Growing up, one of the childhood rituals in North India was memorizing the Hanuman Chalisa– a prayer in praise of Lord Hanuman written by Goswami Tuslidas. In terms of popularity, the Hanuman Chalisa arguably outnumbers every other Sanatan Hindu text in the Northern part of India. The 31st verse of Hanuman Chalisa describes Hanuman as the bestower of Ashta Siddhis (Eight Siddhis) and Nav Nidhis (Nine wealth).
“अष्ट सिद्धि नौ निधि के दाता अस बर दीन जानकी माता”
“You are the bestower of the eight supernatural powers and the nine divine treasures. Mother Sita has given you such a boon”
The eight principal supernatural powers are:-
the power to make one’s body or any object
(1) as small as desired (Anima),
(2) as large as desired (Mahima),
(3) as light in weight as desired (Laghima), and
(4) as heavy as desired (Garima); the power
(5) to obtain anything desired (Prapti),
(6) to bring anything under his control (Vashitva),
(7) to satisfy all desires by the force of his will (Prakamya), and
(8) to become Isha, Lord, over everything (Ishatva).
Yoga Sutras of the sage Patanjali
Sometimes a man is born with the Siddhis he had earned in his previous incarnation. This time he is born, as it were, to enjoy the fruits of them. It is said that Sage Kapila, the great father of the Sankhya philosophy, was a born Siddha. A reference to Siddhis is also found in a few places in the Yoga Sutras of the sage Patanjali.
The Siddhis (powers) are attained by birth, chemical means, power of words, mortification, or concentration. (IV.1)
From that arises the knowledge belonging to Pratibha and (supernatural) hearing, touching, seeing, tasting, and smelling. (III.37)
These are obstacles to Samadhi, but they are powers in the worldly state. (III.38)
For a Yogi, these powers hinder the cultivation of Samadhi, since they entice the mind back into the realm of Prakriti. These powers, however, are obstructions to the attainment of the highest goal, the knowledge of the pure Self, and freedom. These powers are to be met in the way, and if the Yogi rejects them, he attains the highest. If he is tempted to acquire these, his further progress is barred. The same is affirmed in the Srimad Bhagavata Purana, where Bhagwan Krishna says:-
One says [though] that they [these siddhis], for the one who practices the highest form of yoga – the [bhakti] yoga using which one obtains everything thinkable from Me – is a hindrance and a waste of time. (15.11.33)
But not all Siddhis are detrimental to Samadhi as Patanjali included supernormal self experiences as suitable objects for the mind to concentrate on to achieve Samadhi. Learned Sages like Vyasa and Vachaspati Mishra opined that a genuine Yogi’s faith can be enhanced by these preliminary truths of Yoga and reaffirm his commitment to proceed on the path of Yoga.
Shrimad Bhagavat Maha Purana
Chapter 15 of Canto 11 of Shrimad Bhagavat Purana talks about Siddhis in detail in the form of a conversation between Bhagwan Krishna and his close aid Uddhava. Bhagwan Krishna talks about eighteen Siddhis. English translations of a few relevant Verses are as given below:
The Supreme Lord said: ‘The masters of yoga speak of eighteen mystical perfections [siddhis] and meditations [leading to them]. Eight of them are [primary and] prominent in Me and ten of them [are secondary and] originate from the quality [of goodness]. (15.11.3)
Oh gentle one, the eight mystical perfections consist of the ability to become, as for the form, the smallest [animâ], the biggest [mahimâ] or the lightest [laghimâ relative to garimâ, the heaviest], the ability to acquire whatever material object [prâpti], the ability to enjoy sensually whatever can be seen or heard [prâkâmya], the ability to have the upper hand in employing the forces [îs’itâ or îs’itvâ], the ability to be in control using magic unobstructed by the modes [vas’itâ], and the ability to answer to any desire that seeks [His] favor [kâmâvasâyitâ]. Know them to be the ones prominent in Me. (15.11.4-5).
[The ten secondary siddhis consist of] the ability in this body not to be plagued by hunger and thirst and such, the ability to hear from afar, the ability to see things far away, the ability to be transported with the speed of mind, the ability to assume any form at will, the ability to enter into the bodies of others, the ability to die at will, the ability to witness the sporting [of the heavenly girls] with the gods, the ability to be of perfect accomplishment as one likes, and the ability to have one’s commands fulfilled unimpeded. (15.11.6-7)
To know the past, the present, and the future, to be free from the dualities, to know the minds of others, to check the potency of fire, the sun, water, poison, and so on, and not to be conquered by others, are examples of the perfections that are described as being the result of concentrating in yoga. Please learn now from Me using which type of meditation what perfection occurs. (15.11.8-9)
- Mahaviri- Hanuman Chalisa Demystified by Nityananda Misra
- The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali- Edwin F. Bryant
- Commentary on Sri Patanjali Yoga Sutra by Swami Vivekananda