Why Shiva is Called Adiyogi

The term Yoga in Sanskrit is a highly comprehensive one. Very commonly associated with the eight-step path (Ashtanga Yoga) championed by the Sage Patanjali, Yoga refers to the process of training, taming and sublimating the body, mind, and spirit. Here we discuss the logic behind the name of Lord Shiva as Adiyogi or the first Yogi. The term Yoga means ‘to unite’. Several systems of Indian philosophy and different spiritual masters have used this term in different senses. However, the most common meaning is ‘to sublimate’. So, Yoga refers to any process through which a spiritual aspirant sublimates his body, mind, and spirit to achieve the perfect state of existence. This would mean moving from the temporary to the permanent, ephemeral to the eternal and matter to energy.

In Bhagavad Gita, the spiritual discipline is classified into three paths depending upon the preference and capability of an individual namely Karma Yoga (the path of action), Bhakti Yoga (the path of devotion) and Jnana Yoga (the path of wisdom). Across the different perspectives, systems, and scriptures dealing with Yoga, the common underline is Spiritual Sadhana.

Very interestingly, Lord Shiva is the epitome of Yoga – therefore, the term Adiyogi perfectly applies to Him. Journeying through the process of Yoga, a spiritual aspirant develops the two important qualities namely Viraga (determination) and Vairagya (detachment). He is no more enamored by the attractions of the worldly pleasures and fleeting joys. He is engrossed into his inner self-travelling towards eternal bliss or Ananda.

The form of Shiva as described in the scriptures, texts, art, and iconography depicts him as the perfect Yogi. While other gods are shown with gorgeous crowns, Shiva wears a matted hair. The sublime Ganges flows from his matted hair. His body is smeared with ash and poisonous snakes are his ornaments. He wears animal skin and garlands of skulls. Shiva’s most favorite abode is cremation grounds where there is perfect equality, meaning all lives end up their earthly sojourn there ascending to the higher planes is existence. The holy ash represents the end of desires and endlessness – immortality.

The most famous pose of Lord Shiva is meditative. He is eternally engrossed into the state of Samadhi or Nischala (without any movements or aberrations). Some of the names of Lord Shiva call him as Digambara (one with the space as his dress), Nirguna (one without any attributes) and Nirmala (one without blemishes). Shiva is far beyond the transient existence. He is complete and one without a second. He does not have any desires. Mythology narrates an episode when he burnt Manmata (god of desires) when he tried to taint his mind. Therefore, Shiva is the personification of Yoga or absorption or the state of perfection. So, in every sense of the word, the term Adiyogi is the most fitting name to describe Lord Shiva.

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