Sequence (modern Chandra Namaskāra)

For the so-called  teaching, Nīlakaṇṭha’s primary reference is the Aṃśu Tantra, and to a lesser degree, the Ajita Tantra, two Vīraśaiva Tantras based redacted ca. 1000 A.D. from their older namesakes in the corpus of the formative Śaiva Siddhānta lineage, as explicated by Professor Sanderson (2014: The Śaiva Age). Elsewhere, the Aṅga-Pradakṣiṇa is known as the 'Chakra Vinyāsa' (‘wheel' or 'circle’ sequence, wherein cakra is synonymous with maṇḍala), or the Vīra Sādhana (‘Warrior Practice’) [13]. Here, the term pradakṣiṇa refers not just to one’s ‘circumambulation’ around the maṇḍala, but to the physical embodiment of the maṇḍala itself. In this case, the the technical term pradakṣiṇa entails the forward progression (pradakṣiṇa) through a continually moving sequence of bodily poses performed by the yogin, choreographed to a three-part prāṇāyāma practice.   In particular, he or she engages the shapes of the maṇḍala with their own body, shapes corresponding to the element-based cakras - before he or she returns to the original posture, having come full circle (cakra) through the vinyāsa. These shapes include the outer square of the maṇḍala (catuśra), the inner yoni triangle (trikoṇa), the circle (cakra, vartula), and the half-moon (ardha-candra).

Aṅga-Pradakṣiṇa-Namaskāra - the 'Spontaneous' (sahaja) Flight of the Bee Around the Lotus - Citing a stock verse found in many Tantras, Nīlakaṇṭha compares the movements of the practitioner of the ‘Aṅga-Pradakṣiṇa’ sequence to those of an avaricious bee looking for nectar (madhu-lubdho yathā bhṛṅgaḥ) within a lotus flower but who gets preoccupied with its eight petals, and thus misses the pericarp or inner fruit of the lotus, where the nectar is actually found [14]. On the other hand, the yogin, while circumambulating around the lotus-maṇḍala, remains devotedly focused on Śiva presiding at its center, and thus stops at every petal and turns towards that center, the ‘pericarp’ of the lotus, to perform the prostration rite of Namaskāra. Nīlakaṇṭha tells us that the maṇḍala is like the lotus of one’s own heart, in the center of which Śiva, called the ‘guru,’ is enthroned. As he moves through a Namaskāra sequence, his vinyāsa of bodily movements is framed within a triad of postures -- namely the initial standing pose, the intermediate ‘coming to the ground upon one’s knees’, and the final full body prostration on the ground after descending into the ‘eight-part body pose’ (sāṣṭāṅga praṇami). The final act of his full prostration is to offer a ‘fragrant flower’ held in his hands, the same held in añjali mudrā (puṣpāñjali) while circling around the maṇḍala, to Śiva (i.e. the śiva-liṅgam) [15]. In this way the yogin disciplines the wayward, fickle nature of the bee, which of course symbolizes one’s mind (citta-vṛtti), to focus on the highest nectar of life, the goal of uniting with Śiva at the center of one’s maṇḍala, and simultaneously at the center of one’s own heart. 

 
 

The preoccupied ‘bee (bhṛṅga) in the lotus’ imagery, crucial to understanding the Aṅga-Pradakṣiṇa Namaskāra practice, dates back to one of the earliest Tantras, the Kālottara in 350 Verses (Sārdhatriśatikālottara). In this and many later scriptures, the soul is analogized to that of an active, fickle bee, a renovation of the old Upanishadic teaching of a static soul residing ‘in the cave of the heart’ which resembles a thumb. That cave is now a lotus, with eight petals representing the cardinal and intermediate points around the compass. These each represent a different aspect of ordinary embodied experience, which the ‘soul-bee’ may freely visit, meaning to say that when an embodied being experiences a specific emotive state, at that moment his/her soul ‘bee’ has journeyed to, and is preoccupied with, a specific, corresponding petal. Each petal is governed by one of the Vedic deities, whose emotive natures are now internalized – Indra in the east, Agni in the Southeast, Yama (Death) in the South, Rakṣasa (Demons) in the Southwest, Varuṇa in the West, Māruta (Wind) in the Northwest, Kubera in the North, and Īśāna in the Northeast [16]. To these eight directions are added two more which can be visited by the soul-bee--upwards and downwards - adding a vertical trajectory to the horizontal axis traversed by the bee. This will be analogized to the range of movements performed by the yogin who simulates those of the bee in the Aṅga-Pradakṣiṇa sequence in the third Namaskāra practice prescribed in most Tantras.

The Aṅga-Pradakṣiṇa Namaskāra Vinyāsa (Sequence)

After reminding us that all Namaskāra sequences are simultaneously engaged physically (kāyikā), mentally (manasā), and vocally (vācakā) [18]. Nīlakaṇṭha briefly references all of the Vīraśaiva Tantras as sources for his summary of this ‘Aṅga-Pradakṣiṇa’ Namaskāra practice, the third and final of three Namaskāra sequences engaged at the respective daily sandhyās or transitional junctures of the sun. We now turn to Nīlakaṇṭha’s well-detailed Tantric sources, much of which is taken from a detailed description of postures found in two Vīraśaiva texts in particular, the Aṃśu Tantra (chapter 51) and to a lesser extent the Ajita Tantra (chapter 76). 

 

To my knowledge, no source text has yet been traced by scholars to any Namaskāra sequence of any kind, despite the fact that these movement meditation practices are ubiquitous throughout the Tantric corpus and form an essential part of the daily yoga sādhana prescribed in all Tantric lineages.

 

As mentioned, Both of these Vīraśaiva Tantras call this Namaskāra sequence the aṅga-pradakṣiṇa-vidhiḥ, the ‘ritualized sequence’ (vidhi) of engaging ‘the body (aṅga) in a series of forward movements’ (pradakṣiṇa) which complete a circle. In this case, each posture seems to be an exact mirror opposite of its opposing pose, all of which represent parts of a circle, or of the lunar orb waxing through the first set of eight poses and waning through the last set of eight, with the first and ninth postures representing the new and full moon, respectively. Our two Tantras tell us that this sequence culminates when the yogin has taken on the daṇḍa-namaskāra, the full prostration upon the ground, performed with the two arms of the yogin drawn forward in añjali mudrā, which follows the eight-body part daṇḍa pose (aṣṭāṅga namaskāra) [19]. The Aṃśu Tantra equates this with the ninth pose (navamaṃ) enumerated here in our aṅga-pradakṣiṇa Namaskāra sequence [20]. The process of rising off the ground following the full prostration is aligned with the passage into the zodiac sign of Taurus (vṛṣabha), which heralds forth the advent of Spring, or re-birth. This is in keeping with a common Tantric trope in which the flow of the 12 months of the year are superimposed upon the twelve poses of the morning Namaskāra sequence [21].

The ninth posture is described as extending from the shape of an embryo (garbha) into that of prostrate staff. How one moves from the eighth pose into a daṇda-prostration is likely be via a squat-like pose (paryaṅkāsana), indicative of a woman giving birth, similar to posture #9 depicted above. For jumping back from a paryaṅka (squat) posture into a prostrate position, followed by the drawn-in posture of an embryo, is frequently indicated in the Namaskāra prescriptions found throughout the Tantras. In any event, the Aṃśu Tantra tells us that each position in the sequence centers on the culminating ninth posture as an ‘embryo-based’ mini-postural sequence, one which includes fully prostrate daṇḍavat pose, [22] a point made even more explicit in the Ajita Tantra [23].

The Aṃśu names eight other postures of this sequence in the order performed. The first is the savya (‘to the right’) posture, the second is the apasavya (‘to the left’) posture, the third is the savyāpasavya (‘right-left’ posture), the fourth is the cakra (‘circle’) posture, the fifth is the padma (‘lotus’) posture, the sixth is the siṃha (‘lion’) posture, the seventh is the śṛṅkhala (‘horn’ or ‘tusk’) posture, and the eighth is the nāga (‘snake’) posture [24]. As depicted in modern illustrations of the Chandra Namaskāra sequence, as the Aṅga-Pradakṣiṇa sequence is known today, each, as mentioned, is replicated by its mirror opposite in order to complete the full descending and ascending series comprising this ‘cakra-vinyāsa’ (‘circle-sequence’) [25]. These eight poses begin and end at the ‘direction of Indra’ (East - indrādi cendra-paryantaṃ), and follow the elliptical movements of a bee in that they simultaneously may traverse the horizontal axis governed by the eight directions with the vertical axis, indicated by the ninth and tenth directions, that is to say ‘upwards and downwards’ [26]. For the first and second poses, we are simply told that from an initial standing position, one (leans) to the right, and then to the left, respectively, which seems likely to be the movements which are today called 'crescent moon' poses [27]. For subsequent postures, the author indicates the focal point of the pose with the word ‘prāsāda’, or grace offering, as the body, previously charged with mantras, is now understood to be the moving vehicle of Śiva’s grace.

 
Shiva Rea pictured moving through a version of the Chandra Namaskāra sequence as seen in Yoga Journal, 2012

Shiva Rea pictured moving through a version of the Chandra Namaskāra sequence as seen in Yoga Journal, 2012

 

Next, one engages the third posture called the ‘right-left’ pose (savyāpasavya). Here, the ‘prāsāda’ or focal point is the heart center from wherein one’s left and right sides draw into a point of balance. This is indicative of the somasūtra employed in Indian rituals (below) where the liṅgam receives the bath of ghee through a receiving copper pipe, which represents the suṣumnā nāḍī through which one draws down the nectar of immortality (amṛta) from the crown lotus. Thus we can see how the body is literally understood as the physical manifestation of the maṇḍala.  In other Tantric sources, such as the 16th century Tattvacintāmaṇī of Pūrṇānanda, this is called 'Durgā Pose,' and is described as 'six-cornered' (ṣaṭkoṇa) posture. A standing squat pose with tarms raised, the six corners' are the hands, feet, and the knees. 'Durgā' is the name by which this 'savyāpasavya' posture is still known today. 

āgneyīñca tato gatvā namaskāraḥ prakīrtitaḥ | ṣaṭkoṇākhyo namaskāro durgāyāḥ prītidāyakaḥ || -Tattvacintāmaṇi of Pūrṇānanda, 16th century, p. 717

The next posture is the Chakra Pradakṣiṇa, the 'forward movement of the wheel' or 'circle' posture. That this posture segues directly from the former is obvious, for we are told that in this movement one engages a ‘staff’ or stick-straightening vinyāsa (vaṃśa vinyaset). This entails standing straight up (sthitvā) by way of the peak of the head (śirordhve), presumably as one straightens out each limb (as a straight ‘staff’) from the prior pose so that a circle (cakra) may now be drawn around the extended parts of the body (pose #4). [28]. The Tattvacintāmaṇi (16th century) knows this as the 'Triangle-shaped pose (trikoṇavat)', perhaps because the lower half of the body, with the legs straight and the feet spread apart, resembles a triangle. Today this posture is often called the 'Star Pose.'

dakṣiṇād vāyavīṃ gatvā diśaṃ tasyaś ca śāmbhavīm | tato'pi dakṣiṇāṃ gatvā namaskāras-trikoṇavat || -Tattvacintāmaṇi of Pūrṇānanda, 16th century, p. 717

Next is another standing pose that the Aṃśu Tantra calls padma-pradakiṇa, or ‘moving right (clockwise) around the lotus, as the yogin now leans to the right towards the central mūrti of the maṇḍala. Thus, one is engaging movement of the arms through a circular rotation which, we are told, simulates the circumambulation of a bee around the petals of a lotus (bhṛṅgavad-bhramaṇaṃ). The reference here is to the full rotation of the arms in a circle, half of which will be experienced in poses 4-5, the other half in poses 13-14. The movement enumerated through poses 4 and 5 represents the first half of the circle, or half-moon. Poses 13 and14 represent the other half, coming full circle. These four postures reflect the circling of a bee completely around the petals of the lotus, and through all eight directions on the compass (aṣṭa-dig-bhramaṇaṃ) [29]. In other words, the ‘prāsāda’ offering is the pathway traced by the extended arms via the first and second padma-pradakṣiṇa poses (#5, #13) together. In pose #5, the arms rotate in a vertical half-circle, covering the first four directions on the compass, while the other four directions are traversed in pose #13, the mirror opposite of pose #5, delineating a full rotation traversed by the arms. Incidentally, the Tattvacintāmaṇi calls this posture the 'Half-Moon' pose (ardha-candram), which is not surprising (p. 717).

Next is the sixth pose, the ‘lion’ (siṃha-pradakṣiṇaṃ). Here, we are told that the 'prāsāda' point of focus is the joint of the neck (kṛkā), from which añjali mudrā is offered to the earth, with the two feet spread apart from each other. One is to extend añjali while lowering (patita) in the direction of the ‘fire,’ meaning towards the center of the maṇḍala or along one out-stretched leg; since, we are told, the two feet are spread apart from each other. For the opposite pose (#12) the feet are reversed [30]. This is followed by the ‘tusk’ or ‘horn’ posture (śṛṅkhala-pradakṣiṇa), the seventh pose, which entails a partial rotation (ābhramaṇa) of the body from the prior pose, wherein one comes into this position with the hips (kaṭi) lowered as the point of offering (añjali) towards the earth. The hip is the focal point of the body’s curvature, wherein one forms the shape of an elephant’s tusk, reminiscent of the crescent moon, for poses 7 and 11 [31].

Finally, for the 8th posture called the 'snake' (nāga-cakra), we are told that the feet and the fingertips of either hand are placed in such a way that the practitioner takes on the ‘shape of the rim of a wheel’ [32]. This pose is better explained by the Vidyārṇava Tantra, which provides supplemental detail to the Aṃśu Tantra’s description. It reports that the ‘Mantra Master’ (mantrī) or Tantric Yogin should ‘perform the sequence of Ananta’ (anantaṃ vinyasen mantrī) the multi-hooded serpent upon which Viṣṇu sleeps, for whom the pose is probably named [33].

One is to pivot forward out of the prior pose, so that the toes of the left foot point draw upward ‘in the direction of Īśāna (Northeast),’ as the crown of the head (brahmarandhra) draws up towards Brahmā, meaning straight upward, as depicted in pose #8. The Vidyārṇava appears to skip the ‘embryo’ sub-sequence described for the transitional ninth pose (described above), one which includes a full prostration upon the earth followed by the ‘eight body-part’ pose (aṣṭāṅga namaskāra), instead linking the eighth and tenth poses in a singular, sweeping movement. The flowing movement between the two, as presented by the Vidyārṇava, is quite reminiscent how a pair of poses is taught by Shiva Rea (pictured left) in her ‘Chandra Namaskāra’ sequence, called ‘Spontaneous Flowing Half-Squat’ (sahaja-ardha-mālāsana). For the Vidyārṇava similarly prescribes that one should transition between the 8th pose directly into the 10th, which represents the mirror image of the 8th. This movement is led by the left hip (sphik), with one’s back facing upward, while the fingertips of both hands are drawn towards the right side (dakṣāṃsa-pṛṣṭha pāṇy-agra), presumably along the ground. The furthest extent of this movement is denoted when the toes of the right foot turn upward.

The Vidyārnava tells us that by effecting these two sweeping, interconnected ‘Ananta’ poses (numbers 8 and 10), one manifests the square shape of mūlādhāra [34]. This is perhaps clarified by the Aṃśu Tantra, which reports that by performing this mirroring pair of poses, one manifests the squared shape of the svastika – which comes to light if poses #8 and #10 are superimposed upon each other [35].

Summary: Namaskāra as a Warrior-Based Practice of Yoga

The Aṃśu Tantra reports that by performing the Aṅga-Pradakṣiṇa Namaskāra sequence, aka the Chakra-Vinyāsa sequence (as it is called in the Vidyārṇava Tantra), all bodily disease (sarva-roga) and all karmic blockages (arva-pāpa) are destroyed; moreover, wealth of all kinds are drawn into one’s life, and into that of others. Nīlakaṇṭha describes one who regularly engages the daily prescribed retinue of Namaskāra sequences as gaining an ‘adamantine body’ (vajradehī) comparable to the legendary sage-warrior Dadhīca, who resurrected himself from the earth, much as the Tantric initiate is said to do as he descends towards and rises from the earth in the various Namaskāra sequences prescribed [36]. He tells us that in the act of prostrating the yogin into a spiritual warrior, like a king, having become a ‘Lord of the earth (bhūpatim) [37]. Most of all, the Tantric rites of Namaskāra prostration are said to eliminate caste, as one’s body is purified and reborn with each sequence into a body deified with mantras. Through practicing saṃyoga - the complete engagement of one’s ordinarily distracted mind into the movements and mantras comprising the devotional trajectory of each Namaskāra cycle, at the end of the preliminary stages (upacāra) of one’s daily practice, s/he attains the goal of Yoga taught in the Yogasūtra, ‘citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ’, only now by means of devotional ‘connection’ (saṃyogaḥ) to the divine, not through withdrawing from life and the experience of embodiment.


[1] An edition of the Kriyāsāra was published in 1954 by the University of Mysore, Oriental Research Institute Publications, Sanskrit Series no. 95, edited by H. Deveerappa.

[2] tat-pradakṣiṇaṃ trividham | savyam apasavyaṃ savyāpasavyaṃ ceti | devaṃ svasya dakṣiṇabhāge kṛtvā kriyamāṇaṃ savyam | tad viparītam apasavyam | ubhayaṃ militaṃ savyāpasavyam | trividham api-indra-dig-ādīndra-dik-paryantaṃ kartavyam | savyāpasavyaṃ somasūtra-sthānādi somasūtra-sthānāntaṃ vā kartavyam | | savyaṃ sādhāraṇaṃ, apasavyaṃ yatīnām eva, savyāpasavyaṃ dīkṣitānām evety-aparaḥ pakṣaḥ || -lines 11510 – 11517.

[3] upacāra-bhedaḥ  - āvāhanāsana pādyārghyācamana-snāna vastropavīta gandhapuṣpa dhūpa-dīpa naivedya-mukhavāsa stotra-sahita-praṇāma-pradakṣiṇa-sahita-visarjanāni ṣoḍaśopacārāḥ | -lines 11783-11787.

[4] devenāpi samādiṣṭaḥ śāstā yogī tad ājñayā |…

[5] vinigṛhyākṣi-yugalaṃ kuru-vinda-maṇiprabham| nakhāgreṇa samādāya śivāgre vinivedayan || nidhāyaitan-namaskṛtya tasthau yogī kṛtāñjaliḥ | tadā brahmādayo devā mahādevaṃ samarcayan || - lines 15307-15311.

[6] praṇāmaś caturvidhaḥ | aṣṭāṅgaḥ pañcāṅgaḥ tryaṅga ekāṅgaś ca | aṣṭāṅgo dvividhaḥ - daṇḍa-praṇāmaḥ kevala-praṇāmaś ca | -Kriyāsāra lines 11521-11522.

[7] These mantras are introduced in the context of the rite (kriyā) of ‘hand installation’ (kara-nyāsa), but it is understood that here as in all Tantras the same six mantras are then placed upon the body, followed by the engagement of these mantras placed upon the earth via the limbs of the body in the Namaskāra sequence. This final act is commonly called aṅga-nyāsa, or ‘placement(s) of the body’ (tatra tāvadācamanam ucyate - ājānu pādāvāmaṇibandhaṃ pāṇī ca prakṣālya prāṅamukha udaṅamukho vā kukkuṭāsana-sthaḥ pāṇidvayaṃ jānunī antarā nidhāya pāṇidvaye'pi kaniṣṭhikādiṣv-aṅguliṣu hrāṃ hṛdayāya namaḥ, hrīṃ śirase namaḥ, hrūṃ śikhāyai namaḥ, hraiṃ kavacāya namaḥ, hraḥ astrāya phaḍiti vinyasya dakṣiṇaṃ pāṇiṃ gokarṇākṛtiṃ kṛtvā…’ –lines 812o-8126, p. 209).

[8] This posture is prescribed with two variations (Kiryāsāra lines 11523-11534)– coming to the ground with eight body parts while chanting a hymn of devotional poetry (daṇḍapraṇāma), or the same posture lowered to the ground without reciting a vese (kevala-praṇāma). Both versions are taught by Nīlakaṇtha with no lessthan four postural variations of the eight body parts lowered upon the earth (padbhyāṃ karābhyāṃ urasā śirasā vācā kriyamāṇo daṇḍapraṇāmaḥ | … śirasā hastābhyāṃ karṇābhyāṃ cubukena bāhubhyāṃ ca bhuvaṃ saṃspṛśya kriyamāṇaḥ kevala-praṇāmo'ṣṭāṅgaḥ | - lines 11523-11534).

[9] ‘ity anantaraṃ jitanta iti mantreṇa taṃ devaṃ śaraṇaṃ vrajet iti mudrita-kārikāyāṃ ślokārdham adhikaṃ dṛśyate |’ –line 4558 of his Śrīpañcarātrarakṣa.

[10] saṃprārthya balipīṭhād adho-deśe sāṣṭāṅgaṃ śivaṃ praṇamet | - Kriyāsāra line 11895. Innumerable Tantric sources refer to this pose as ‘sāṣṭāṅga-namaskāraḥ’, such as the Paramānda Tantra, cited in the 19th century Paraśurāmakalpasutra commentary by the Maharashtrian exegete Rāmyadeva (‘aṣṭāṅga-namaskārakaraṇe- patre sāṣṭāṅga-namaskāraḥ granthāntare yathā- śirasā urasā dṛṣṭyā manasā vacasā tathā | padbhyāṃ karābhyāṃ jānubhyāṃ praṇāmo'ṣṭāṅga ucyate || iti ||’)- lines 23197 – 23202.

[11] This is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice to say the similarities are too striking to be ignored, a fact which suggests a direct continuity of this practice. I am *not claiming that the poses in Jois' 'Sun Salutation B' series are identical to thosepresented for the noon sandhyā Namaskāra sequence of 16 (+1) postures in the Sanskrit sources cited in this article; for example, the 'eight-body part' posture (aṣṭāṅga praṇāma/namaskāra) is absent in the former, and always present in our sources for this sequence; but what is important to note here is that Jois' noted claims to have based 'Sun B' on various Vedic devotional verses is in alignment with how the numbering of poses in this sequence is conceived c in our sources. 

[12] saṃprabuddhaḥ prabhāte tu utthāya śayane sthitaḥ | nāmnāṃ saṃkīrtanaṃ kuryāt ṣoḍaśānāṃ prayatnataḥ || -Pārameśvara Saṃhitā 2.5.

[13] evaṃ ṣoḍhā purā kṛtvā kāma-ratyādikaṃ nyaset | tataḥ śrī-cakra-vinyāsaḥ kartavyaḥ śiva-tāptaye ||--Vidyārṇava Tantra  6.1 ||.

[14] madhulubdho yathā bhṛṅgaḥ puṣpāt puṣpāntaraṃ vrajet |  jñānalubdhastathā  śiṣyaḥ  gurogurvantaraṃ  vrajet ||  -Cf. the Kulārnava Tantra (13.132), cited in the Kriyāsāra, lines 1730-1731.

[15] atha guruṃ sva-pīṭha-sthaṃ gatvā tasya pādau prakṣālya śiva-budhyā-gandhādibhiḥ saṃpūjya puṣpāñjali-trayaṃ kṛtvā sāṣṭāṅgaṃ triḥ praṇamyotthāya bhūmau jānunī vinyasya kṛtāñjali-puṭaḥ kṣamasveti brūyāt | -lines 11725-11728.

[16] The Sārdhatriśatikālottara (10.25-28) tells us that when the soul-bee is preoccupied at the Eastern petal, presided over by Indra, one ‘feels the strength of a king’; when at the Southeastern petal of Agni, one’s ‘pain-consuming nature’ is evident; at the Southern Petal of Yama, god of death, he ‘takes on the qualities of death,’ at the southwestern petal of the demons (Rakṣasas), one’s ‘libidinous nature’ arises; at the western petal, heakes on the quality of Varuṇa (?), when at the Northeast petal, he takes on the nature of the Wind (Māruta, Vāyu), and at the Northeastern petal he becomes ‘sovereign’ like Īśāna. Ascending inside the lotus, one becomes like the deity Brahmā, and lowering down, one assumes the identity of the ‘King of Serpents.’

[17] Descending to the locale of the ‘King of Serpents’ here does not equate to lowering into the center of the lotus, where the nectar sought may be found; rather it merely means descending to the lower parts of the petals. Nīlakaṇtha (lines 11769-11771) references the fact that ten directional movements for the yogin to engage are thus identified, the final two (up and down) representing the aforementioned vertical axis of movement (up and down); these are added to the cardinal and intermediate correlated with the petals.

[18] Kriyāsāra, line 11771-11772.

[19] daṇḍavad bāhu-yugmena saha baddhvā tato’ñjalim | kṛtvā daṇḍa-namaskāraṃ śivāgre tu sakṛn-naraḥ  || --Ajita 76.12.

[20] aṅgaṃ ca navamaṃ proktaṃ evam eva pradakṣiṇam / śivāgre daṇḍavad-bhūmau hṛd-āñjali-samāyutam //-51.8. 

[21] Aṃśu Tantra 51.13. Thus the second pose of all Namaskāra sequences, wherein the hands are swept upward into añjali mudrā and held over the head following praṇāmāsana, represents the time of the summer solstice, when the sun is highest in the sky. As the sun grows shorter for the six months following the solstice, equated to the descent of the body towards the earth.

[22] ātmapradakṣiṇaṃ kuryāttat-tas sthāneka-saṃkhyayā/ tathaiva navasaṃkhyā ca garbham evaṃ samācaret // - Aṃśu Tantra 51.16.

[23] see Ajita 76.12, cited above.

[24] savyaṃ ca prathamaṃ caiva apasavyaṃ dvitīyakam / tṛtīyaṃ savyāpasavyaṃ ca caturthaṃ cakram eva ca// pañcamaṃ padmam evaṃ syātṣaṣṭhaṃ siṃham eva ca/ śṛṅkhalā saptamaṃ caiva aṣṭamaṃ nāga-vaktrakam // - 51.6-7.

[25] The name given to this sequence, for example, in the Vidyārṇava Tantra  (6.1).

[26] Aṃśu Tantra 51.8.

[27] indrādi cendra-paryantaṃ savya-pradakṣiṇaṃ kuru/ savya-pradakṣiṇaṃ proktaṃ apasavya-vidhiṃ śṛṇu // - Aṃśu Tantra 51.9.

[28] savyāpasavyam evoktaṃ cakrapradakṣiṇaṃ kuru/ sthitvā devāgra-deśe tu śirordhve vāṃśa-vinyaset // - Aṃśu Tantra 51.17.

[29] bhṛṅgavad-bhramaṇaṃ kṛtvā …. pādaṃ prati / cakrapradakṣiṇaṃ khyātaṃ pada-pradakṣiṇaṃ śṛṇu//hṛdaye padma-mudrāṃ ca prāsādaṃ paritas tathā / aṣṭa-dig-bhramaṇaṃ kṛtvā tattat-sthāne pramāṇataḥ // - Aṃśu Tantra 51.18-19.

[30] kṛkāñjali-saṃyuktaṃ prāsādaṃ paritas tathā// agnāv-uddhṛtya patitau padaṃ prati padaṃ prati // - Aṃśu Tantra 51.20cd-21ab.

[31] siṃha-pradakṣiṇaṃ khyātaṃ śṛṅkhalaṃ ca tataḥ śṛṇu //prāsādaṃ paritaḥ kṛtvā aṣṭadikṣu ca dikṣu ca/ kaṭi-deśeñjaliṃ kṛtvā śṛṃkhalābhramaṇaṃ kuru //- Aṃśu Tantra 51.21cd-22.

[32] nāgacakraṃ sadākāryaṃ prāsādaṃ paritaḥ kramāt / nāgapradakṣiṇaṃ khyātaṃ aṃgapradakṣiṇaṃ kuru// karāgrau bandhayitvā tu pādau svastikam ācaret / -Aṃśu Tantra 51.23cd-24.

[33] Ancient to contemporary depictions of Ananta usually present him prostrate along the length of his body, bearing the sleeping form of Viṣṇu, while his multi-hooded head draws abruptly upward at close to a 90 degree angle, similar to the shape of poses #8 and #10.

[34] īśānaṃ vāma-pādāgre brahmāṇaṃ brahmarandhrataḥ | anantaṃ vinyasen mantrī mūlādhāre samāhitaḥ || Caturasrādi-rekhāyai nama ityādito nyaset | dakṣāṃsa-pṛṣṭha pāṇy-agra sphik pādāgrāṃgulīṣv atha || -6.7-8.

[35] karāgrau bandhayitvā tu pādau svastikam ācaret /  nemivad-bhramaṇaṃ kṛtvā prāsādaṃ paritas tathā//Aṃśu Tantra, 51.25.

[36] vajradehī mahīpālas-tadāś carya samanvitaḥ | dadhīcaṃ tapatāṃ śreṣṭhaṃ praṇanāma mahītale || - lines 5049-5050.

[37] jñāyate bhavatā bhasma-mahimā śaṅkareṇa vā | ityuktvā daṇḍavad-bhūmau namantau taṃ ca bhūpatim || - lines 5055-5056.


योगिविध

Christopher Tompkins3 Comments