Matsyendranath was a medieval Indian sage and yogi revered by Hindus and Buddhists. He is considered to be one of the first Hatha yogis and Guru of Gorakhnath who was a driving force in establishing Hatha yoga as a cultural element.
Matsyendranath and Gorakhnath are traditionally accepted as founders of Hatha yoga and authors of some of its earliest texts. Matsyendranath is also the namesake of Matsyendrasana (half-lord of the fishes pose), which is one of the few poses described in the ” Hatha Yoga Pradipika. “
Legends about Matsyendranath’s Birth
There are many myths and legends about how Matsyendranath became a realized adept, all illustrating the transformative possibilities of yoga.
Some myths say that as a baby, Matsyendranath was thrown into the ocean water because he was born under inauspicious stars. He was then swallowed by a large fish where he lived for 12 years. He started practicing sadhana yoga inside the belly of the fish. He learned yoga when Lord Shiva imparts the secrets of yoga to Devi Parvati at the ocean bottom. After 12 years, he finally emerged from the fish belly as an enlightened Siddha. This story is the origin of his name, Matsyendranath – Lord of the Fishes.
Another legend states that Matsyendranath was born as a fish and Shiva transformed the fish into a Siddha.
Matsyendranatha was an incarnation of Shiva. He resembled Mount Meru in its disregard for worldly things. He was an ocean of intelligence descending like an avatar to save the world.
Journey of Matsyendranath
Matsyendranath was supremely wise in all divine knowledge. He was the wishing tree, giver of the highest form of final liberation, the inner Witness of all life, or the second Vishnu himself, the abode of all virtues in the form of intelligence, a full moon.
Although he incarnated in a body, he was not identified with it. He was an image of the Supreme Brahman, the essence of the highest form of happiness manifested in this world. When he came out of his mother’s womb, he did not forget that he was the Supreme Brahman.
He was not affected by the violent winds of ignorance. He came out of the water suddenly with a radiant human body. He thought, “I want to see all the holy places.” From then on, Matsyendra wandered as he wished. He went from city to city, eating what they gave him. Also, he used to go to the forest and sit alone. Thus passed twelve years of his life, indifferent to worldly things.
Matsyendranath and Gorakhnath
He begged from house to house, but he stayed before them only for a moment. One day, it happened that he stood in front of a merchant’s house. He shouted Alakh! (another name of Lord Shiva that means “Invisible”) at the door of the house.
Hearing this sweet voice, the merchant’s wife was surprised. As he left the house with her offering, she saw a divine form before her. He wore earrings in His ears shining like stars. The beautiful radiance of His form resembled gold. His entire body was covered with holy white ashes. He wore a shiny belt around his waist. His long eyes were beautiful.
She worshipped the form and asked for the blessing of a child. So Matsyendranath took some of His ashes and repeated a mantra over them, he gave them to her hand.
The merchant’s wife took the ashes and kept them on the altar. She consulted her friends on whether to believe the sage or not. After much consultation, she threw the ashes in a hole where farmers stored manure.
Twelve years passed after this fact. One day Matsyendra, the Yogi in His walk, appeared at the woman’s house. There, at the door, He shouted Alakh. As soon as the woman of the house heard His sweet voice, she immediately came out carrying her offering.
When she looked at him, she remembered what had happened a long time ago. Matsyendranath asked the woman to let him meet the son she gave birth to after eating the ashes he had given her.
The woman plainly explained that she threw the ashes as doubt arose in her mind. Matsyendranath asked the woman to take him to the place where she dumped the ashes.
Matsyendranath went to the dung heap, and when he shouted Alakh, a wonderful thing happened. O Guru Adesh, such a sound came from the ground. When everyone heard this, their minds were filled with wonder. So Matsyendranath told the woman to remove the earth. Suddenly, they saw the form of a glorious-looking twelve-year-old boy.
Like a full moon, so was this beautiful and resplendent form, a boy with thirty-two points of excellence who was the avatar of Vishnu. His face was beautiful, he had slanted eyes, and his ears were adorned with earrings. Then, without any support, he sat constantly repeating the name of God. The earth had not soiled his body. People were shocked to see this. Matsyendranath then quickly approached him and called him to wake consciousness. When Matsyendra placed his sure hands on the boy’s head, the boy prostrated himself before Him.
Because the boy had lived in the dung and ashes that had been mixed in for twelve years, the name he gave him was Gorakhanath. He took Gorakhanath by the hand and began a pilgrimage to holy places.
Matsyendranath and Nepal
According to the legend, one-day Gorakhnath came to Patan in Nepal and started begging for the alms, But the local residents didn’t give him any alms, so disappointed he captured all the rain showering serpents of Patan.
Consequently, Patan suffered from severe drought for a long time, so the king of Patan invited Matsyendranath. Upon hearing the visit of his Master in Patan, Matsyendranath released all the captured serpents. Thus, Patan again showered with rain, and the drought was removed. After that day, residents of Patan worshipped Matsyendranath as the god of rain, and today they celebrate every year Matsyendranath Jatra.
Work of Matsyendranath
Matsyendranath is acknowledged for composing some of the earliest texts on Hatha yoga in the Sanskrit language in the 11th century, such as the “Matsyendrasamhita” (a collection of mantras and hymns) and the “Kaulajnananirnaya” (discussion of knowledge relating to the Kaula tradition).