Guru Gorakhnath or Guru Gorakhshanath took birth in the early 11th century. He was an influential and powerful figure, who founded the Nath Hindu Monastic Movement in India. Being one of the disciples of Matsyendranath, the followers of Gorakhnath can be found in the central and western states, in the Himalayan region, Nepal and the Gangetic plains. His followers are all called ‘yogis,’ Darshani or Gorakhnathi. He is said to be the human teacher, who was outside the laws and appeared in different ages. In the Hindu tradition, Guru Gorakhnath is called the ‘Maha-Yogi.’ Although he never emphasized on a singular truth, he strongly believed that spiritual life and seeking truth are humanity’s greatest goals.
Guru Gorakhnath: the champion of Yoga
Guru Gorakhnath ardently believed in living a pious and spiritual life and seeking the truth. He was the champion in Yoga and lived as religious and ethical life. Self-determination, according to him, is the best way to reach ‘Samadhi’ and attaining spiritual truth. His followers have all been the part of warrior ascetic movement since the 14th century, resisting prosecution against the British and Islamic rule militarily. They were indulged in enhancing their martial arts skills and making a targeted response against high officials.
The ideas of Gorakhnath regarding Yoga have been very famous in the rural India, which is demonstrated with temples, monasteries dedicated to him. He is mainly worshiped in Gorakhpur.
The influence of Gorakhnath can be found in references to him in poetries of Kabir. He is described as a powerful Yogi having a large number of followers. Thus, it suggests that he lived at times when Kabir, Guru Nanak lived. As per the historical texts, Guru Gorakhnath was a Buddhist and was influenced by Shaivism. After becoming the champion of Yoga and learning about Lord Shiva, he converted himself into a Hindu.
Throughout his life, he lived as a passionate exponent of religious beliefs of Adi Shankara and Kumarila. Adi Shankara and Kumarila were also the champions of Yoga and as per the various interpretations of Vedas. He thought the controversy between non-dualism and dualism spiritual theory is groundless and ridiculous. He believed that it is the choice of the Yogi to determine which path he wants to follow. No matter whatever path is followed perfectly, it will lead to a perfect illumined state.
Popular legends surrounding Gorakhnath
The hagiography describes that Guru Gorakhnath appeared or took birth on earth several times. Although the legends do not provide exact information on his birth date and place, he is regarded as a superhuman. According to the North Indian hagiographies, he originated from Punjab. Other hagiographies suggest that he originated from Assam. In fact, the hagiographies are pretty inconsistent, and the information varies. Adinath and Matsyendranath, the two teachers, preceded him or rather succeeded him.
One account states that 5 Gurus preceded Adinath, and another one states that there were 6 teachers between Matsyendranath and Gorakhnath. Adinath is regarded as the direct teacher of Gorakhnath, who was identified with Lord Shiva. It is said that Gorakhnath travelled all across India, parts of Afghanistan and Sri Lanka to spread the message of Yoga. He set foot in places like Punjab, Sindh, Assam, Bengal, and Uttarakhand and almost all over India.
Gorakhnath: The greatest of the ‘Naths’
The traditions of the ‘Nath’ existed before Gorakhnath. The greatest expansion took place under the inspiration and the very guidance of Gorakhnath only. Since he produced too many writings, Guru Gorakhnath is considered to be the greatest of all Naths. He wrote the foremost book ‘Laya Yoga.’ Laya Yoga is the based on that school of Yoga, which is influenced by Tantra and Shaktism. The main focus is awakening Kundalini energy through regular Yogic practices and asceticism.
The main aim of the school of Yoga is to cultivate a creative spirituality that upholds human values, focuses only on Truth. In India, one can find various caves and temples dedicated to Gorakhnath. They are the very regions where Guru Gorakhnath practiced meditation. The Samadhi shrine of Gorakhnath is in Nath Mandir (gorakhnath mandir), which is near to Vajreshwari Temple. He along with Matsyendranath did penance in Mangalore’s Kadri Temple.
Gorakhnath Math is the monastery of Nath group, which is named after the great Yoga Guru, Gorakhnath. Both the town and the math are named after the Guru. The temple and monastery perform social and cultural activities, and thus, they are the cultural hub.
The great influence of Gorakhnath
Indian Gurkhas and Nepal Gurkhas took their names from Gorakhnath. There is a historical district in Nepal called ‘Gorkha,’ which is named after him. You can also find a cave in Assam having his footprints or ‘paduka.’ Every year, in the Baisakh Purnima, celebrations take place in the form of ‘Rot Mahotsav.’ He has influenced regions like Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Assam, and West Bengal.
Gorakhnath as a contributor of books
Romola Butalia lists the number of books written by Gorakhnath on Yogic practices. He wrote a series of books, namely, ‘Suddha Siddhanta Paddhati,’ ‘Goraksha Samhita,’ ‘Yoga Martanada,’ ‘Yoga-Bija’ and various others. Being the founder of ‘Nath Sampradaya,’ it is stated clearly that the 84 Siddhas and the 9 Naths are all yogic manifestations created to spread the message of meditation and the benefits of Yogic practices. Among all his texts, ‘Siddha Siddhanta Paddati’ is the earliest extant of Hatha Yoga, which is in Sanskrit.
Gorakhnath Math is the temple of the monastic group in Nath Tradition. This math is dedicated to Maha-Yogi Gorakhnath, who travelled all across India and parts of the world to spread the message of Yoga and attaining spiritual illumination. He authored several books, and thus, the Math was constructed in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. This is the temple where social and cultural activities are performed. Now, the religious site runs two temples, one in Nepal and the other in Southern Gorakhpur. In the temple of Gorakhpur, there is a tomb or ‘samadhi’ shrine and ‘gaddi’ or the prayer seat. The temples built to commemorate Gorakhnath are the centres of the Hindus religious activities.
Thousands of devotees now follow the spiritual path and follow Yogic practices to cure diseases and attain overall well-being. Right from the medieval times, Gorakhnath had been a master yogi and a wonder-worker of western and northern India. He is idolized in several villages and cities.