The followers of Gorakhnath are known as Yogi, as Gorakhnathi, and as Darsani, but most distinctively as Kanphata. The first of these names refers to their traditional practice of the Hatha Yoga, the second to the name of their reputed founder, the third to the huge ear-rings which are one of their distinctive marks, and the fourth to their unique practice of having the cartilege of their ears split for the insertion of the ear-rings. In the Punjab, in the Himalayas, in Bombay, and elsewhere they are often called Natha, which is a general term meaning ‘master.’ Women of the sect are similarly called Nathni. In Western India they are generally known as Dharamnathi (or Dhoramnathi), after a famous disciple of Gorakhnath, by that name. In other parts of India the names Kanphata and Gorakhnath! are commonly used.

How the Name Kanphata Yogi Came About

It is said that the practice of splitting the ears originated with Gorakhnath, and that the designation Kanphata (literally, ‘Split-eared’) was a term of disrespect applied to these Yogis by Muslims. The word Yogi is a general descriptive term, applied to many who do not belong to the Kanphatas. It ‘has many shades of meaning, from that of saint to that of sorcerer or charlatan.’ It is also a general term for ascetics, particularly for those who are endeavouring, by restraint and discipline of the body, to secure union with the Brahman. From the generalized point of view, the Gorakhnathis constitute the principal group and the better class of Yogis, although some of the less desirable characters of ascetics bearing the name Yogi, may be found amongst them. They form a distinct order of Yogis.

“Kanphata Yogis are found everywhere in India, being as widely scattered as any of the ascetic orders. They are met with separately as mendicants and as hermits, and in groups, in the Northern Deccan, in the Central Provinces, in Gujarat, in Maharashtra, in the Punjab, in the provinces of the Ganga basin and in Nepal.

Historical Writing About Kanphata Yogis

In the Punjab the term Yogi, is used to cover a wider group, ‘ that miscellaneous assortment of low caste fakirs and fortune-tellers, both Hindu and Muslim, but chiefly Muslim, who are commonly known as Yogis. Every rascally beggar who pretends to be able to tell fortunes, or to practice astrological and necromantic arts, in however small a degree, buys himself a drum and calls himself, and is called by others, a Yogi. Those men include all the Muslims, and probably a part of the Hindus of the eastern districts, who style themselves Yogis. They are a thoroughly vagabond set, and wander about the country- beating a drum and begging, practising surgery and physic in a small way, writing charms, telling fortunes, and practising exorcism and divination; or, sitting in the villages, eke out their earnings from these occupations by the offerings made at the local shrines of the malevolent godlings of the Sayads and other Muslim saints; for the Yogi is so impure that he will eat the offerings made at any shrine. These people, or at least the Muslim section of them, are called Rawal in the centre of the Punjab. Rawal corresponds to Nath. In Kathiawar they are said to exorcise evil spirits and to worship Korial, In Sialkot they pretend to avert storms from the ripening. The drawn sword into the field or a knife into him and accepting suitable offerings.

How a Kanphata Yogi Lives

Before going into this, here is a brief look at what is yoga in the first place. It is not proper for Yogis to live alone; and they are not supposed to wander, but to abide in monasteries, or at temples, and to meditate. The books prescribe as follows, for Yogis: The practice of the Hatha Yoga should be carried out in a private cell, four cubits square, free from stones, fire and water, [situated] in a well-governed country, free from violence, where the law (dharma) is followed and where alms are abundant. [The cell] should be neither too high nor too low, free from cracks, hollows and holes, [and should have] a small door. [It] should be well plastered with cow-dung, clean and free from all kinds of vermin. On the outside [surrounding it] it should be graced with a beautiful enclosure [garden] with sheds, a platform and a well. These are the marks, as described by adepts in the practice of Hatha [Yoga], of a cell where the Yoga is to be practised. Having seated [himself] in such a cell, with his thoughts abandoned, [the Yogi] should practise Yoga in the manner indicated by his guru.’

Where Kanphata Yogis Travel

Yogis go on pilgrimages, visiting shrines and holy places all over India. In the rainy season of 1924, there were very few Yogis at Gorakhpur, most of them being away visiting various sacred places. However, they make their monasteries their headquarters. Some do live alone, in the jungles, practising Yoga; but hermits of this kind are exceedingly difficult to find. The author was able to get track of but two adepts, Baba Hira Nathji at Kali Mohini in Alwar, between Bhatinda and Bandikui, and Bawa Tejnal, at Patanjali Ashrama in Hardwar; and was unable to find either. Some of these are considered to be real adepts.