Purpose, Origin, History and Development of Yoga

Yoga is one of the greatest gifts of mankind. Yoga is source of inspiration as well as solace for millions of people across the globe. It is one of the greatest cultural exports from a single nation to the entire world. But what do we know about its purpose, origin and development?


Purpose of Yoga

The purpose of Yoga is very subtle based on the profound experience of life. The purpose of yoga is not to affect any change in us from one physical or mental state to something another, but to realize something permanent that exist within us or to experience the true nature of our existence. ‘Who am I’, ‘What is my true nature’, ‘What is the nature of Reality’ have been the fundamental questions for which the man has been seeking concrete answers. Behind the emergence of these fundamental questions is the realization of the fact that our variable physical and mental state is not our true nature. This body and mind which is experienced by me as ‘I’, is not the real ‘I’ and hence the ultimate reality must be different. What is that Reality? And this is what we seek in Yoga. ‘I’ (the true nature) am far greater, deeper and expansive than ‘this’ (body, mind, emotions, thoughts) present state. There is a feeling of bondage, limitation, suffering and suffocation, which cannot be me and definitely I have to realize – my true nature. In the course of search for these answers, the true nature of things and objects is revealed to us (including the body and mind) and that is the purpose of Yoga.

According to Yoga whatever we see and feel around us whether physical or psychical is an illusion known as maya. Behind the illusory world including our own body and mind lays the sole Reality or our True nature. That Reality is Brahman or Atman. Through the discriminatory understanding between the real and the non-real, cultivating non-attachment towards the illusory forms and objects and discharging action in skillful manner, one can realize one’s true nature or Self which is identical with Brahman. With the realization of Brahman there is annihilation of suffering for forever.

 Origin of Yoga

The origin of yoga has been mired into controversy with different theories floating around. Since yoga wields powerful cultural influence not only in India but also in the world, the origin of yoga has become the subject matter of politics and identity. Different identity groups support and reject a theory of origin not for the sake of Yoga but to satisfy personal ego and promote propaganda. The bone of contention is between the seculars and Hindutva proponents. Secular proposes the Aryan Invasion Theory in which blue-eyed fair people swept into the Indian subcontinent on horses, with proto-sanskrit language and conquered the existing civilization they encounter along the Indus River and laid foundation of vedic culture. On the other hand Hindutva proponents argued the opposite altogether, what is known as the “out-of-India theory”, claiming that, if anything, Indo-European languages originated in India and spread out westward from there.

In our view there should not be any confusion over the matter of ‘origin of Yoga’ as the NCERT, which is the literary and scientific body under the government of India clearly mentions about the Aryan invasion is school history text books. Moreover the ancient DNA study has provided the scientific evidence of ‘who’ were the native people of subcontinent and ‘who’ came from outside.

Indus Valley Civilization Theory

According to some historian the origin of Yoga goes back to around 2000 BC in Indus Valley civilization. The Indus Valley civilization was one of the largest civilizations of early antiquity. Harappa and Mohenjodaro were the two major cities developed in this civilization. The inhabitants of this civilization were the natives of the subcontinent, first appeared as early as 9000 years from today. DNA research confirms that the mixing of Iranian agriculturists and South Asian hunter-gatherers first created the Indus Valley population. Archaeological excavations in these sites discovered seals and fossil remains depicting figures resembling yogic practices indicating the presence of some form of Yoga. However this interpretation is very much speculative. There are claims that these seals are actually from the later development of vedic age.

Aryan migration

Aryan Migration

The ancient DNA sample from the historic Indian town of Rakhigarhi provides convincing evidence that around the 2nd millennium BCE, Steppe pastoralists moved south towards the Indian subcontinent encountering the Indus Valley population. The steppe pastoralists also known as ‘Aryan’ caused some amount of upheaval in the Indus valley and laid the foundation of Vedic India. Later from Vedas emerge the science of Yoga. Due to the upheaval by Aryan invaders, some of the Indus Valley population moves further south and flourished into present day Dravidian culture of south India.  The DNA study concludes that the Indus valley people were not the original source of Sanskrit language and Vedic India, rather it were Aryans.

Development of Yoga

Yoga emerged in the Vedic period after the migration of Aryans into Indian subcontinent around 2000 BC and continues to develop till Patanjali’s period (200 BC – 200 AD). The main sources, from which we get the information about Yoga practices and the related literature during this period, are available in Vedas (4), Upanishads (108), Smritis like Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Vasishtha and Darshana like Samkhya and Yoga Sutra.

The period between 500 BC – 800 AD is considered as the Classical period which is also considered as the most fertile and prominent period in the history and development of Yoga. During this period, commentaries of Vyasa on Yoga Sutras and Bhagawadgita etc. came into existence.

The period between 1700 – 1900 A.D. is considered as Modern period in which the great Yogacharyas- Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Paramhansa Yogananda, Vivekananda etc. have contributed for the development of Raja Yoga.This was the period when Vedanta, Bhakti yoga, Nathayoga or Hatha-yoga flourished.

Now in the contemporary times, everybody has conviction about yoga practices towards the preservation, maintenance and promotion of health. Yoga has spread all over the world by the teachings of great personalities like Swami Shivananda, Shri T.Krishnamacharya, Swami Kuvalayananda, Shri Yogendara, Swami Rama, Sri Aurobindo, Maharshi Mahesh Yogi, Acharya Rajanish, Pattabhijois, BKS. Iyengar, Swami Satyananda Sarasvati and others.

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