In the Mahabharata, Ananta, or Shesha, is the son of Kashyapa, one of the Prajapatis, through Kadru as her eldest son. Kadru had asked her sons to stay suspended in the hair of Uchchaihshravas’s tail who on refusing to do so were cursed to die at the serpent-yajna of Janamejaya. Ananta was saved by Brahma who directed him to go to the nether world and support the world on his hoods, and thus became the king of the Nagas in Patala. By the grace of Ananta, Garga was able to master the sciences of astronomy and causation.
Ananta is one of four types of objects or categories of being:
- Ananta has a beginning but no end
- Nitya has neither beginning nor an end
- Anitya has a beginning and an end
- Anadi has no beginning, but has an end
According to the Vedanta School, the term Ananta used in the phrase “anadi (beginningless) ananta (endless) akhanda (unbroken) satcitananda (being-consciousness-bliss)” refers to the Infinite, the single non-dual reality.
Brahman has no initial cause and is known as anadikarana, the uncreated who is not a product, which means Brahman has no material cause and is not the material cause of anything. Ananta is the infinite space, the infinite space is Brahman.
According to the Yoga School, Ananta is the serpent of infinity who eavesdropped on the secret teaching that was being imparted to Goddess Parvati by Lord Shiva; the secret teaching was Yoga. On being apprehended Ananta was sentenced by Lord Shiva to impart that teaching to human beings for which purpose Ananta assumed the human form and was called Patanjali. In his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali stresses upon the use of breath to achieve perfection in posture which entails steadiness and comfort, by making an effort, the effort meant is the effort of breathing. The effort of breathing has been highlighted by the term, Ananta, in Sutra 2.47. Ananta was called Patanjali because he desired to teach Yoga to human beings, he fell from heaven to earth landing in the palm of a virtuous woman named Gonika.
- Ananta-gyana (Endless Knowledge)
- Ananta-darshana (Endless Perception)
- Ananta-caritra (Endless Consciousness)
- Ananta-sukha (Endless Bliss)
The 14th of the 24 Jain Tirathankaras is known as Ananta or Anant Nath.
Ananta also appears in the Buddhist iconography as one of three female deities emanating from Dhyani Buddha Amitabha.
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