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Masters of magical powers : the Nāth Siddhas in the light of esoteric notions Djurdjevic, Gordan

Abstract

The Nāth Siddhas are North Indian yogis with tantric associations who claim guru Gorakhnath, their founding adept, to be an incarnation of the god Śiva. They strive to obtain the eternal body through a regime of yogic practices, which are aimed at transmutation of sexual fluids into elixir. The masters of this yoga are the siddhas, the possessors of the siddhis, which are occult powers that culminate in immortality and deification. The Sayings of Gorakh (Gorakh Bānī) is a collection of medieval Hindi poetry attributed to their founder. Scholars have noticed the importance of the occult in the lifestyle of the Naths. The category of the occult is, however, rarely given appropriate theoretical considerations. The academic discipline for the study of Western esotericism, conversely, directly engages the study of the occult but in a culturally and geographically limited setting. I demonstrate that there are heuristic advantages in applying the conceptual vocabulary and theoretical conclusions of esoteric studies to the investigation of tantra and the yoga of the Nāth Siddhas. To do so, I employ the model of esotericism developed by Antoine Faivre. I make evident that all its major elements are applicable to the theory and practice of the Nāths. The contextual focus of my exposition is The Sayings of Gorakh, partially translated by Shukdev Singh and myself. I apply the model of esotericism to the Nāths by making a threefold thematic division of the subject matter. I investigate their understanding of body and sexuality, speech and rhetoric, and mind and ideology. I propose that yoga is comparable to magic understood as a quest for power (where power is taken to be the sacred), based on the cultivation of imagination (which I compare to yogic meditation) and the principle of eros (the drive towards union). Other esoteric notions such as correspondences (between micro- and macrocosm), living nature (understood as śakti) and transmutation (what the yogis call the reversal, ul ţa sādhana) are shown to be equally essential in the yoga of the Nāths. I conclude suggesting that esotericism should be seen as a cross-cultural phenomenon.

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