Invocation to Patanjali

At the beginning of level 1/2/3 yoga classes in our school, we chant the invocation to sage Patanjali – the person credited with writing the yoga sutras and thus documenting yoga some 2000 years ago.

About Sage Patanjali

According to Indian mythology, Patanjali was the incarnation of lord Adisesa. Legend says he fell into the praying hands of Ganukia who had no children. One day she was praying to the Sun God while a little snake in the water in the palms of her hands turned into a human shape. She raised him as her child and named him Patanjali; pata = fall, anjali = the folding of the hands during prayer.

Patanjali is the author of three important commentaries; the Mahabhasya, on grammar for right speech, Ayurveda, medicine for health, and The Yoga Sutras – showing how through Yoga practice we can gain control on our mind and emotions, overcome obstacles and attain union with the divine.

About the symbols in the invocation:

The conch and the disk are symbols for alarm and destruction in the case of a danger such as evil thoughts or disease. Through the practice of yoga, one learns to recognize and eliminate these evil thoughts or diseases and reach God.

The Cobra has many symbols, every religion had some sort of serpent worship. In the ‘Hathayoga Paradipika’ the Lord of Serpents, Ananta (=infinite, eternal), supports the earth and protects it. It is believed that snakes shed their skins and emerge as new, therefore they are a symbol of eternity, fertility, regeneration, evolution and wisdom. It’s venom is poisonous but medicinal, it represents the practice of Yoga in which we learn how to convert emotions like anger, greed and lust to control, contentment, love and compassion.

The Human Torso symbolises the essence of Yoga, our evolution through the yoga practice. As Patanjali transformed from a small snake into a human body, so does anyone can grow, expand their intelligence and transform.

References

BKS Iyengar: “Yoga Wisdom & Practice”
BKS Iyengar in an interview by Bonnie Anthony

With thanks to liveYoga Iyengar Yoga Shala Amsterdam for this information.

Invocation to Patanjali | English translation

Let us bow before the noblest of sages Patanjali,
Who gave Yoga for serenity and sanctity of mind,
Grammar for clarity and purity of speech, and
Medicine for perfection of health.
Let us prostrate before Patanjali,
An incarnation of Adisesa,
Whose upper body has a human form
Whose arms hold a conch and disc, and
Who is crowned by a thousand headed cobra.

Try listening to any of the audio or video files below to learn the invocation so that you can join in the chanting in class.

BKS Iyengar chanting invocation.

Geeta Iyengar’s commentary on the invocation.

A version that is slow and easy to follow.