Let us bow before the noblest of sages, Patanjali, who gave yoga for serenity and sanctity of mind, grammar for clarity and purity of speech, and medicine for perfection of health.
Let us prostrate before Patanjali, an incarnation of Adisesa, whose upper body has a human form, whose arms hold a conch and a disc, and who is crowned by a thousand-headed cobra.
– Translation from Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by B.KS. Iyengar
Every class begins with the traditional invocation to Sage Patanjali. I find that the cues to adjust the body to prepare for chanting often indicate the locus of the teaching for that day. Sometimes the arms, sometimes the back or the shoulders but always the chest, without fail. The heart and soul of our practice.
There is a transcript of Geetaji’s explanation on the invocation and the reason behind the tradition. She beautifully explains the symbolism behind the individual aspects. Most of the mantras, shlokas, chants etc. are rich in imagery and paint multi sensory forms of the divine. Usually sung as praises, it is bhakti bubbling over in inspired poetry. The form or appearance of the deity becomes a beacon in one’s sadhana. Recitation with shraddha makes the divine form one’s ishta devata.
Adisesa, in his avatar as Sage Patanjali bears the conch and discus. Both these objects are associated with Lord Krishna and commonly used in the texts. The conch as a clarion call to wake up from the delusion of the limited self is nothing but the Lord’s grace. The discus is the sharp edge of sadhana that cuts and refines. It is the instrument used to call his devoted bhaktas who have forgotten their true selves. Perhaps, these powerful symbols gain potency as their syllables roll off one’s tongue. In the translation above, “yoga for serenity and sanctity of mind, grammar for clarity and purity of speech” suggests the universally accepted truth of thoughts becoming words which express themselves in action.
The invocation brings the image of the beautiful sculptures of Sage Patanjali before me as I recite it. It inspires a burning desire to learn and offer everything back to my teachers. It gets me out of my way. There is much to reflect in the short prayer besides how lovely it sounds. The syllables roll off the tongue with an easy familiarity and yet seem fresh and new each time they are articulated. An offering of all that I am, flawed though it be, in unconditional surrender.