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24.10.17

The Nath yogis and the householder sants in Maharashtra

There are Maratha traditions that report a connection between the forefathers of Nivritti and Jnaneshwara and the Nath yogis, extending over four generations.

Successive generations of Nath yogis maintained the tradition of Kundalini awakening through rigorous asceticism and hatha yoga practices. Their sacred texts contain detailed knowledge of the chakras and nadis of the yogic subtle system. Several regional traditions claim Gorakh and the Nath yogis as originating in their area, notably Bengal in eastern India; the Deccan in southern/western India; Nepal in the Himalayan mountains; and the Punjab and adjoining areas in the northwest.

Having extensively reviewed a wide range of primary sources, James Mallinson (in his ‘Nath Sampradaya’ and ‘Hathayoga’s philosophy’) observes that the majority of the early textual and epigraphic references to Matsyendranath and Gorakh are from the Deccan and related areas in southern India, with the others being from Bengal in eastern India, and Nepal. The earliest textual references to Gorakh are from the thirteenth century and from the Deccan or south India. These include the Marathi Jnaneshwari (c.1290), the Kannada Ragales (poems) of Harihara (c.1200-1220), the Matsyendrasaṃhitā of Matsyendranath, and the Marathi Lilacaritra.

Mallison is of the view that Matsyendra (aka Macchanda) lived in southern India, probably the Deccan, in the ninth to tenth centuries, and that Goraksa (Gorakh in vernacular languages) also lived in the Deccan region in the eleventh to twelfth centuries. In forming this view Mallinson is in agreement with the Marathi historian R.C.Dhere who, using mostly Marathi-language primary sources, also locates Matsyendra and Gorakh in the Deccan area.

Trimbakpant, the great grandfather of Nivritti and his siblings, is said to have received spiritual initiation from Gorakhnath at Apegaon, a village close to the Godavary river, and a few miles from the town of Paithan. Ranade (1933:30) records the existence of documentary evidence that Trimbakpant was made the provincial Governor of Bida in 1207CE by one of the Yadava (Seuna) kings of Devagiri (present day Daulatabad). The physical lineage can be traced through a son of Trimbakpant, namely Govindpant and his son, Vitthalpant, the father of Nivritti and his siblings. Vittalpant inherited the kulkarniship of Apegaon from his ancestors, and married Rakhumabai, the daughter of the Kulkarni of Alandi, a town on the banks of the Indrayani river near to the city of Pune.

One of Gorakhnath’s disciples, a yogi known as Gahininath, spent much of his life in the caves and shelters of the hills of western India, including several years at Brahmagiri, near Tryambakeshvar, in what is now Maharashtra, where there is a cave known as Gorakhhagimpha. Whilst staying there, Gahininath took as his disciple a young boy, Nivritti, who, according to legend, had accidently entered the cave. Nivritti, in turn, became guru to his brothers, Jnaneshwara and Sopandev, and sister, Muktabai, and their close friend, Namdev.

(extract from John Noyce, The Saints of Maharashtra)