Nath Yogis
   The Nath Yogis emerged in the 12th and 13th centuries C.E. as a confederation of devotees of Shaivite (see SHAIVISM) and SIDDHA practices. The sect honors a legendary group of nine exemplars, called the nine Naths, or “lords,” who give the sect its name. The nine exemplars are listed with a wide variety of names, but they usually include Matsyendranath and GORAKHNATH (with somewhat varying forms). These quasi-histori-cal Naths are considered the original sources for the various Nath lineages. The forerunners of the Nath Yogis were probably the various radical Shaivite groups that arose in the early centuries of the Common Era.
   The Nath Yogis were outsiders and very unconventional. They often adopted outrageous practices such as eating offal and public curs-ing, in order to emphasize their lack of fealty to any convention. They were extreme ascetics, practicing under the umbrella of TANTRISM, which sought above all to emphasize the dark and nega-tive aspects of existence as the source of spiritual power and transformation. However, the Naths abstained from the sexual practices generally asso-ciated with tantrism, as they generally avoided women entirely.
   Alchemy was an important element of Nath Yogi practice. Usually, this included not only changing base metals into gold via mercury, but also changing the body by the use of oxides of mercury to create an immortal body. This esoteric practice is combined with HATHA YOGA and the effort to raise the KUNDALINI at the base of the spine to effect complete spiritual transformation.
   Further reading: Akshaya Kumar Banerjea, Philoso-phy of Gorakhnath with Goraksha Vacana Samgraha (Delhi: Motilal Benarsidass, 1988); George W. Briggs, Gorakhnath and the Kanphata Yogis (New Delhi: Moti-lal Banarsidass, 1982); David Gordon White, The Alchemical Body (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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