Chanting the Katha Upanishad

After many years of study and hard work, TSYP founder Gill Lloyd has published a unique version of the Katha Upanishad (Kaṭhopaniṣat) – a transliteration of the Devanāgarī Sanskrit text with chant notations. We asked Gill to tell us about her work on the text in which the first definition of yoga appears.

Why the Katha Upanishad?

I first read this text back in the 1970s, and whilst studying for my BWY TT diploma in 1976 we had a lecture by Ianthe Hoskins, a leading member of the Theosophical Society, on the Katha Upanishad that I found truly inspirational. This led me to read more, and I found that this particular Upanishad was the only one that was a complete story which also had so much to teach those interested in yoga. It is an inspiring text and beautiful to chant….very gentle and flowing.

Although the word yoga appears in the Taittirīya Upanishad, which has been transliterated and is popular among Vedic chanters, the first definition of yoga is actually presented in the Katha Upanishad, which dates from about 600 BCE.

What is the definition of yoga given there?

In The Principal Upaniṣads by W. Radhakrishnan, the definition is given in Chapter 2, section 3, v 10 and 11:

yadā pañcavatiṣṭhante jñānāni manasā saha | buddhiśca na viceṣṭate tāmāhuḥ paramāṁ gatim

When the five (senses) knowledges together with the mind cease (from their normal activities) and the intellect itself does not stir, that, they say, is the highest state.

tāṁ yogamiti manyante sthirāmindriyadhāranam | apramattastadā bhavati yogo hi prabhavāpyayau

This, they consider to be Yoga, the steady control of the senses. Then one becomes undistracted for Yoga comes and goes.

This first definition of yoga is so very close to that of Patañjali in the Yoga Sūtra, endorsing the thought that the state of our minds is the key issue in yoga rather than what āsana we can achieve. It also reminds us to be constantly vigilant as we can wander from the path of yoga very easily.

L to R: Helen Macpherson, Radha Sundararajan and Gill Lloyd

How did you go about transliterating the Sanskrit text?

The transliteration from Sanskrit into Romanised script is found in most academic texts and I used that done by S. Radhakrishnan, which uses diacritical marks for correct pronunciation. The pitch marks for chanting were taken from the Mantra Puṣpam which is the chant book the KYM have used as the guide for chanting. It is all in Devanāgarī script. Wendy Jupp did all the technical work and I checked (many times) the final versions with Radha through our regular chant sessions together. The book is very much a collaboration between Radha, Wendy, Helen Macpherson and myself to prepare it for printing and publication.

Why might we want to chant the Upanishads?

When we practise Vedic Chanting we are chanting from the Upanishads or earlier texts, following the Vedic rules, where the origins of Yoga are found. Krishnamacharya used these same rules for chanting later texts, such as the Yoga Sūtra.

Chant the Katha Upanishad with Gill and Helen Macpherson

We are thrilled that Gill, together with Helen Macpherson, will be holding an introduction to chanting the Katha Upanishad in October. A free copy of Gill’s book is including in the price of the workshop. Those attending online will receive their copy by post once they have enrolled. Those attending the day in person will receive their copy on arrival.

For more details and to reserve your place, click here

If you are not able to attend the event but would like to buy a copy (cost £7 plus P&P), click here to email Gill directly. 

Sara Butler, Gill Lloyd

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