A Biography of Sage Patañjali (4) 

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

(4) His portrayal and iconography


As portrayed in the photograph shown earlier, Lord Patañjali is reckoned to be an incarnation of the serpent Ananta, whose name means 'the endless one'—and who is another form of Adisesa. He is therefore, on some accounts, Lord Vishnu's seat, for Vishnu sits upon Adisesa before the beginning of creation.

Above Patañjali is the cobra's hood, the sign of ultimate protection from all possible evils and difficulties in the world. There are seven serpent hoods forming a divine umbrella protecting both Patanjali and all aspirants who turn to him for guidance. Those seven hoods symblize his mastery and conquest of the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether, along with the attainment of moksha and samadhi, liberation and enlightenment.

Patañjali himself is generally depicted as half human and half serpent. His human torso emerges from the coils of the all-powerful serpent, who is awakening in the moment of creation. The serpent embodies that creative energy. It is coiled three and a half times. There is one coil each for the earth, the atmosphere and the heavens. Or, again, one coild each to represent his omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient natures. And then a further half-coil to show that he sets aside the material nature, rises above them all, and is absorbed only in the world seen in meditation, being free from everything else.

Patañjali's hands are in the traditional Indian greeting of 'namaste'—sometimes called an 'añjali' or offering. Since 'pata' means fallen, 'Patañjali' can be roughly translated as 'the grace (or "the grace-full one") that falls from heaven'.

The lord is generally depicted in a meditative trance. His folded hands are both blessing and greeting those who have approached him seeking yoga and its truths. His salutation eases their labours with its grace. It also assures them that those labours will eventually bear fruit. Patañjali in fact has not two, but four hands. The two immediately in front of him create the blessings of the añjali while the other two are raised. One of the uplifted hands holds sankha, the conch that embodies the energy of sound. It both calls students to practice and announces the imminent ending of the world as they have so far known it. His other uplifted hand holds the cakra or discus that embodies both the turning wheel of time and its associated law of cause and effect.