The Sanskrit verbal root an etymologically signifies the verb ‘to breathe’ or ‘to live’. The breathing air (prāṇavāyu; pranavayu) which sustains man to life is specifically called anila. In Īśopaniṣada (Isopanishada), during a discussion on death, we come across a famous verse which says – vāyuranila mṛtaṃ yathedaṃ bhasmāntaṃ śarīram. This verse talks about the breathing air getting diffused into the universal air at the point of death and in this context the breathing air has been specifically mentioned as anila.
In Mahābhārata (Mahabharata) we find questions being asked about how movements of this air, which holds life itself, can be controlled by means of practising yoga – avakāśa viśeṣeṇa kathaṃ vārayate’nilaḥ. Mahābhārata also deliberately refers to the breathing air as anila – prāṇārāmanilo dehān yathā ceṣṭayate balī.
That this philosophical and yogic information was known to Kālidāsa (Kalidasa), the greatest poet of ancient India, becomes apparent when we see him signifying the ancient sages’ act of mastering the yogic art of controlling the breathing air itself as anila – prāṇānamanilena vṛttirucinā satkalpavṛkṣevane. On this line of Kālidāsa, Rāghavabhaṭṭa (Raghavabhatta) comments that the yogic feat of sustaining one’s life solely depending on the breathing air is mastered by means of the air called anila – prāṇadhāraṇakriyā anilena vāyunā.
Indian mythology considers Anila or Vāyudeva (Vayudeva; the Wind-god) as one of aṣṭavasu (ashtavasu; the Eight Vasu). [See Aṣṭavasu]