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The Sanskrit word nātha नाथ literally means "lord, protector, refuge". The related Sanskrit term Adi Natha means first or original Lord, and is therefore a synonym for Shiva, the founder of the Nāthas. Initiation into the Nātha sampradaya includes receiving a name ending in -nath.
Its founding is traditionally ascribed as an ideal reflected by the life and spiritual attainments of the guru Dattatreya, the avatar of Brahma, Vishnu & Shiva all in one and born as the son of Rishi Atri and Anusuya Mata.
The nine teachers, collectively known as Navnaths, are considered representative of great teachers in this tradition or parampara:
- Gorakshanath or Gorakhnath
- Jalandharnath or Jalandernath also known as Jan Peer
- Gahininath also known as Gaibi Peer
- Bhartrinath or Bhartarinath or Raja Bhartari
- Charpatinath or Parchanath
- Naganath or Nageshnath
The establishment of the Naths as a distinct historical sect purportedly began around the 8th or 9th century with a simple fisherman, Matsyendranath (sometimes called Minanath, who may be identified with or called the father of Matsyendranath in some sources).
One story of the origin of the Nath teachings is that Matsyendranath was swallowed by a fish and while inside the fish overheard the teachings given by Shiva to his wife Parvati. According to legend, the reason behind Shiva imparting a teaching at the bottom of the ocean was in order to avoid being overheard by others. In the form of a fish, Matsyendranath exerted his hearing in the manner required to overhear and absorb the teachings of Shiva. After being rescued from the fish by another fisherman, Matsyendranath took initiation as a sannyasin from Siddha Carpati. It was Matsyendranath who became known as the founder of the specific stream of yogis known as the Nath Sampradaya.
Caurangi and Gorakshanath
Matysendranath's two most important disciples were Caurangi and Gorakshanath. The latter came to eclipse his Master in importance in many of the branches and sub-sects of the Nath Sampradaya. Even today, Gorakshanath is considered by many to have been the most influential of the ancient Naths. He is also reputed to have written the first books dealing with Laya yoga and the raising of the kundalini-shakti.
There are several sites, ashrams and temples in India dedicated to Gorakshanatha. Many of them have been built at sites where he lived and engaged in meditation and other sadhana. According to tradition, his samadhi shrine (tomb) and gaddi (seat) reside at the Gorakhnath Temple in the city of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. However, according to the claims of Bhagawan Nityananda the samadhi shrines (tombs) of both Matsyendranath and Gorakshanath reside at Nath Mandir near the Vajreshwari temple about a kilometer from Ganeshpuri, Maharashtra, India.
The aims of the Nathas
According to Muller-Ortega (1989: p. 37), the primary aim of the ancient Nath Siddhas was to achieve liberation or jivan-mukti during their current lifespan. According to a recent Nath Guru, Mahendranath, another aim was to avoid reincarnation. In The Magick Path of Tantra, he wrote about several of the aims of the Naths;
- "Our aims in life are to enjoy peace, freedom, and happiness in this life, but also to avoid rebirth onto this Earth plane. All this depends not on divine benevolence, but on the way we ourselves think and act."
The Natha Sampradaya is an initiatory Guru-shishya tradition. Membership in the sampradaya is always conferred by initiation (diksha) by a diksha-guru—either the lineage-holder or another member of the sampradaya whose ability to initiate has been recognized by his diksha-guru.
The Natha initiation itself is conducted inside a formal ceremony in which some portion of the awareness and spiritual energy (shakti) of the Guru is transmitted to the shishya (student). The neophyte, now a Nath, is also given a new name with which to support their new identity. This transmission or "touch" of the guru is symbolically fixed by the application of ash to several parts of the body.
In The Phantastikos, Mahendranath, a guru of the Adinath Sampradaya, wrote;
- "The passage of wisdom and knowledge through the generations required the mystic magic phenomenon of initiation, which is valid to this day in the initiation transmission from naked guru to naked novice by touch, mark, and mantra. In this simple rite, the initiator passes something of himself to the one initiated. This initiation is the start of the transformation of the new Natha. It must not be overlooked that this initiation has been passed on in one unbroken line for thousands of years. Once you receive the Nath initiation, it is yours throughout life. No one can take it from you, and you yourself can never renounce it. This is the most permanent thing in an impermanent life."
According to Nayak the literature from Sonepur and its twilight language, sandhya bhasa, originated with Charyapada, Matsyendranath, Daripada :
The growth of literature at Sonepur can be traced to Charyapada, to Matsyendranath and Daripada of the Natha cult. They wrote esoteric poetry in language known as Sandhya bhasa. The local idioms they used are still in currency in this area."
According to Nayak:
The mystic poetry of the Natha cult which flourished from 8th to 11th century largely influenced the Panchasakha literature of Jagannath, Balarama, Yasowanta, Achuyta and Ananta. The Nath literature of Sonepur seems to have set the tone and temper of the literature the successive ages pursued."
The Nath Sampradaya is traditionally divided into twelve streams or Panths. According to David Gordon White, these panths were not really a subdivision of a monolithic order, but rather an amalgamation of separate groups descended from either Matsyendranath, Gorakshanath or one of their students. However, there have always been many more Natha sects than will conveniently fit into the twelve formal panths. Thus less populous sannyasin sub-sects such as the Adinath Sampradaya or Nandinatha Sampradaya are typically either ignored or amalgamated into one or another of the formal panths.
According to the Shri Amrit Nath Ashram website, the twelve Natha Panthi are as follows:
- Vishu Nath
- Baj Nath
- Ram Nath
- Shanti Nath
- Naveen Nath
- Satya natha
- Dharam natha
- Daria natha
- Ayi Panthia
- Vairaga kea
- Rama ke
- Ganga nathi
- Rawal ke
- Paava panth
- Paagala panthi
Modern Natha lineages
Inchegiri – Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
|Rishi Dattatreya, mythological deity-founder.|
|Navnath, the nine founders of the Nath Sampradaya,|
|Gahininath, the 5th Navnath||Revananath, the 7th or 8th Navnath, also known as Kada Siddha|| Siddhagiri Math c.q. Kaneri Math (est. 7th or 14th century;|
Lingayat Parampara c.q. Kaadasiddheshwar Parampara
|Nivruttinath, Dnyaneshwar's brother|
| Dnyaneshwar (1275–1296)|
also known as Sant Jñāneshwar or Jñanadeva
and as Kadasiddha or Kad-Siddheshwar Maharaj
|1|| Nimbargi Maharaj (1789-1875)
also known as Guru Lingam-Jangam Maharaj
|23rd Shri Samarth Muppin Kaadsiddheswar Maharaj|
|2||Shri Bhausaheb Maharaj Umdikar (1843 Umdi - 1914 Inchgiri)||24th Shri Samarth Muppin Kaadsiddheswar Maharaj|
|3|| H.H. Shri Amburao Maharaj of Jigjivani
||Shivalingavva Akka (1867-1930)||Girimalleshwar Maharaj||Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj (1875-1936)||25th Shri Samarth Muppin Kaadsiddheswar Maharaj|
|4||H.H. Shri Gurudev Ranade of Nimbal (1886-1957)||Balkrishna Maharaj||Shri Aujekar Laxman Maharaj|| Madhavananda Prabhuji
(d. 25th May, 1980)
|Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897–1981)|| 26th Shri Muppin Kaadsiddheshwar Maharaj (1905-2001)|
|5||H.H Shri Gurudev Chandra Bhanu Pathak||Bhausaheb Maharaj (Nandeshwar)||Shri Nagnath Alli Maharaj||
||27th head: H.H. Adrushya Kadsiddheshwar Swamiji||H. H. Jagadguru Ramanandacharya Shree Swami Narendracharyaji Maharaj|
The Inchegeri Sampradaya, also known as Nimbargi Sampradaya, is a lineage of Hindu Navnath c.q. Lingayat teachers from Maharashtra which was started by Shri Bhausaheb Maharaj. It is inspired by Deshastha Brahmin Sant Mat teachers as Dnyaneshwar, Eknath and Samarth Ramdas. The Inchegeri Sampraday has become well-known throughout the western world due to the popularity of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj.
- Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897–1981) - past master of the Navnath Sampradaya, student of Siddharameshwar Maharaj
- Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami - a past Guru of the Nandinatha Sampradaya
- Shri Madhavnath Maharaj (1857–1936)
- Adityanath – the abbot of the Gorakhnath Math
- Bodhinatha Veylanswami – Sannyasin and Satguru of the Nandinatha Sampradaya
- Narayan Nath – a householder Nath who is the current head of the Vairag panth
- Mallinson, James (2011) 'Nāth Saṃpradāya.' In: Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism Vol. 3. Brill, pp. 407-428.
- Deshpande, M.N. (1986). The Caves of Panhale-Kaji. New Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, Government of India.
- Mahendranath (1990), Notes on Pagan India
- "Navnath Sampradaya". Nisargadatta Maharaj. Archived from the original on 2015-02-23. Retrieved 2 December 2015.
- Berntsen 1988.
- Boucher n.d.
- White, David Gordon (1996). The Alchemical Body. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Shenoy, Gopalkrishna. Discipleship
- Muller-Ortega, Paul Eduardo (1989). The Triadic Heart of Shiva. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Source: (accessed: Saturday March 6, 2010)
- Mahendranath (1990), The Magick Path of Tantra
- Mahendranath (1990), The Phantastikos
- Nayak, Pabitra Mohan Nayak (2006). The Literary Heritage of Sonepur. Orissa Review. May, 2006. Source: (accessed: Friday March 5, 2010)
- Bandyopadhyay, P. K. (1992). Natha Cult and Mahanad. page 73, Delhi, India: B.R. Publishing Corporation.
- ShantiKuteer Ashram, Bhausaheb Maharaj
- Adityanath (2002). Nath FAQ. Retrieved Oct. 20, 2004.
- Berntsen, Maxine; Zelliot, Eleanor (1988). The Experience of Hinduism: Essays on Religion in Maharashtra. Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press. p. 338. ISBN 0-88706-662-3.
- Boucher, Cathy (n.d.), The Lineage of Nine Gurus. The Navnath Sampradaya and Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, archived from the original on January 27, 2016
- Davisson, Sven (2003). Shri Kapilnath Interview in Ashé: Journal of Experimental Spirituality, Vol. 2, No. 4, Winter 2003.
- Gold, Daniel and Ann Grodzins Gold (1984). The Fate of the Householder Nath in History of Religions, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Nov., 1984), pp. 113-132.
- Mahendranath, Shri Gurudev (1990). The Scrolls of Mahendranath. International Nath Order. Retrieved Mar. 6, 2006.
- Mahendranath, Shri Gurudev. The Tantrik Initiation in The Occult World of a Tantrik Guru. International Nath Order. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2006.
- About Nath/Jogis: Jogi. Retrieved Feb. 06, 2010.
- Three Lineages. The Navnath Sampradaya and Shree Nisargadatta Maharaj
- Gurudev R.D Ranade
- Disciples of Nisargadatta Maharaj