Saturday, 19 August 2017

How to succeed at Āsana: A seventeenth-century Marginal Note


Marginal note on folio 58v. of the Yogacintāmaṇi
Ms. No. 3537, Scindia Oriental Institute, Ujjain

I'm currently translating a section on āsanas from a unique manuscript that can be accurately dated to Thursday, 5th June, 1659 CE by a scribal comment.1 At first sight, this manuscript appears to be a copy of the Yogacintāmaṇi ("A Gem of Thoughts on Yoga"), which is a very large compendium on yoga composed by Śivānandasarasvatī in the early seventeenth century. However, it is, in fact, a unique work because, in addition to the original text of the Yogacintāmaṇi, there is supplementary material on āsana, as well as numerous marginal notes, that have been added by an unknown scribe. 

The additional material in this particular manuscript includes five unprecedented āsanas that are attributed to a Lakṣmaṇasvarayogī. In contrast to attributions to mythical figures, such as Vasiṣṭha and Matsyendra, this reference to Lakṣmaṇasvarayogī may be the earliest textual record of a historical person who was known for teaching particular āsanas. 

At the lower edge of folio 58 verso, in a marginal note added to the text on āsana, the following dietary advice is given for the mastery of all āsanas: 
Lakṣmaṇasvarayogī says, "By eating rock salt (saindhava) and pepper (marīca), success arises in all the āsanas, and not by [eating other types of] salt (lavaṇa)." Because of this, itching disappears.2
Lakṣmaṇasvarayogī appears to be recommending a specific type of salt called saindhava as opposed to salt (lavaṇa) more generally understood. In Sanskrit literature, the terms saindhava and lavaṇa can be used as synonyms. However, in some texts of Āyurveda and Rasāyana, lavaṇa refers to salt of which there are various types including saindhava. For example, in the Rasārṇava, five types of salt (lavaṇa) are listed as sāmudra, saindhava, cūlikālavaṇa, sauvarcala and kāca.3

A fifteenth to sixteenth-century compendium called the Rājanighaṇṭu, which gives the names and properties of medicinal substances, states the following about saindhava:
It has nine names: saindhava, śītaśiva, nādeya, sindhuja, śiva, śuddha, śivātmaja, pathya and maṇimantha. Saindhava is a salt that is aphrodisiacal, good for the eyes, stimulates appetite, mitigates the three humours (doṣa), purifies(?), and cures ulceration and constipation.4
Therefore, Lakṣmaṇasvarayogī seems to be recommending saindhava, rather than salt in general, for  achieving success in all āsanas.

The comment 'because of this, itching disappears', which follows Lakṣmaṇasvarayogī's advice, is even more intriguing. It appears to be the scribe's opinion. The referent of the pronoun (i.e., 'this') is not entirely clear. Is itching (kaṇḍū) cured by eating rock salt and pepper or by successfully accomplishing all āsanas? 

Āyurvedic texts, such as the Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayasūtra, assert that itching is a sign of aggravated phlegm (kaphadoṣa).5 If one believes that saindhava mitigates doṣas, as the Rājanighaṇṭu states above, then it should cure itching. Nonetheless, the scribe may have been thinking of āsanas that are said to mitigate doṣas. For example, Sundaradeva, the author of the Haṭhasaṅketacandrikā, who was an āyurvedic physician (vaidya), claimed that bhadrāsana (a type of seated posture) can cure diseases caused by kapha.6

So it seems, if one has an itch, some saindhava at hand and the ability to do bhadrāsana, one should be able to self-medicate quite effectively. Then, just add pepper for success in all āsanas!

Schmidt, Richard. 1908.
Fakire und Fakirtum im alten und modernen Indien: Yoga-Lehre und Yoga-Praxis nach den indischen Originalquellen.
Berlin: Hermann Barsdorf.


1 At the international conference, Yoga in Transformation, held at the University of Vienna in 2013, I presented this manuscript as evidence for the proliferation of āsana in yoga texts that were composed between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Download this conference paper here. These findings will be published as a forthcoming article in the conference proceedings, Yoga in Transformation (2018).

2 Yogacintāmaṇi, ms. No. 3537, Scindia Oriental Institute, Ujjain, f. 58v (lower margin)
saindhavamarīcabhakṣaṇena sarvāsanasiddhir na tu lavaṇeneti lakṣmaṇasvarayogī || tena kaṇḍūnāśaḥ [||]

3 Rasārṇava 5.32
sāmudraṃ saindhavaṃ caiva cūlikālavaṇaṃ tathā | 
sauvarcalaṃ ca kācaṃ ca lavaṇāḥ pañca kīrtitāḥ || 

4 Rājanighaṇṭu 5.88-90
saindhavaṃ syāc chītaśivaṃ nādeyaṃ sindhujaṃ śivam | 
śuddhaṃ śivātmajaṃ pathyaṃ maṇimanthaṃ navābhidham ||5.88|| 
saindhavaṃ lavaṇaṃ vṛṣyaṃ cakṣuṣyaṃ rucidīpanam | 
tridoṣaśamanaṃ pūtaṃ vraṇadoṣavibandhajit ||5.89|| 

5 See the Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayasūtra, Sūtrasthāna, 12.53-54
śleṣmaṇaḥ snehakāṭhinyakaṇḍūśītatvagauravam |
bandhopalepastaimityaśophāpaktyatinidratāḥ || 53 ||
varṇaḥ śveto rasau svādulavaṇau cirakāritā |
ity aśeṣāmayavyāpi yad uktaṃ doṣalakṣaṇam || 54 |

6 Haṭhasaṅketacandrikā, ms. No. R3239 (transcript), Government Oriental Manuscript Library, p. 32.
atha kaphavātaroge bhadrāsanam ("Now, in the case of a disease caused by phlegm (kapha) or wind (vāta), bhadrāsana [is taught]").

The complete āsana section of this unique manuscript of the Yogacintāmaṇi will be published as part of the Haṭha Yoga Project.

Thursday, 17 August 2017


Body Cultivation, Therapeutic Intervention and the Sowa Rigpa Industry

University of Vienna, 1st - 3rd August 2017

At the invitation of Dagmar Wujastky, University of Vienna, AyurYog Project Principal Investigator (An ERC Starting Grant).

University of Vienna

Yoga and Alchemy within fin de siècle Occultism

"In this paper I will investigate the astonishing relationship between interpretations and practices of yoga among German speaking occultists – especially within in the Habsburg Monarchy – and their new interest in alchemical theories and experiments. In particular, my analysis is based on a close reading of the writings of members of this milieu like Carl Kellner, Franz Hartmann, Gustav Meyrink and Herbert Silberer. Special interest is paid to the theoretical frame that allows them to connect yoga and alchemy."

AyurYog Project, London School of Economics and Political Science

Longevity practices in India during the modern period: Public health imperatives and individual aspirations

"The logistics and economics of how to promote health and longevity amongst the vast population of India is a perennial problem. Yoga has increasingly been seen by the government of India as a potential asset in their promotion of longevity for the general population. This presentation will outline the variety of pragmatic approaches that were taken to promote yoga as public health under the category of ‘Indigenous Medicine’ from the Usman Report of 1923, to the recent promotion of AYUSH to the level of Ministry in 2014. The range of approaches to yoga reflected in government reports will be explained with reference to the a-historical experiential emphasis of many practitioners and providers of yoga-based longevity and health interventions. It will be argued that the overarching narrative of yoga in the modern period alternatively identifies the idea of longevity with an immortal soul/atman/purusha, and the unlimited potential for the refinement and purification of the material human body. I will argue that the Indian government, by promoting yoga as public health, is not necessarily regressing into an anti-Enlightenment position on rationality (as Meera Nanda has suggested). Rather, yoga as public health is an intervention that works on an experiential level for those who participate in this milieu. This paper hopes to elucidate the pragmatics of this approach."

AyurYog Principal Investigator, University of Vienna

Rasāyana in Sanskrit alchemical literature

"In Indian alchemical literature, the Sanskrit term “rasāyana” is predominantly used to describe alchemical operations, i.e.  all that is involved in the making and taking of elixirs for attaining a state of spiritual liberation in a living body. Rasāyana in this sense describes a series of related processes, including the preparation and chemical processing of raw materials; the admixture and further processing of materials to formulate the elixir (this can involve ritual and the use of mantras); the preparation of the practitioner (cleansing procedures for body and mind); the intake of the elixir and finally, the process of transformation the practitioner undergoes after intake of the elixir. 

However, many alchemical works also include rasāyana sections that describe a type of therapy similar in aims and methods to the rasāyana treatment known from ayurvedic medical literature. Further, when the term “rasāyana” is used to describe the characteristics or effects of a substance or formula, it very often seems to be applied in the medical understanding of the term rather than in the sense of elixir. 

In my presentation, I will present examples of rasāyana sections from a selection of alchemical treatises to explore their connections to and divergences from ayurvedic literature. I will also discuss how medical rasāyana sections are positioned within alchemical works and examine how this reflects the development of iatrochemistry in alchemical literature."

AyurYog Project, University of Vienna

Longevity practices from the Chāndogya Upaniṣad onwards

"Vayas, a key term for “age” in the ayurvedic treatises, is a heuristic concept that is helpful in reflecting on issues of longevity, rejuvenation, and immortality. When considering longevity specifically, the Chāndogya Upaniṣad III.15-16 provides extensive material for reflection. In the context of ritual invocations aiming at longevity, it offers a meaning of vayas close to that found in medical treatises; it describes three periods of life, and provides us with a canonical human lifespan of 116 years. I propose to examine the conditions and reasons for prolonging life as explained in this passage, and to explore how the commentarial tradition attached to the Chāndogya Upaniṣad takes up the subject of longevity in further discussions."

Cardiff University

Tantric immortality: the factors of long life and the transcendence of time

"As a researcher on Tibetan longevity practices, I have been asked on a variety of occasions whether they work. An answer is by no means straightforward, in part because opinions vary as to what it is they are meant to do. As Barbara Gerke demonstrated in her field research with Tibetans in India, for many lay Tibetans, the practices are indeed directed at the attainment of a long and healthy life. Yet this pragmatic and easily understandable concern is entangled with other matters. Lamas stress that the only proper motivation for such life extension is to enable progress towards Buddhahood. Beyond this ideological commitment, which serves to reconcile the this-worldly aim of the practices with the trans-worldly orientation of the Buddhist tradition, lie more arcane matters. These include the extreme life–spans attributed to holy men in both Buddhist and Hindu traditions, and the Tantric siddhi of immortality, which may refer to the avoidance of physical death, or to its transcendence into a realm where it no longer exists or makes any sense. There is a history to this complex tangle of ideas, a history which appears to overlap, whatever the precise historical connections, with East Asian traditions of life-cultivation and inner alchemy. In this paper, I attempt to sort out some of this history, and to understand how its modern-day reflections help to create a productive ambiguity within which the apparently impossible can gain enough reality to be taken as a serious goal for Tantric practice."

Photographs of speakers and participants having interesting discussions and sharing meals:

All photographs by Jacqueline Hargreaves
Copyright 2017.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Advice on Āsana in the Śivayogapradīpikā

Download this article as a PDF

Siddhāsana and Padmāsana.
Schmidt, Richard. 1908.
Fakire und Fakirtum im alten und modernen Indien: Yoga-Lehre und Yoga-Praxis nach den indischen Originalquellen.
Berlin: Hermann Barsdorf.

The Śivayogapradīpikā (c. 15th century), or “Lamp on Śiva’s Yoga” is an important and overlooked late-medieval yoga text from south India that uniquely integrates the theory and praxis of yoga within the devotional framework (bhakti) of ritual worship (pūjā). Little scholarly attention has yet been brought to bear on this text, although its prominence within south Indian Haṭha and Rājayoga traditions is attested by commentaries and citations of the Śivayogapradīpikā in several later texts on yoga.2 My ongoing dissertation research at Harvard University aims to assemble the first critical edition, translation, and in-depth study of the Śivayogapradīpikā, based on the collation of over a dozen Sanskrit manuscripts and several printed editions collected from libraries and archives across south India. In this short article, I’ll provide a brief introduction to the text, followed by an exposé of one of its instructional gems: advice on the practice of yogic posture (āsana).

An Introduction to the Text

The Śivayogapradīpikā is attributed to an author named Cennasadāśivayogī, about whom little is known beyond the text itself, although evidence suggests that he was likely a Vīraśaiva (“Heroic Devotee of Śiva”) — the form of devotional Śaivism found predominantly in the Karnataka region which traces its history to Basava, the renowned twelfth-century philosopher, poet, and statesman. Based on the extant manuscript records and commentarial traditions, the text was likely composed in the Karnataka or Tamil Nadu regions of south India around the second half of the fifteenth century, and thus falls between the nexus of the late medieval and early modern periods. As an unstudied text, it offers an important historical window onto the bricolage of Sanskrit intellectual, religious, and yoga traditions active in south India prior to the colonial period.

The Śivayogapradīpikā comprises five chapters (paṭala) and approximately 290 verses. Its teachings are unique among the corpus of second-millennium Sanskrit yoga treatises for a number of important reasons.

The soteriological goal of its yoga system, like other medieval Yogaśāstras, is the attainment of the stone-like supra-mental state of samādhi (also known as sahajā, unmanī, or amanaska) described by the author in Vedāntic terms as the oneness of the individual (jivātman) and supreme soul (paramātman) (ŚYP 3.48), and elsewhere, given the Vīraśaiva inflection of our author, as the non-dual (advaita) state of oneness with the liṅga (ŚYP 3.63). The text also extends the possibility of the yogin becoming “equal to Śiva” (śivatulya, ŚYP 3.56).

The Śivayogapradīpikā teaches the standard tetrad of medieval yogas, namely: Mantrayoga, Layayoga, Haṭhayoga, and Rājayoga — only it understands their methods as a progressive curriculum leading to Śivayoga, a unique form of Rājayoga intended for devotees of Śiva. Here, the traditional eight auxiliaries of yoga (aṣṭāṅgayoga) and the physical techniques of Haṭhayoga are reinterpreted as a method of internal ritual worship of the god Śiva (śivapūjā) — located not within the inner sanctum of the temple, but on the altar of the heart within the mind of the yogin. Thus, unlike other contemporaneous Haṭhayoga texts which tend to disavow any particular sectarian order or religious affiliation (Mallinson 2014; Birch 2015), the Śivayogapradīpikā is an unabashedly Śaiva text, aimed at devotees of Śiva. And yet, within the world of late medieval south India, I argue that the author sought to make the text appeal to Śaivas and non-Śaivas alike,3 including both renunciates and householders — a message we will see invoked in the Śivayogapradīpikā’s advice on yogic posture (āsana).

Āsanas for All

After establishing the proper context for the ritual worship of Śiva, the author describes the methods of Aṣṭāṅgayoga, which includes techniques of Haṭhayoga. Verses 2.13-15 provide recommendations for the practice of āsana, beginning with a set list of ten postures.
Then, these ten best āsanas are enumerated together — Accomplished (siddha), Lotus (ambuja), Auspicious (svastika), Liberated (mukta), Hero (vīra), Blessed (bhadra), Peacock (ahibhuj), Lion (kesari), Cow-faced (gomukha), and Comfortable Posture (sukhāsana).4
The author Cennasadāśivayogī simply lists the postures as such and provides no descriptions, although a later Kannada commentary,5 attributed to the Vīraśaiva scholar Basavārādhya (c. 17/18th century), furnishes instructions for each āsana by quoting the Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā.6 Each of these āsanas are seated postures, save for the non-seated balancing posture, the Peacock, known more commonly as mayūrāsana. Here, however, the author has employed an unusual Sanskrit synonym, ahibhuj, which translates literally as the “snake-eater.” That peacocks eat snakes is well-known in India, and it is for this reason that they are thought to be immune to deadly poisons. Thus, in the Haṭhapradīpikā, Peacock Posture is said to make the stomach and digestive fires so strong that the yogin can even consume poison! (HP 1.31).7

Mayūrāsana. The Peacock Posture.
Mahāmandir, Jodhpur. Late 18th - 19th century.
Photograph by Lenscraft.

Likewise, rather than the more common padma for Lotus posture, the author employs the word ambuja, literally “water-born,” a common epithet for the lotus flower. Such variant names serve as a poignant reminder of the fluidity of āsana names across Sanskrit texts and traditions in the premodern period. In this case, it is unclear if these variants reflected a difference in orthopraxis, that is, of the proper manner to physically perform the āsana. More likely, the author uses these variant names simply to satisfy Sanskrit poetical and metrical purposes.

Next, the author simplifies his list of ten āsanas into three, which are then uniquely prescribed to types of yoga practitioners according to their station in life.
Lotus (ambuja) is for householders, Accomplished (siddha) is for those on paths other than householders (i.e., ascetics), and Comfortable Posture (sukhāsana) is for all — this threefold [division] is best.8
Through this verse we might gain some practical insight into the anticipated audience of the Śivayogapradīpikā, as we are informed that this yoga is available not only to ascetics but to householders (gṛhin), and indeed to all. It is interesting to note that Lotus posture is prescribed for householders, while Accomplished (siddha) is recommended for non-householders. This is because the application of siddhāsana requires pressing the the foot against the penis (e.g., dṛḍhaṃ vinyaset meḍhre pādam, HP 1.35), symbolizing, if not directly causing, celibacy. Thus, it is prescribed for celibate ascetics and not progenitive householders.9 However, for those who are unable to perform padmāsana or siddhāsana, the author reassures us, Comfortable Posture (sukhāsana) is available to all — or indeed, any preferred āsana from this list.
Indeed, any such āsana may be praised and mastered. Seated in the āsana preferred among those, the [yogin] should dwell in a solitary place.10
The author concludes this short section on yogic posture, stating that while the previous three were recommended according to one’s station, in effect, any posture on this list may be selected, so long as its recommended by tradition (praśasta), and mastered (vaśa) by the yogin. Once established, the yogin should take his seat in a secluded and solitary location (viviktathāna). The Śivayogapradīpikā then goes on to describe such an ideal locale for yogic practice, the original yogaśālā, otherwise known as the medieval yoga hut (yogamaṭha).

Śivayogapradīpikā Witnesses

Ped 1978 [1907]. Śivayogadīpikā: mantra-laya-haṭha-rājākhyacaturvidhayogānāṃ vivaraṇam Sadāśivabrahmendrapañcaratnaṃ ca. Dvitīyāvṛttiḥ. Ānandaśramasaṃskṛtagranthāvaliḥ; granthāṅkaḥ 139. Puṇyākhyapattanam: Ānandāśramaḥ.

Ked Śivayōgapradīpikā: Basavārādhyaṭīkāsamētā. M.M. Kalaburgi, and Nāgabhūṣana Śāstri, eds. Śrī Basavēśvarapīṭha taraṅga ; 4. Dhāravāḍa: Kannaḍa Adhyayanapīṭha, Karnāṭaka Viśvavidyālaya.

T1 Pondicherry IFP T.0871. Transcription of MGOL D.4385, Grantha.

T2 Pondicherry IFP T.1019d. Transcription of IFP RE.20181, Grantha(?).

T3 Pondicherry IFP T.1027a. Transcription of unknown ms. Tulu(?).

Other Sources

Birch, Jason. 2015. “The Yogatārāvalī and the Hidden History of Yoga.” Nāmarūpa 20: 4-13.

Haṭhapradīpikā. 1998. Ed. and trans., Swami Digambarji. Second edition. Lonavla, Pune: Kaivalyadhama. 

Mallinson, James. 2014. “Haṭhayoga’s Philosophy: A Fortuitous Union of Non-Dualities.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 42 (1): 225–47.

Vasiṣṭasaṃhitā. 1984. Ed., Swami Digambarji, Dr. Pitambar Jha, and Shri Gyan Shankar Sahay. Lonavla, Pune: Kaivalyadhama.


1 I wish to thank Jason Birch and Jacqueline Hargreaves for their kind invitation to write this post for The Luminescent, and for their valuable and astute editorial remarks. 

2 The Śivayogapradīpikā was rendered into Kannada prose with a commentary known as the Paramārthaprakāśike by Nijaguṇa Śivayogī, who may have been the same author of the important Vīraśaiva compendium the Vivekacintāmani (c. 15th century). Another Kannada commentary was written by the Vīraśaiva scholar Basavārādhya (c. 17/18th century). Citations of the Śivayogapradīpikā in later compilations on yoga include the Yogacintāmaṇi of Śivānanda (early 17th century), the Upāsanāsārasaṅgraha (17th century), the later Yogasārasaṅgraha and a commentary on the Yogatārāvalī, the Rājatarala of Rāmasvāmipaṇḍita. 

3 In the effort of inclusivity, the author Cennasadāśivayogī assures his audience that “Truly, there is no difference between Śivayoga and Rājayoga” (ŚYP 1.13ab na bhedaḥ śivayogasya rājayogasya tattvataḥ /).

4 Śivayogapradīpikā 2.13
siddhāmbujasvastikamuktavīrabhadrāhibhukkesarigomukhāni |
sukhāsanaṃ caiva samaṅkitāni tato daśemāni varāsanāni ||

2.13a siddhāmbuja- ] Ked T1 T2 ; siddhāmbujaṃ Ped ; siddhāmbujaḥ T3 • -mutkavīra- ] Ped Ked T1 ; muktavī T2 ; yuktavīra T3     2.13b -bhadrāhibhukkesarigomukhāni ] Ped T1 ; bhadrāhibhuksiṃhagavāṃ mukhāni Ked ; bhadrabhuksiṃhagavāṃ mukhāni T2 ; bhadrābhibhuksiṃhajago mukhāni T3     2.13c samaṅkitāni ] Ped Ked T3 ; samāhitāni T1 ; samāṃtāni T2     2.13d tato daśemāni ] Ked T1 ; tathā daśaitāni Ped ; tato daśamānī T2 ; tato daśaitāni T3

5 I am grateful to Shubha Shanthamurthy for her translation of Basavārādhya’s Kannada commentary.

6 The āsanas in the Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā likely draw from the earlier Vaiṣṇava Pāñcarātra text, the Vimānārcanākalpa, which teaches a similar list of nine āsanas. I am grateful to James Mallinson for drawing this to my attention. 

7 I thank Jason Birch for this observation. 

8 Śivayogapradīpikā 2.14
gṛhiṇām ambujaṃ siddhaṃ gṛhasthetaravartmanām |
sukhāsanaṃ ca sarveṣām ity etat trividhaṃ varam ||

2.14a gṛhiṇām ambujaṃ siddhaṃ ] Ked T3 ; gṛhiṇām ambujaṃ nityaṃ Ped ; gṛhiṇām ambujamukhaṃ T1 ; gṛhiṇām ajaṃ siddhaṃ T2     2.14b gṛhasthetaravartmanām ] Ked ; siddhaṃ tv itaravartmanām Ped ; siddhādi vanavāsinām T1 ; grahasthetaravartmanām T2 T3     2.14d ity etat trividhaṃ ] Ked Ped ; madhy etat trividhaṃ T2 • varam ] Ked Ped T3 ; param T1 T2

9 I thank Jason Birch and James Mallinson for clarifying this. 

10 Śivayogapradīpikā 2.15
yāni kāni praśastāni hy āsanāni vaśāni ca |
teṣv abhīṣṭāsanāsīno viviktasthānam āśrayet ||

2.15b hy āsanāni vaśāni ca ] Ped ; hy āsanāni samāni ca Ked ; āsanāni vaśāni ca T1 T2 ; āsaneṣu vaśāni ca T3     

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Saturday, 24 June 2017



A sage, Vyāsa?
Maharashtra, 18th century. Painted on paper.
According to register, Recto Album Leaf, Folio 38. 1974,0617,0.14.37.
The Trustees of the British Museum.

Over the last hundred years, various scholars have noted evidence indicating that the Sūtra and the Bhāṣya sections of the Pātañjalayogaśāstra were compiled by a single author called Patañjali. In recent years, Dr Philipp Maas has found further evidence in the Pātañjalayogaśāstra and other Sanskrit works, and has argued convincingly for it.1

However, the claim that the Sūtra was composed by Patañjali and the Bhāṣya by Vyāsa became the predominant view after the composition of the fourteenth-century Sarvadarśanasaṅgraha, which is the first source that clearly states the separate authorship of Patañjali and Vyāsa.

A good example of this view being expressed in a work on yoga is seen in the following two verses of an unpublished commentary on the Yogatārāvalī called the Rājatarala by Rāmasvāmipaṇḍita:
I meditate on the primal, boundless lord Śeṣa (i.e., Patañjali), who is born from the consciousness conceived by multitudes of the best yogins. The dirt of his feet is greatly honoured, his eyes are wide like lotuses, he composed the venerable Yogasūtra and his special abode is the heart lotus.

We praise Vedavyāsa, whose dwelling is the heart. He arose as a partial incarnation of Viṣṇu, composed the Yogabhāṣya and his feet should be worshipped by multitudes of yogins.2
The Rājatarala (The Central Gem on Rājayoga) quotes the Śivayogapradīpikā (circa late 15th century) by name, which means it was composed after the 15th century. The fact that it synthesises teachings on Patañjali’s yoga with those of Haṭha and Rājayoga traditions suggests that it was written sometime during the 16th - 18th centuries, which was the era when this synthesis appears in other compilations on yoga, such as the Yogacintāmaṇi, the Yogasārasaṅgraha, the Yogasiddhāntacandrikā and so on. 

Nearly all yoga compendiums of the 16th - 18th centuries, which we have consulted, mention Vyāsa as the author of the Bhāṣya. A possible exception is the seventeenth-century Yuktabhavadeva (1.297 – 300), which quotes a passage from both the Sūtra and the Bhāṣya as the work of Patañjali.

Krishna and the Pandavas being told by the sage Vyāsa
where to obtain the horse for the sacrifice (aśvamedha).

British Library Manuscript: Or12076 f4v
The Razmnāmah, the Persian translation by Naqīb Khān of the Mahābhārata.
Sub-imperial Mughal, 1598.


1 See Philipp Maas, "A Concise Historiography of Classical Yoga Philosophy" in: Eli Franco (ed.), Periodization and Historiography of Indian Philosophy. Vienna: Sammlung de Nobili, Institut für Südasien-, Tibet- und Buddhismuskunde der Universität Wien, 2013. (Publications of the De Nobili Research Library, 37), p. 53-90.

2 Rājatarala
yogīndravṛndaparikalpitacitprasūnaṃ saṃpūjitāṅghrikamalaṃ kamalāyatākṣam ||
śrīyogasūtrakṛtam ādyam anantam īśaṃ śeṣaṃ viśeṣanilayaṃ kalaye hṛdabje ||9||
vedavyāsaṃ hṛdāvāsaṃ vāsudevāṃśasaṃbhavam |
yogabhāṣyakṛtaṃ yogivṛndavandyapadaṃ numaḥ ||10||

R1 = Yogatārāvalīvyākhyā (Rājataralaḥ), ms. B378 (f. 2), Oriental Research Institute, University of Mysore.
R2 = transcript of ms. 72330, Adyar Library and Research Centre, Chennai. See Descriptive Catalogue of Sanskrit Manuscripts, Vol 8, Compiled by Parameswara Aithal, 1972, p. 311.
‘+’ = missing letter.
9a prasūnaṃ ] emend. : prasūna R1, R2. 10c saṃbhavam ] R2 : saṃbava+ R1. 10d vandyapadaṃ ] emend. : vandyaṃ padaṃ R2 : vandyaṃ pa++ R1. 10d numaḥ ] R2 : +++ R1.


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Saturday, 17 June 2017

Visual Evidence for Sun Worship in Mughal Court Painting

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Fig. 1: Folio 36r from the Dīvān of Ḥāfiẓ,
(Collected poems of Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfiẓ Shīrāzī).
British Library, Manuscript Or 14139.

Ever since the Sun has cast a shadow on the land that is now India, it seems that people have offered their reverence in worship of its brilliance, sustenance and cyclical presence. Terracotta plates and medallions from the Mauryan dynasty1 (circa 321–185 B.C.) provide the earliest anthropomorphic representations of Sūrya, the Sun god. Sculptural representations appear on a railing of the Bodhgayā Stupa.2 There is abundant inscriptional as well as textual evidence to testify to the prevalence of Sun worship from the Gupta period onward. Several architectural temples in honour of a Sun god still exist, although often in ruins, such as the majestic 13th century Sun Temple of Koṇārka that sits in the jungle on the coastline of Orissa.

During the time of the Mughal court, we find evidence of a reasonably liberal religious policy3 where the 16th-century Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great (1556 - 1605) adopted a sunrise practice of presenting himself at the jharokha-i-darshan,4 an ornate balcony window from which his subjects were able to view him at first light after bathing in the river and performing their own Sun observance practices.

Apart from the representation of the Sun as a deity and object of worship, very little iconographic evidence of the devotees themselves has survived the passing of time. However, one such piece of evidence appears in paintings from the Mughal court. In the decorative marginal borders of an illustrated manuscript of the Dīvān of Ḥāfiẓ, ‘The Collected poems of Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfiẓ Shīrāzī',5 two naturalistic images depict Sun worshipers.

According to a note in this manuscript,6 these poems have been scribed by the renowned calligrapher Sulṭān ʻAlī Mashhadī in circa 1470 AD. The whole work was refurbished during the reign of the 4th Mughal Emperor Jahāngīr7 (son of Akbar) and thus provide an accurate date for the outer margins at circa 1605 AD. These illuminated borders (fig. 1) contain elaborate cartouches with precise depictions of flora, fauna, landscapes, Persian musicians, hunters, fakirs, a Nath yogi and even Europeans.

Fig. 2: Detail of a Sun worshiper from folio 36r
of the Dīvān of Ḥāfiẓ,
(Collected poems of Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfiẓ Shīrāzī).
British Library, Manuscript Or 14139.

The first of the Sun worship scenes is in a small golden cartouche centred on the right-hand border of folio 36r (fig. 2). It features a male figure standing in a garden with floral and cloud-like decorations around him. He is wearing a simple dhoti and a cloth (aṅgavastra) wrapped over his shoulders. His hands are raised above his head clasping mālā beads and his gaze is upwards towards the Sun, which is shining brightly overhead. The man’s shoulder-length hair is sleekly combed, as if oiled, and although he appears to be a Brahmin, it is somewhat uncertain because his sacred thread (yajnopavita) is not visible and no other sectarian marks are displayed. The prominent feature of mālā beads suggest that he could be performing japa (i.e., mantra recitation) to the Sun, which is a Brahmanical practice described in the Veda. His dhoti is tied in the style that is typical of South India, and this is affirmed by the accompanying aṅgavastram. The remainder of the margin for this folio pictures birds and plants in similarly elaborate gold painted frames.

Fig. 3: Detail of a Sun worshiper from folio 45r
of the Dīvān of Ḥāfiẓ,
(Collected poems of Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfiẓ Shīrāzī).
British Library, Manuscript Or 14139.

The second scene of Sun worship is centred on the right-hand border of folio 45r (fig. 3) and is similarly positioned in a golden cartouche. It features a youthful male figure standing with his hands in a gesture of reverence (generally called añjalimudrā) towards the Sun. The scared thread (yajñopavītam) over his bare right shoulder is clearly visible in the fine details of the figure, marking him as a Brahmin. His hair is long and worn in a bun at the crown of the head, and he has bracelets on both wrists as well as beaded necklaces around his neck. His dhoti is worn at full length and gathered at the front. The brass accoutrements, that are typically used for pūjā, sit to his left. A mountainous landscape is detailed faintly in the background. The remainder of the outer margin for this folio contains similarly framed gold-painted cartouches with fine drawings of birds, a rabbit and a deer-like animal.

These two Sun worship scenes are remarkable because not only do they focus on Sun worshippers, rather than the Sun as a deity or image accompanied by consorts and devotees, but they are, as far as I am aware, the earliest naturalistic painted evidence of Sun worshipers themselves.

One other painting of significance can be found in the Gulshan Album8 (circa 1590-95) from the Mughal artist studio of Lahore or Delhi (fig. 4). Attributed to Basawan and dated to a similar period as the outer borders of the Dīvān of Ḥāfiẓ, it depicts a woman worshiping the Sun with a child at her feet. Both figures in the painting are rendered with three dimensional perspective forming a realistic outdoor scene. Draped fabric in vibrant blue and red is given weight and movement through the use of shading. The distant landscape is seen through an atmospheric haze. The figures and landscape are an example of the fully developed naturalistic style of the Mughal studio. Based on the woman’s head dress, costume and golden hair, it is likely that this painting is representing an imagined European rather than a Hindu or Brahmin sun worshiper. This painting demonstrates the significant influence European art was having on Mughal artists of the time.9 The representation of mother and child harps to Christian imagery that entered the Mughal artistic milieu during the second half of the 16th century through European prints and illustrated Bibles gifted by Jesuit missionaries and other European travellers to Emperor Akbar’s court.

Fig. 4: Woman Worshiping the Sun:
Page from the Gulshan Album, (Muraqqa-i Gulshan, Tehran).
Attributed to Basawan, circa 1590-95.

India, Mughal court at Lahore or Delhi. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper.
Lent by Museum of Islamic Art, Doha to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


Dasgupta, P. C., Early Terracotta from Chandraketugarh, Lalit Kala No.6. Oct. 1959. p. 46. Vide also Indian Archaeological Review, 1955-56. Pl. LXXII B., also Modern Review, April, 1956. The terracotta image of Sun-god from Chandraketugarh. This terracotta was collected by S. Ghosh, and is now preserved in Asutosh Museum, Calcutta (T. 6838).  Also see Bindheswari P. Singh, Bharatiya Kala Ko Bihar Ki Den, (Hindi) JISOA, Vol. III, No. 2. 1935. P. 82, 125; Photo No. 46.

Pandey, Lalta Prasad, Sun Worship in Ancient India. Shantilal Jain at Shri Jainendra Press, Delhi. First Edition 1971. Plate 5, Figure 1 Bodhagayā sun image.

3 Proceedings – Indian History Congress. Indian History Congress (1998), p. 246.

Eraly, Abraham, The Mughal World: Life in India's Last Golden Age. Penguin Books India (2007), p. 44.

5 Dīvān of Ḥāfiẓ (Collected poems of Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfiẓ Shīrāzī). British Library, Manuscript Or 14139. Accessed:

6 The catalogue record at the British Library provides the note by Shah Jahan of 1037/1628 (f.1r) that identifies the calligrapher as Sulṭān ʻAlī Mashhadī and that the manuscript was copied at Herat or Mashhad ca. 1470. It appears that the source of this catalogue record is J. P. Losty, The 'Bute Hafiz' and the Development of Border Decoration in the Manuscript Studio of the Mughals, The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 127, No. 993 (Dec., 1985), p. 856. Losty gives a clear account of his study of the marginal notes on the manuscript that have enable him to precisely date the outer borders to 1014/1605. This includes an accidentally studio mark that has remained on the margin as well as a minute inscription on a scroll bearing a date of 1014/1605 in the hands of a Portuguese gentleman painted on f.18r.

7 Fourth Mughal Emperor Jahāngīr was born on 31 August 1559 and died on 28 October 1627. Jahāngīr - Emperor of India, Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Published 1998 and revised 2015. Accessed:

Muraqqa-i Gulshan (Gulshan Album) is dated 1599-1609 and is mostly in the former Gulistan Palace Library, Tehran. The painting of concern for this article: Woman Worshiping the Sun: Page from the Gulshan Album, has been lent by Museum of Islamic Art, Doha to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Losty, J.P., The 'Bute Hafiz' and the Development of Border Decoration in the Manuscript Studio of the Mughals, The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 127, No. 993 (Dec., 1985), pp. 855-856+858-871.

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