The Natha cult represents the fusion of Buddhist Avalokiteswara and Shaivaite tantric (Kapalika, Kaula) cults. Macchendra Nath and his disciple Gorakh Nath were the prominent exponents of the Natha cult. The Natha cult eventually spread to different parts of India and Srilanka during eighth to tenth centuries. Subsequently, twelve subdivisions (bara-pantha) evolved in the cult. The Natha Jogis used to travel for long distances on foot. Influence of Nath cult can be seen in major Shaiva centres like Srishaila. The Natha is short for ‘Lokeswara Natha’, according to in the Buddhist literatures of Srilanka.
Macchendra Natha was able to acquire the goodwill of the ruling kings who awarded him the administration of lands around Kadri temple and the title of ‘Kadri Arasaru’.
Natha tantric philosophy
The practice of Yoga and Tantra was common to the Vajrayana Buddhism and (the Kapalika, Kaula and other) Shaiva cults. Natha cult was the result of the fusion of the two streams of rival cults, based on the common factor of Tantric yoga. Occult sexual practices and experiments were integral part of the Vajrayana and Kapalika Tantra philosophies.
The Natha cult advocated the physical and mental development of the individual (Yogi or Jogi). It consisted of a set of yogic techniques called Tantra for developing mental abilities through sustained control of physical activities and respiration (pranayama). The techniques were intended to activate the dormant power of Kundalini, hidden in the bottom of the spinal column of the individual; and redirecting that power upwards to the brain to attain a ‘samaadhi’ state of bliss. Experiments in retention and redirection of semen upward were conducted in achieving these goals. Exponents like Gorakh Nath apparently emphasized on the virtues of celibacy. Concentration of the mind on light leads to a state of’ ‘mindlessness’ (‘amanaskate’) or zero mental activity that is described as ‘brahmanubhava’. Attainment of this state is considered as elevation of the person to the state of God. The cult believes that God lies within the person, or that divine state can be reached by the individual. Philosophically, there is no concept of separate external God like in Advaita or Dwaita philosophies. Natha Jogis utter ‘aadesh’ while they greet each other, showing mutual respect.
Natha and other contemporary philosophies (like Vajrayana, Kapalika and Kaula) possibly influenced the growth of later philosophies like Varakari, Veerashaiva, Mahanubhava, Soofi, Kabir, Datta and Nanak cults.
Macchendra (Matsyendra) Natha hailed from a fisher community of probably Bengal area. (However, the sculptures show him riding on fish and the legends metaphorically describe his birth from the semen of Shiva swallowed by a fish). The ‘maccha’ is a Pali word for ‘matsya’ or the fish. The Alupe kings of Mangalore probably adapted the emblem of fishes after Macchendra Nath. Macchendra Nath is the fertility God in Nepal and a national festival is celebrated in his honour.
Macchendra also had another disciple named Chourangi Nath.
The Nath cult is alternately known as ‘Gorakh panthi’ or ‘Gorakh cult’. Gorakha (Goraksha) Natha, probably was native of Nepal. He was a discarded child and was collected from a gobar pit by Macchendra, according to the legends. Gorakh was renowned proponent of Natha cult all over India.
Nepal, also known as Gorakh-Desh or ‘the land of Gorakhs’ (>.Gorkhas, the tribe), adopted the Natha cult as official religion. Several towns in Northern India and Nepal have been named ‘Gorakhpur’ after him. Coins of Nepal carry emblem of Shiva Gorakh Nath.
Pingala, a queen of all-women’s domain (Stri-rajya), desired to have male offspring and prayed to Lord Anjaneya. At this juncture, Macchendra travels to her place and meets her. They develop mutual attraction and in the due course they beget two male children. Macchendra forgets himself in her company settles there for several years. In the meanwhile Gorakha, Macchendra’s prime disciple, goes in search of his Guru and finds that he is lodged in a female-domain, where men were not permitted. So he dresses himself like a woman and beats a ‘maddale’ (a kind of drum), in a tune that sounds “Chal Macchendra, Gorak Aya”. Macchendra awakens from the marital pleasures and returns with Gorakha to pursue yogic practices.
On another occasion Pingala travels with Gorakh towards Triambakeswar, but expires on the way at Mangalore. The burial related 'concluding' obituary ceremony (‘mangala-acharane’) was conducted at Mangalore in the due Yogic tradition of Natha cult. Later, she was honoured as an incarnation of Tara Bhagavathi and the shrine erected in her memory became the Mangaladevi temple in the course of time.
From the point of reconstruction of history, the question that remains is whether the town was named Mangalore after her or the place name existed even before.
Rahamath Tarikere (2006) “Karnatakada Nathapantha”(in Kannada). Prasaranga, Kannada University, Vidyaranya, Hampi.p.xii+348+xii
John Holt (1991) Buddha in the crown: Avalokitesvara in the Buddhist traditions of Srilanka. Oxford University Press. 304 p.
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