A Biography of Sage Patañjali (2) 

CONTENTS: (1) His parents and his birth; (2) His place of birth; (3) His life; (4) His portrayal and iconography; (5) His achievements; (6) His contribution; PDF file

(2) His place of birth


As for where Patañjali was born—this, also, is far from clear. Nor is it clear exactly where he lived. Mount Meru stands at the centre of the universe ... and is generally taken as an allegory for the human spine. It is surrounded by seven continents. The central one, which encircles Mount Meru, is called Jambudvipa after the Jambu (rose apple) trees that abound in it. One particular Jambu tree stands proudly atop Mount Meru. Its fruits and flowers are visible across the entire continent and are much desired by its inhabitants. Jambudvipa is divided into nine (some say seven) Varshas or regions separated from each other by mountain ranges. These nine are Bharata, Ilavrita, Hari, Kuru, Hiranmaya, Ramyaka, Ketumala, Bhadrasva and Kimnara. India proper is sometimes taken to be Jambudvipa itself; but it is more frequently taken to be Bharatavarsha. It is therefore where the descendants of Bharata and/or the bharatas live. The former is taken to be Agni, the god of fire and/or the author(s) of the Rig Veda; the latter are taken to be the priests who carry the oblations. Only in Bharatavarsha do the four yugas or ages (Krita, Treta, Dvapara and Kali) exist. Only Bharatavarsha, therefore, allows for a 'proper' passage of time and the due working out of karma. But while Bharata may be 'ordinary' in containing time, actions and consequences as we know them, it is nevertheless full of devotees who perform the necessary religious and spiritual austerities promptly, willingly and devotedly. This gives hope of salvation to all its inhabitants. So although Bharata (or Bharatavarsha) may be an 'ordinary' place, it is still 'most excellent'. The other eight varshas contain various beings who are beyond time and karma and who thus do nothing more than enjoy the fruits of their current and previous existences.

Tradition holds that Sage Patañjali was not born in Bharatavarsha—i.e. in any ordinary place. He was rather born in Ilavritavarsha. Some insist that Ilavrita is not one of the divisions of Jambudvipa at all but an exalted place beyond. It is inhabited only by gods and those few spiritual beings who embody supreme spirituality and transcendence. Ilavrita, therefore, is not strictly a part of India, or any other earthly country, but an ethereal and celestial abode.

In order to appease those who always want to be literal, and who will settle for nothing less than verifiable facts, it is probably wisest to concede that all these tales of Patañjali's birth and his likely domicile are most probably allegories. So it could be that what is being implied is that, in common with all those other great rishis and seers who have benefitted humanity, Patañjali came to these earthly times and places from some completely other sphere. He came to elucidate knowledge for the benefit of those dwellers in Bharata who—afflicted as they are by time, existence and the workings out of causes and effects—are still nevertheless eager to receive and imbibe it.