Yoga Yoga has been part of the Tamil culture from a very long time indeed. Though the origins are a little opaque, Tamil Nadu is believed to have contributed substantially to Raja Yoga at many points in time, the key among them being during three specific instances:
Rishi Patanjali’s association with Chidambaram:
Legend has it that Adiseshan, the king of Nagas and a devotee of Lord Vishnu, heard about the exhilarating Ananda Tandava performed by Lord Shiva in the Daruvana forest as recounted by Lord Vishnu. He then begged for permission to see the Cosmic dance for himself. On performing strenuous tapas, Lord Shiva granted him the boon of being born a son to sage Atri and his wife Anusaya. As he was born, Anusaya dropped him in shock as he appeared in his half snake form in her hands – and this is where he is said to have earned the name Pata-anjali: Patanjali (means fallen from folded hands). Being Adisesha, the king of snakes, he is said to have proceeded towards Tillai-Chidambaram taking the route of the Padhala (the underworld). At the appointed hour, his dream of witnessing Lord Shiva’s astounding dance comes true and all his prayers are answered by the lord.
Path to Swarupa Mukthi in Thirumoolar’s Thirumanthiram:
The word ‘Ogam’ (Tamil for Yoga) means Udaliyal Kalai (body improvement arts) and has been found in the earliest known scriptures and texts of Tamil Nadu. It is believed that Sundara Nathar, a yogi and saint from Madurai, found a group of cows crying over a dead cowherd called Moolan who had been bitten by a snake. So he used his ‘Ogam’ and to move his soul into the body of the cowherd and take the cows back to the village. On his return he discovered that his original body was missing. Lord Shiva is said to have appeared and told him that it was he who took the original body away – he then asked Sundara Nathar to spread his teachings through the body of Moolan. Thus, from that day onwards, he came to be known as Thirumoolar.
Part of the Siddha tradition, which is on similar lines and considered the forerunner of the Nath tradition:
The Nath Sampradaya is considered as a development of the earlier Siddha or Avadutha Sampradaya around the 13th Century. The principles of the yoga philosophy of this Nath tradition, which is mainly Hatha Yoga, are stated in many Sanskrit texts, with the Siddha Siddhanta Padathi being one of them. Hatha Yoga covers disciplines, postures (asanas), purification procedures (shatkriyas), gestures (mudras), breathing (pranayama), meditation (dhyana) and Samadhi.
Around 5000 years ago this art was practised by Siddha Munivars who used to roam the forests of South India in search of Siddha medicinal recipes. Secret teachings like Thodu Varmam (touch techniques) are still practised by a very select few in Tamil Nadu and Kerala and it is a highly protected art as it can be misused when in the wrong hands. Each posture was called Nilai in Tamil. Patanjali appropriated this Siddha knowledge and accorded its Sanskrit names and terminology. In fact it is believed that Ayurveda is also said to have branched out of Siddha Medicine and the term Ayur means Ayul (Life) in Tamil.
Today, there are hundreds of yoga schools and meditation centres operating in every nook and cranny of Tamil Nadu, and it is practised everywhere for the wellness of the individual; but little do many know about its historical roots and folklore.