From medieval times onward, Gorakhnath (Goraksa Natha) is the well-known wonder-worker and master Yogi of northern and western India; and he, and members of his order, are celebrated in legend and song in countless villages. From Nepal to Rdiputana, from the Panjab to Bengal, from Sind to the Deccan, tradition and folklore are full of allusions to Gorakhnath and recount his wonderful deeds. He is the famous saint and worker of miracles; the founder' and outstanding teacher of the kivite sect of ascetics, practicers of the Hatha Yoga, who are also called Nath Yogis; the great teacher of the Saivite faith, and finally the patron saint and tutelary of the state of Goraksa whose royal house used to rule in Nepal .
Gorakhnath has long since been deified, and, in popular religion, is considered a representative, even an embodiment, of siva. His name is also given to Siva. He is the creator in the dice-throwing ordeal in the Rasalu legend he is petitioned as a god.9 In the story of Hir and Ranjha he is worshipped with a platter of Milk and rice. And he is invoked elsewhere as a god."
A legend is current to the effect that Gorakhnath was born of dung and was found by Matsyendranath who made him a disciple." From Nepal comes the story that Siva after he had recited the Yoga doctrine to Parvati, standing on the sea shore,' while Matsyendra (in the form of a fish) was listening, gave something to a woman to eat, with a promise that she would obtain a son. The woman did not eat the substance, but-cast it upon a dung-hill. Twelve years later, Matsyendra passed by the same spot and asked to see the child. He heard what the woman had done and ask to search in the dung heap. She there discovered a boy of twelve years. That boy was named Gorakhnath. Matsyendranath became his spiritual master and he served as dutiful disciple.
There are variants of these stories. A devotee of Siva, desiring offspring, received, at Parvati's intercession, ashes from Siva's dhuni. The devotee's wife was to swallow them. She did not, but threw them upon a dung-hill. Eventually a child was found there who was taken to Siva, and, by him, named Gorakhnath.
Another version of this legend relates that, when Gorakhnath was seeking a teacher, he offered a loaf of bread on a pipal leaf at the seashore. A fish swallowed the offering and, twelve years later, gave a child in return. Siva named this child Matsyendra, and he afterwards became Gorakhnath's guru, or spiritual teacher.
The estimation in which the people hold the deeds and powers of Gorakhnath may be formed from a study of the more famous of the innumerable traditions and legends describing him and his disciple.
Many of the legends are sung even today by Goraknathis, and by other wandering singers as well, through the villages of the land. Amongst the most famous of them are those of Zahra, or Guga Pir, Puran Bhagat and his brother Raja Rasalu, Gopichand, Hir and Rafijha and Rani Pingla.
- Guga or Zahra Pir was a Rajput who finally became a Musalm'an._His birth and the wonderful deeds which he was able to perform were dependent upon the good offices of the saint, Gorakhnath, who gave him his name and whose disciple he finally became. He is now worshipped as a snake godling, as one who has power over snakes and saves his followers from snake-bite. He grants boons, especially to barren women. Guga finally disappeared together with his horse in the bowels of the earth. In many places in the Panjab there are shrines connected with his worship, and these are often adjacent to shrines of Gorakhnath.
- Among the most famous heroes of the Panjab are Puran Bhagat and his half-brother Rasalu. Puran, the elder, was betrayed by his father's younger queen, and was cast into a dry well to die. He suffered also the loss of his hands and feet. After twelve years he was rescued and healed by Gorakhnath. Through powers, which he obtained by austerities, Puran was able to grant his former betrayer, Queen Lunan, a boon and she bore a son named Rasalu. The exploits of this latter prince form a large body of legends. Rasalu's was a checkered life, full of love, adventure and intrigue. Puran became a Yogi, a follower of Gorakhnath. Rasalu finally became a Gorakhnathi, and an ardent disciple of the great Yogi.
- A current legend concerning Puran Bhagat is as follows:
Khatrani woman, when bathing in the Aik river, was wooed by a serpent called Basak Nag. She conceived and bore a son who was named Sulivan. He rose to be a man of great power and wealth, and, through the assistance of the serpent, was made a king. His fame became so great that even Vikram5ditya visited him at Sialkot. Sulivan refused to go to meet his royal visitor and a severe battle was fought in consequence, in which Vikramaditya lost his life. Raja Sulivan had two sons, Puran and Rasalu. Puran became a faqir. Raja Sulivan had two queens, the older of whom was the mother of Puran. The other queen, who was much younger, was barren. When Puran became a man, this younger queen made improper proposals to him. He refused to yield to her and she, consequently, brought false charges against him. These the king confirmed. Puran was then put to death, his hands and feet being cut off, and his body was thrown into a well in Karol, a village five miles from Sialkot. (The village is at present called Puranwala.) After some days a Yogi, who came for water, found the body in the well. Having learned, upon inquiry, the story of Puran's temptation and death, he pronounced a charm (mantra) over the body and Puran was brought back to life, and his hands and feet restored. Puran became a Nath Yogi. This well is still k wn as Puran's well.'
- Several stories of Gopicand are available; among them one —from the Punjab one from Bengal, and another from Sind.4 The second is told under the title 'The Song of Manikcandra,' although Manikcandra's son, Gopicand, is the hero of the song. The stories recite the struggle and the difficulties that lay between Gopicand and his attainment of sainthood, or, in other words, tell of his renunciation of his throne and his choice of the life of a Yogi.
- Hir and Ranjha are the chief characters of a romantic story mous in the Punjab. Ranjha, an indulged son, had to leave home after his father's death. He finally met Hir and hired himself out as a herdsman to her father. A long love intrigue led to scandal. Hir was finally married to another man. Ranjha then became a faqir, joining the band of Gorakhnathi Yogis at Tilla.Ranjha discovered the residence of Hir and took up his abode on the river bank opposite her. He used to visit her taking with him savoury dishes of flesh food. On one occasion, unable to secure game, he prepared a portion of his own flesh. But Hir was suspicious of the food and the expression of her doubts led to his confession. Thereupon she resolved to meet him at his place of abode. She used to cross the river on a float of earthen pots. Her female attendants, discovering, this, substituted, one night, pots of unbaked clay. As Hir reached mid-stream, the pots dissolved and she sank in the river. But Ranjha heard her cry and swam out to her. They disappeared together.
Gorakhnath exercised great powers over nature .Mayana (Gopicand legend) a boon that she would not sink in water. He turned the water of a well into gold and then into crystal. In Mewar they still treasure a sword of the hero, Bappa, which is said to have been presented to him by Gorakhnath, who pronounced over it an incarnation, thereby making it possible for Bappa to sever rocks with it.' When Gorakhnath and his company came into the royal garden at Sialkot (where Puran Bhagat was imprisoned in the well) everything became green, and the lakes were filled with water. And at another time when he came into a dried-up garden, he scattered ashes on it, and it began to bloom. His having caused a twelve years drought in Nepal has become famous. Again, he caused the very walls and all the instruments of a certain place to chant: 'Awake, Macchendra, Gorakhnath has come.
(Once he took the form of a fly in order to avoid guards on the border of a certain king's country; at another time he changed himself into iron, and again into a frog. He transformed certain of his disciples so that half of their bodies became gold and the other half iron." He turned himself into a leper before Vachal. The disciples who were sent by Gorakhnath to Karu to get the thread with which to draw Puran from the well, were turned by magic into bullocks. This was reported to him and he took ashes from his bag, charmed them and tossed them into the air. Thereupon the bullocks came to him and he patted them and changed them back into men. In return, being angry, he dried up all the wells, bringing their water into the one near himself. When the women came, all together, at his request to draw water, he took charmed ashes and, in the name of Matsyendranath, turned the women into asses.
Gorakhnath left his body asleep on his mat, and descended to the under-world of the god of snakes and there obtained the magic incense for Bachal.
There are in the legends interesting accounts of his restoring people to life. In the Bhartrharinirveda of Harihara,Act. II) Bharthari made test of his queen, by sending a false report of his death. She became sati and the king was distracted. He received news that Gorakhnath had power to relieve sorrow. The great Yogi came to visit him, and, seeing the situation, broke his bowl and wept over it, treating it with the same despair and sorrow that the king expressed over the body of the dead queen. Bhartrihari offered the Yogi a better bowl, and Gorakhnath promised to restore the
queen to life. When she stood before him alive, the king refused to embrace her, since, in his despair, he had re‑ nounced the world, and he resolved to remain faithful to his vow. A second version of the story contains other details. It is as follows. The last Chandravati Raja of the Parmars was Hun. One day, while he was out hunting, he saw a Pardhi, while hunting, killed by a cobra. The wife of the
hunter, finding him, placed his body on the funeral pyre, and, after feeding the fire with portions of her flesh, became sati. Impressed with this sight, Hun decided to test his queen, the Rani Prinigla. So he related to her the whole occurrence. She, the daughter of Somachandra, replied that even on news of the death of her consort, she would become sati. Later, Hun, on an expedition sent word of his own death. Although her Asso Pal plant revealed to her that the king was alive, she decided to prove her faithfulness by dying and being burned. Han, anxious about his message, hastened home, arriving in time to see the funeral fire. He wandered around the pyre for days refusing to be comforted. Gorakhnath, happening at the place, asked the king why such mourning and received the reply that it was because of love for Rani Prinigla. Thereupon Gorakhnath dropped his begging bowl and, as it broke, began to weep in imitation of Hun. The king reminded the Yogi that his loss was not irreparable as was the loss of the queen. Then Gorakhnath said that he could restore the Rani to life. He sprinkled water over the ashes of the funeral pyre and twenty-five queens exactly like Pingla appeared. When he sprinkled water over them a second time, only Piringla remained. But, since Han had already decided to become a Yogi, he refused to receive her. More water was sprinkled and the queen, casting a reproachful look at Hun, disappeared. The king then became a Yogi.
It is reported that Gorakhnath destroyed the two sons of Matsyendrandth, in the,presence of a Bania and afterwards restored them to life. In another legend it is said that Gorakhnath killed the two sons of Macchendra, hung their skins on a tree, and then, after his inquiry about them, restored them to life.
Gopichand’s Sister was restored to life by the saint Gorakhnath.
By casting some earth on his body, Gorakhnath restored to life disciple, who in the form of a stag, had been shot by Bhartari.
Mayana and Manikcand's widow, though with child, was forced to- perform sati but was miraculously preserved through the intervention of Gorakhnath.
Moreover, like many other great ascetics he was able to grant children to barren women. Vachal (Guga legend) received a son, Guga by name," and Kachal (Guga legend) two sons by favour of Gorakhnath, and Mayana, widow of Manikcand, as a boon, obtained a son eighteen months after her husband's death, the explanation being that he was given as a seven months' old fetus and his prolonged confinement in his mother's womb was due to his exceeding glory.
Instances may be given to show Gorakhnath as a great healer. In his youth he was forced to resort to magic to restore his own hands and feet which his stepmother had barbarously cut off.' He restored hands and feet to Puran Bhagat after the latter had lived helplessly in the dry well for tweve years. This he did by the sprinkling of water and prayer.3 He also restored Puran's sight, by going to Indra and obtaining help.
Another evidence of Gorakhnath's magic powers was in his insight. He was able to discern at a glance that Puran Bhagat was innocent. Fairies (pari) visited Puran in the well and were sent by him to Gorakhnath with news, and then the Yogi took steps to save 'my Puran.' Still, Gorakhnath's powers of discernment were sometimes limited. In the Dabistan is the record of a contest of power between Gorakhnaht and a sannyasi, Datateri, in which Gorakhnath disappeared in the water in the shape of a frog. But the sannyasi was able to find him and bring him forth. Then Datateri concealed himself in the water and Gorakhnath in spite of all his searching could not discover him, for he had become water and water cannot be distinguished from water.
Again Gorakhnath exercised such power that King Jewar, intending to slay Vachal with his sword, was unable to draw it from its scabbard.
In like manner Gorakhnath exercised such great power on half of his disciples that he proved himself superior to other Yogis. In the Tuhfat-ul-Karam it is recorded how Gopicand (Pir Pathao) of Pir Arr, in Sind, gained possession of the cave in the hill there, which was held by Dayanath. Gopicand brought Gorakhnath from Girnar to help him. Dayanath was a man of superior powers. He had a stable-basket which used of itself to clean the stables and keep alight sufficient fires for the 125,000 faqirs who used to live on this hill. He also had a bullock, which used to fetch water from the river filling his pakhal (water bag) himself. His beggar's bowl used to collect and bring alms from Samahi, by itself, and from it the 125,000 faqirs maintained themselves. He had a rag-rope and a cudgel, and if he wanted anyone bound and beaten, he said to the rope, `Bind that man,' and to the cudgel, `Beat him.' As soon as he would say these words the rope would bind the man and the stick would beat him. But when Gorakhnath came into the neighborhood, all these wonders ceased. Then Dayanath knew that it was because of the greater power of Gorakhnath. Thereupon he (Dayanath)
got angry and threw the hill into the sky, and, setting it on fire by a breath, departed to Dhinodhar hill in Kacch. Pir Pathan went to Guru Gorakhnath and reproached him, saying,
You are sitting here while Dayanath has set the hill on fire and cleared. The guru looked and saw that a fire was indeed burning between heaven and earth. Even while he (Gorakhnath) looked, through the power of his glance the fire was extinguished and the hill dropped and cracked in two. Gorakhnath then perceived that Dayanath was praying at Dhinodhar hill, standing on his head on a betel nut, and knew that after twelve months' prayer in this position he could by breathing thrice blast all Sind. Thereupon he extended his hand (to Kacch), though no one else could observe this action, and, seizing Dayanath by the ear, brought him back to Sind. The guru said to Dayanath,
Don't trouble the people. I promise you this blessing, that you and your successors shall never lack good horses and white clothes. He then made Dayanath his disciple, cutting his-ears and Putting ornaments in them; and placing a black thread-turban on his head, sent him back to Dhinodhar. Then Gorakhnath and Pir Pathan came to this hill with their disciples. As soon as they reached it, it began to tremble, whereupon Gorakhnath commanded: Drive a tent-peg and if that goes into the ground it will show that
we can stay here; otherwise it must be that the hill is not intended for us and we must go away. The peg was driven into the ground (although the place consists of solid rock) and Pir Pathan took possession of the cave in the hill.
Another incident showing Gorakhnath's power is that in which he sent an invisible army to the help of Guga against Prithavi Raj..
In the Punjab legend of Sntinath, Goraknath overcomes Jalandharanath of whom Gopicand was afraid. The story relates -that at this time there was a great gathering of faqirs in Gopicand's city (which was in Bengal) to which came Gorakhnath. To avoid this crowd Jalandharanath retired to the bottom of a well and covered himself with horse dung. All efforts at removing this were unavailing because the dung removed by day replaced itself by night. Finally Menavanti, Gopicand's mother, asked that Jalandharanath be brought forth from the well; but Macchendranath pointed out how dangerous this would be for Gopicand,1 since Jalandharanath would kill him with the mere sound of his voice. However, Macchendrandth said,
Let three images (murti) be made, one of iron, one of silver and one of gold, and I will so arrange that the strength of jalandharanath's wrath will be averted.
The images were made and Gopicand was ordered to approach the well and summon Jalandharanath. At the sound of his voice, Jalandharanath cursed him and bade him die, but only the iron image was destroyed. Again Gopicand called to Jalandharanath and this time the silver image was destroyed. On the third summons the gold image was shattered. When Gopicand called the fourth time Jalandharanath, realizing that there was a greater Yogi than himself present outside, came up out of the well.
It is said that when Bhimsen, one the heroes of the Mahabharata lay benumbed with cold on the snow-covered Himalayas, Gorakhnath revived him and made him king over the country stretching from the sources of the Ganges to Bhutan. A similar tradition has it that, during Yudhisthara's journey through the Himalayas to heaven, his brethren fell behind and perished one by one. Only Bhimsen survived. He was saved by Gorakhnath and made king of Nepal.
Guga received his power over serpents, through discipleship, from Gorakhnath, and he learned the art of charming snakes likewise from his great guru.' Guga restored to life the bullocks that had been bitten by serpents while they were conveying his mother, Bachal (Vacal), to her royal lord's (his father's) court. Guga, in the name of Gorakhnath, in the forest, played on his flute, and the serpents danced about him, although Basuk, their king, became angry. Then Tatig Nag (nag = serpent) in the form of a Brahman, was sent to Assam. The snake asked Gorakhnath's aid and succeeded in securing Raja Sanja's daughter, Chariyal, for Guga. She was bitten by a snake and healed through the power of the name of the Gorakhnath.
In the story of NirmaL Dai, the Naga princess who was married to Parag (Pariksit) and on whose account the war of extermination of serpents was carried on, Nag Tatig finally slew Parag’s. When Parag's posthumous son, Janmegi, attained the age of twelve he began to reign; and, finding out the cause of his father's death, sought the life of Tatig. Tatig in going to kill Parag besought the aid of Macchendranath (Matsyendrandth) and 'remembered Gorakhnath.' In seeking to escape Janmegi, Tatig appealed for help in turn to ascetics, to Siva, to Macchendrandth and to Gorakhnath ,in vain; but he finally escaped by meditation on Krisna.
The Nepalese legend in its various developments is of considerable interest. Here another example of Gorakhnath's power over nature is found, in his causing a twelve-years' drought in Nepal. The story goes' that Gorakhnath once visited Nepal. Because he was not received with sufficient respect, he took the clouds, fastened them in one of his bundles and sat on them, remaining motionless, in meditation, for twelve years. During that time there was no rain in Nepal. Finally, it chanced that Matsyendrandth passed by, and Gorakhnath, unreflecting, arose, out of respect for his guru. The clouds escaped thereupon and the drought was broken.
Another version of the legends attributes the drought to Gorakhnath's power of concentration.' Gorakhnath, an eminent saint, a disciple of Macchendranath, visited Nepal. While there he did not receive reverent enough attention. He, therefore, sat immovable for twelve years on a mound, south of Debi Patan. A long drought ensued. It was felt that the only relief was to get Gorakhnath to move. Consequently the king of Bhatgaon and an acharya (a teacher) made a pilgrimage to Kapotal mountain where Macchendranath resided, and, after much trouble, persuaded him to come to Nepal. When Macchendranath arrived in Nepal, Gorakhnath constrained by reverence for his spiritual superior, abandoned his posture and went to pay his respects. Thereupon rain fell continuously.
In one version of the story of Puran Bhagat Gorakhnath tests Puran's innocence by drawing him from the well by a thread spun by an unmarried virgin, using it in the name of Macchendrandth. His innocence was proved by a further test of boiling oil. However, the king, Puran's father, refused to believe this evidence and accepted the story told by his young queen, Lunan, claiming that Gorakhnath, by magic, had saved Puran. Consequently, Puran was punished with the loss of hands, feet and sight, and was cast into a dry well.
When Mahita accused Sila Dai, his wife, of intrigue with Rasalu, the name of Gorakhnath was called and she was proved innocent by dice. In another ordeal by boiling oil she was likewise proved innocent. But Mahita, insisting that Gorakhnath had worked a charm to save her, straightway became a Yogi, i.e., turned celibate,
Ashes have magic powers and with those from Gorakhnath’s sacred fire in Patal, Visnu created the world by scattering them on the primeval waters.
Gorakhnath himself is described as a parmhams (an ascetic of the highest order, one who has subdued all his senses by abstract meditation), mighty and devout.
The initiation of Yogis attracts a good deal of attention and makes a deep impression. At the ceremony offerings were made.' Ranjha brought five rupees and betel leaves when he asked Gorakhnath for initiation. When Gopicand was made a Yogi a great company was present. Gorakhnath came on a chariot of flowers and the whole affair was on a grand scale. Gopicand made handsome presents. In fact, his mother, Mayans, brought to the ceremonies 1,600 ascetics, and The essential parts of the ceremony were the splitting of the ear, tonsure, the covering the body with ashes and the giving of the mantra. Gorakhn5th pierced Puran Bhagat's ears, put the mudrd (ear-rings) in them, and then whispered the mantra in his ear. (Kanon men phunk lagai, `blew into his ears.")
Having shorn off some of his hair, he pierced his ears with his own hands and put the rings in them, and so Puran became a Yogi.'
Bhartrhari said to Nanak:
The form of the Yog is the ear-ring, the patched quilt, the wallet, the staff and the horn, the sound of which is emitted in the Universe.' Gopicand, the king, was reduced to great straits. He left his kingdom and wandered in the jungle, living on leaves of trees. One day he came to his mother's city. His mother recognized him and called to him. She said, `You are my son ; I am grieved at seeing you iu this condition. You must be very verminous, let me clean you.' While removing the vermin she pulled out a hair. The king exclaimed, 'Are you removing vermin or pulling out my hair?' She said, `Does it hurt you when a hair is pulled, or what?' He said, 'Yes.' Whereupon his mother replied, 'If you feel pain from getting one hair pulled, don't you think the trees from which you have been picking leaves must also have felt pain?' For this reason he gave up picking leaves to eat.
And Gopicand is reported as saying:
When I was lord of my kingdom, 0 my mother, then did I eat rice in many a golden dish. Now I am a beggar with not a single Kaori; I cannot eat from a golden plate.
He took a plantain leaf and cut it. Thereon he placed a little rice. He took the shell of a broken gourd and from it drank a little water. He washed his face and hands with water.
Then what did he do? He uttered the words Sri Krishna and ate food. One mouthful, two mouthfuls, five mouthfuls he ate. Then he looked towards the water which was trickling out of the broken gourd. He put his face to the earth and sipped water.' His lot for many years was a hard one, in long journeys and heavy burdens it the direction of his guru, and years in prison in the house of a harlot. He finally collapsed carrying heavy burdens.
There are many passages describing the difficulties and the utter renunciation that initiation entailed. To Ranjha it was said: The taste of a jogi is bitter and sour. You will have to dress as a Jogi, to wear dirty clothes, long hair, cropped skull, and to beg your way through life. You will have to meditate on your guru and hold your breath in your mid-most throat. You will have to give up the pleasures of birth, to cease to rejoice when friends come or grieve when they die. You will have to abstain from casting eyes on women. You will have to become divinely intoxicated by taking kand, mul, post, opium and other narcotic drugs.' You will have to think the world a mere vision. You will have to go on long pilgrimages to Jagannath, the Godavari, the Ganges, and the Jurnna. Yog is no easy task. You Jats (i.e. luxury-loving princes) cannot attain jog.
Thus the novice was warned against the difficulties of the ascetic life and discouraged from choosing the life of a Yogi. Renunciation was complete.
These warnings are a description of the ascetic life. Gorakhnath said to Puran Bhagat:
Yog you must not think of. The performance of jog is beyond you. You will have to suffer hunger and thirst, to bear trials with patience, and to renounce the world. You will have to leave behind all the pleasures of sense and to enter upon a life most difficult to pursue'
The commonly held belief is that not many who don the Yogi's garb are sincere.