A Study of Patanjali by Surendranath Dasgupta

By Surendranath Dasgupta

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Imagine the body of a man, sitting in padmasana (lotus position: legs crossed with ankles by hip creases), wearing a striped tunic, a mask, and a huge headdress in the shape of two large horns. The Pashupati seal was created in the Indus Valley in around 6500 BCE, a period known as the Pre-Vedic Age. The Pre-Vedic Age encompassed the time period before the written word (which meant that the only way to pass anything on was through symbols and oral recitation), before traditionally recognized religions such as Hinduism, and at a time in human history when we were connected (or united) with nature in a way that is now mostly foreign to us.

During the centuries that followed, known as the Brahmanical Age, priests (or brahmans) became the elite class. They became the primary advisers to the ruling class and used their rhetoric on religious teachings to encourage a very strict ritualistic approach towards governing. The performance of rituals and sacrifice was an exact science and taken to be literal. Only people of the brahman class could perform rituals or seek out the sacred texts. The brahmans systematized the Vedas. The rishis and sages no longer had large influence, but instead became part of the fringes of society – sannyasins (hermits) living in the forest.

By the Post-Classical Age (1300–1700), India had risen out of the Dark and Middle Ages and found herself flourishing again, in a way reminiscent of the Vedic Age. But then, with the invasion and colonization of India by the British in the early nineteenth century, yoga was once again asked to survive the challenge of change, and evolve. In the early years of British rule, yoga and the forms it took were greatly discouraged and looked down upon. In response, yoga went underground. This time its practitioners did not only go to the forests; they also found a way to keep the practice alive under the guise of entertainment.

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