By Aftab Ahmad, New Age Islam
October 23, 2014
Nath Panth that originated in around 10th century not only influenced the religious thought of India but also had a great impact on the literature and poetry in Indian languages. Matsyendranath and his disciple Gorakhnath were the founders of Nath Pantha that revived Tantricism and Yoga as parts of religious practices. Gorakhnath is said to be the innovator of Hatha Yoga who popularized Hath Yoga among the masses as a means of physical and spiritual purification and the glorious union with the Supreme Being. The Nath Pantha has many characteristic features that influenced many other spiritual and religious groups, both Hindu and Muslim in India. Some of the characteristic features are as follows:
Hath Yoga and Kundalini awakening
The founders of the Nath Pantha, Matsyendranath and Gorakhnath were the first to propound the idea of Kudalini power or the serpent power residing at the base of the spinal cord. To the Nathas, the dormant spiritual power called Kundalini can be awakened through certain Yogic exercises, chanting of mantra, controlling the breath and meditation. The kundalini when awakened rises up through the spinal cord to the head creating a feeling of divine bliss. Through this process, the bindu (semen) is preserved and its movement is reversed towards the head preventing it from downward flow. To the Natha’s, the wastage of semen, the essence of life leads to physical and spiritual decay and so semen has to be preserved through Hath Yoga.
This teaching of Kundalini awakening has become the base for mystic practices of many religious and spiritual sects like the Vaishnavites and the Bauls that came into existence after the birth of Nath Pantha. Among the Vaishnavite sect, practice of Yoga and the preservation of semen (Bindu) is fundamental for attaining Mukti. They also try to reverse the flow of semen to prevent it from falling into the vagina during sexual intercourse. Though among the Bauls and Vaishnava Sahajiya sect, celibacy is not encouraged and Sadhan Sanginis (woman partners) are a part of their religious practice, certain yogic postures and rechak and Kumbhak (techniques for controlling the breath) are practiced to retain the Bindu (semen) during intercourse leading to a feeling of real love. This practice has its roots in the Kaula Tantric tradition of founder of Nath Pantha, Matsyendra Nath. David Gordon White writes: 1
“It is the basic assumption among these (Kaula) traditions that the fluid lineage or clan nectar, the subtle fluid essence of liberating consciousness, is naturally present in women, and it is precisely for this reason that the male tantric practitioner engages with sexual intercourse with her.”
Vaisnave Sahajiya, and the Baul sects that are greatly influenced by the Vaishnava Sahajiya philosophy believe in this doctrine propounded by the Nath gurus.
Sheikh Muhammad Ghaus Gawaliari, the Sufi who initiated the great musician of Akbar era, Tansen into Islam was influenced by the practices and philosophy of Nath Pantha. He had knowledge of Hindu Tantric practices including the technicques of controlling the breath practiced by Nath Panthis and had written two books titled Kaleed-e-Makhazin (The key to the treasures) and Bahr-e-Hayat (The ocean of life) that described the techniques of breath control practiced by Nath Yogis.2
The famous Sufi saint of Delhi, Khwaja Banda Nawaz Gesudaraz who was a Khalifa of Naseeruddin Chirag Dehlavi met one Nath Yogi, Jalandarnath who offered him a drug for retention of semen, the secrets of alchemy and secrets of making one’s bed move at will. Gesudaraz also recounted the story of Gorakhnath rescuing his guru Matsyendranath from the queen of Sri Lanka. It is said that Matsyendranath had fallen in love with the queen of Sri Lanka and married her. When Gorakhnath knew of his guru’s misadventure, he went to Sri Lanka and found him in the court of the queen. Gorakhnath pursued him to leave the queen and come back to India. Matsyendranath came back with Gorakhnath but brought his two sons along with him.
The assembly of Sufi saint Baba Farid of Punjab was a common platform for the Muslim Sufis and Nath Yogis where mystical topics were discussed. Dr Asghar Ali Engineer writes:
“The topics discussed at the Jama’at Khana gathering of Baba Farid were of great interest to visiting Siddhas whose beliefs were founded on Hath Yoga.”3
This shows that the Indian Sufis were very much aware of the doctrines and powers of Nath Panth and their philosophy and practices had a great impact on the Sufi tradition of India.
Secular And Non-Sectarian Outlook
The Nath Pantha rejected communal or sectarian hierarchy or untouchability that marked the Indian or the Hindu society. In the Guru-Shisya Parampara that the Nath’s believed in did not bar Muslims from initiation into the sect. Among the disciples of Gorakhnath, there were both Hindus and Muslims. Later, Baul sect which was influenced by Natha Pantha also adopted this philosophy. A Hindu Baul can have a Muslim disciple and a Muslim Baul can have a Hindu disciple or Guru. Peer Haji Ratan or Ratannath was one of the Muslim disciples of Gorakhnath who is said to have performed pilgrimage at Makkah. In the folk culture of Mewat in India, Muslim Mirasis sing praise of Gorakhnath as a Muslim peer. One of the followers of Nath Pantha, Karim Shah spread the message of Nath Pantha in the eastern districts of Bengal (now in Bangladesh). He was a follower of Pagal Panth, one of the twelve branches of Nath Pantha and was responsible for the spread of Pagal Pantha in the remote tribal areas of now Bangladesh. He was known as a social reformer and revolutionary who initiated the tribals of eastern Bengal into Pagal Panth and organized the tribals against the British government causing a revolt. Pagal Panth later merged into the Baul sect and Lalan Fakir organized the Baul sect in the 18th century.
Gorakhnath produced his religious doctrine and philosophy both in prose and poetry. His prose Siddha Siddhanta Pradipika is a treatise on Hatha Yoga. Gorakhbani, is the collection of his poetry in which his ideas and philosophy are presented. The distinctive feature of his poetry is ‘twilighht language’ or Sandhya Bhasha and Ulat Bansi. Symbolism and ‘upside down language’ are the distinct features of Gorakhnaths poetry. Twilight language finds its roots in Buddhist meditation and symbolism. The style was popularized by Gorakhnath which was later adopted by Bhakti and Sufi poets like Amir Khusrau, Kabir and Lalan Fakir. Apart from ulat bansi, Gorakhnath also wrote riddles which inspired Khusrau to compose riddles (pahelis), Kah Mukarnis and other poetic genres. One of the ulat bansis of Gorakhnath is thus:
Gorakhnath Ki Ulti Bani
Barse Kambal Bheeje Pani
This couplet is wrongly attributed to Kabir.
One of the poems that can be defined as a riddle is as follows:4
Oh master Avadhut, guess what this is?
Neither the sky nor the earth,
Neither the moon nor the sun,
Neither a day nor a night. [Refrain]
It is [neither] Omkar nor Nirakar [formless].
It is neither subtle nor gross.
It is neither tree nor leaf,
It does not flower, nor does it give fruit.
It is neither branches nor root; It is neither tree nor creeper,
It is neither Sakhi nor Sabad,
Neither guru nor disciple.
It is neither in wisdom nor in meditation,
It is neither in yoga nor in the yogi,
Neither in sin nor in virtue,
Neither in liberation nor in the liberated.
It is neither born nor destroyed,
It neither comes nor goes,
It does not get old or die,
It has neither father nor mother.
Devotee of Machinder:
It is neither a state of devotion,
Nor is it ensnared in hope.
This is the esoteric style of Gorakhnath that ensured that only persons having the practical knowledge of the yogi doctrine and philosophy could understand the contents of such poems. Symbolism and esoterism was the mark of Buddhist symbolism which found its root in Nath Panth. One example of Gorakh’s ulat Bansi is also presented here:5
Nāth is saying immortal words:
The blanket will rain, water will get wet! [Refrain]
The calf is fixed [in the ground]
And the stick is tied to it.
The big drum walks,
The camel sounds.
The Pipal tree sits
On the branch of a crow,
The cat runs away
At the sound of a mouse.
The traveller is walking,
The road is tired;
The bed is sleeping on the woman.
The dog is hiding,
The thief is barking.
The cowherd is coming,
The cattle is calling.
In the middle of the city
Is a deserted village;
The pot is below,
The pot-carrier above.
The stove burns Inside the wood,
The bread is Eating the baker
.An amorous woman burns,
The furnace gets warm.
In the middle of the fire
The fire shivers [from cold].
One barren woman Was barren,
but The daughter-in law
gave birth to a Mother-in-law.
The water from the pot
Goes to the well.
The upside-down song.
The meaning of such upside down language cannot be grasped by the uninitiated as it sounds absurd to the ordinary men. This style gave coinage to the idiom Gorakh Dhanda of words (Alfaz Ka Gorakh Dhanda) which is said when something. seems unintelligible or absurd.
This style later influenced Amir Khusrau, Kabir and Lalan Fakir. Amir Khusrau is best known for his riddles and other folk poetic genres like Do Sukhne, Pahelis, Kah Mukarnis etc. Kabir also wrote many of his Dohas in twilight language and ulat bansi. Many examples can be found from his Sabads and dohas (couplets).
Lalan Fakir’s poems or Baul Geets are also in twilight language and Ulat Bansis. One of his famous poems is as follows:
A moon is got stuck to the moon
What will we do to think over it?
There was a girl of six months,
She became pregnant in nine months,
In eleven months, she bore three children,
Which one will adopt ascetism (darvaishism)
Apart from its influence on Indian Sufi poetry, the Nath Pantha also influenced the spiritual thought of the Sufis and the Bhakti poets. Baba Farid in his couplets sings of the union of the devotee and the Supreme Being and the devotee’s love for God in terms of the union and love of husband and wife. In Nath Panth, the Sakti, the female creative power is believed to be residing in the human body which longs for union with Siva. Therefore, the Bhakti poets sing of the union of the female self with the Supreme Being Siva. This idea resonates in the poetry of Baba Farid in whose couplet the devotee considers himself as the wife who longs for her union with her husband (God). Since Islam does not sponsor the idea of the relation between God and his slave as that of husband and wife, Baba Farid’s poetry can be said to have been influenced by the Nath Panthis who visited Baba Farid. Kabir’s poetry also talks of the wife’s longings for a meeting with her husband. Amir Khusrau also writes couplets in which he sings of the union of the husband and wife.
Khusrau Rayn Suhag Ki Jagi Pi Ke Sang
Tan Mero Man Piu Ko Dou Bhaye Ek Rang.
Therefore, it could be concluded that the Nath Pantha played an important role in shaping the mystic ideas and philosophies of various religious and mystic sects of India, both Hindu and Muslim. They also influenced the literary style and thought of the Indian poets belonging to different languages. They also played a great role in the social and spiritual reform in the medieval India. However, their role has not been recognized and very little research has been done on their beliefs, doctrines and philosophy.
1. The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India, David Gordon White
2. Bullhe Shah by Surender Singh Kohli, Sahitya Academy
3. Nath Pantha – A way to communal harmony, Secular Perspective, July 1-15, 2011
4. Masters of Magical Powers: The Nath Yogis in the light of Esoteric Notions.
5. Masters of Magical Powers: The Nath Yogis in the light of Esoteric Notions.
Aftab Ahmad is a columnist for New Age Islam. He has been studying the Holy Quran for some time.