Tag Archives: History

striking a pose

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The land of the Far East was still a distant enigma for the West. The mystery that enamoured numerous, also intrigued American inventor Thomas Edison. His messenger was his cameraman, who set out to explore the terrain of China and India in the 19th century. His findings appeared on movie screens in the US in 1906. Edison’s Hindoo Fakir was the first movie produced about India — one that had the film’s protagonist display a variety of tricks for the camera, several of which could be classified as yogic postures. More than a century later, the film is again garnering interest. It has the audience queuing before the screen at Smithsonian’s Arthur M Sackler Gallery in Washington DC. Part of the exhibition “Yoga: The Art of Transformation”, it is one of the 130 exhibits sourced from 25 museums and private collections in India, Europe and the US. “These works of art allow us to trace, often for the first time, yoga’s meaning across the diverse social landscapes of India,” says Debra Diamond, Associate Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

Excerpt from The Indian Express Article Striking A Pose by Vandana Kalra

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asanas old and new

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Ujjain Manuscript – Yogacintamani (photo: Jason Birch)

Why are so few asanas mentioned in the traditional Yoga texts, such as the Yogasutras and the Hathapradipika, and yet so many are practiced today in asana based systems like K. Pattahbhi Jois’ Ashtanga Yoga and B. K. S. Iyengar Yoga?

It has been difficult to ignore the absence of historical evidence on the development of later Haṭhayoga.  Modern practitioners have clung to the hope of finding the long lost and mysterious Yoga Kuruṇṭa (a purported Sanskrit text allegedly used by Krishnamacharya) in the hope that it will validate the practice of vinyasa and Surya Namaskar as well as provide precedents to the ropes and props used by B. K. S. Iyengar.

A recent academic conference Yoga in Transformation held in September 2013 at the Vienna University was an extraordinary event that highlights the importance of this conversation and the efforts of scholars to provide a historically accurate picture while attempting to predict the future trajectory of this global phenomenon.

Jason Birch’s presentation on the Unpublished Manuscript Evidence for the practice of Numerous Asanas in the 17th and 18th Century is a helpful piece in attempting to solve this complex puzzle.  Jason presents evidence to suggest that there were well over 100 āsana being practised in India before the British arrived.  He states:

“Generally speaking, there are very few seated, forward, backward, twisting and arm-balancing poses in modern yoga that have not been anticipated by these seventeenth and eighteenth-century sources.”

Jason’s research involved the detailed study of several 17th and 18th century manuscripts found in various library around India.  These particular findings are significant as they offer a window into the types of āsanas practiced in India at that time.  Some of the Haṭhayogic techniques were prominent enough to catch the inquisitive eye of the Mogul Court and are recorded in a Persian manuscript.

It contradicts the assumption made by Scholars and Yoga Teachers alike that the physical āsana of modern Yoga have no precedent.  Jason states that in the manuscript evidence:

“The majority of these āsana were not seated poses, but complex and physically-demanding postures some of which involved repetitive movement, breath control and the use of rope.  When these manuscript sources are combined, the assemblage of āsana provides antecedents to most of the floor and inverted postures in modern systems of Indian yoga.”

Jason confirms that moving āsana, rope āsana and standing āsana were all part of the picture long before the revival of physical yoga in the 20th century.  He also points out that Haṭhayoga had been appropriated by orthodox Brahmins before the 18th century, moving it away from the renunciant traditions, and they wrote yoga texts that blended Haṭhayoga with Patañjali’s yoga, the Upaniṣads and Bhagavadgītā, much like we see today.

Excerpt from Article ASANAS Old and New: Unpublished manuscripts and hints of the missing Yoga Kurunta By JACQUELINE HARGREAVES


sacred texts

A Timeline

File:Internet Sacred Text Archive logo.jpg


origins of surya namaskar

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the oldest known hatha yoga text does not mention “Sun Salutations” but mentions a sūrya-bhedana (sun-piercing) kumbhaka (II, 44 and 48-50) while the Gheraṇḍa Saṁhitā mentions sūrya-bheda kumbhaka (58-59). The oldest documented book with clear depictions of asanas is the Sritattvanidhi, though there is no mention of “Sun Salutations” in the text, it does describe the asanas “Sarpasana” (Bhujangasana), “Gajasana” (Adhomukh Swannasan), “Uttanasana” and series of asanas done in tandem, similar to Sūrya Namaskāra.

The translator of the ancient Sritattvanidhi, Krishnaraja Wodeyar III, was also responsible for arranging for Sri. T. Krishnamacharya to teach yoga at Yogaśālā in Mysore sometime around 1930. Sri. T. Krishnamacharya’s teachings are largely responsible for the modern version of Sūrya Namaskāra as seen in modern day Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and the Visesha Vinyasa Sun Salutation subroutine from Vinyasa Krama Yoga, as well as a host of other popular forms of yoga. K. Pattabhi Jois claims to have taught exactly as he had learned from Krishnamacharya, though other than personal testimony, there seems to be no other evidence as to the precise content of Krishnamacharya’s teachings. While Krishnamacharya’s specific sources for his yoga teachings are unclear, it is said that he learned from Sri Ramamohana Brahmachari in the Himilayan Mountains (perhaps Muktinath where his son has visited, but certainly somewhere near the Gandaki River in Nepal) beginning in 1916; however, the source of his teaching (at the Mysore Yogashala or otherwise) is not otherwise documented. Krishnamacharya’s son attests to his father having developed some of his teachings himself. There is the possibility that he may have been influenced by the Mysore Palace Gymnastics Tradition.

Another indication as to the origins of Sūrya Namaskāra is the 1928 Indian publication of “The Ten Point Way of Health” by Raja Bhavan Rao Srinivas (“Bala Sahib”), Pant Pratinidhi of Aundh (1868–1951; Raja of Aundh 1909-1947), followed by later publication in England in 1938. The Raja claims to have practiced the series as a child. And some sources report that only after extensive practice and analysis (and potentially modification) himself did he finally publish the book. Thus, the true origin of the series remains unclear, though it has to be noted that Raja of Aundh, himself never claimed to have invented Surya Namaskar. Further he actually stressed on the ancient origins of this procedure. He helped in popularizing surya namaskar as a simple physical exercise for all round development of an individual in India. He introduced it in schools as a form of education and encouraged even the ordinary man to be physically fit by performing surya namaskar every day. Still, how exactly Sūrya Namaskāra came to be included in the yogic practices of Hatha and Ashtanga Yoga remains unclear.

Other sources which cite early use of “Sun Salutations” are A Short History of Aryan Medical Science from 1896, which claims that in India “there are various kinds of physical exercise indoors and outdoors. But some of the Hindus set aside a portion of their daily worship for making salutations to the Sun by prostrations. This method of adoration affords them so much muscular activity that it takes to some extent the place of physical exercise”.

Early English publications record some ancient methods of sun salutation; however, the do not seem to be related to the modern Sūrya Namaskāra as seen in Yoga practice today. In “A Catalogue raisonnée [sic] of oriental manuscripts”, noted that a short book with 71 leaves with “Tricha calpa vidhi” from “Aditya Puranam” was preserved. He describes the vidhi as “Modes of rendering homage to Sun, with praise and spells; the object being health or delivery from disease”. He further notes the presence of Arghya Pradana, Surya Stotaram, Aditya dvadasa namam – 12 names of the Sun according to the monthly signs of zodiac, Surya Narayana cavacham, Saurashtacshari mantram, and many other elaborate rituals as the part of the vidhi. In Page 148 of the same book he describes a shorter version called “Laghu tricha kalpa vidhi”.

Aditya Hridayam is another ancient practice which involves a variation of Sūrya Namaskāra. It is a procedure of saluting The Sun, taught to Sri Rama by Sage Agastya, before his fight with Ravana. It is described in the “Yuddha Kaanda” Canto 107 of Ramayana.

There are numerous references of praising the Sun for the purpose of good health and prosperity, in Vedas. Some of these Vedic hymns were incorporated into Nitya Vidhi (Daily mandatory routine for a Hindu) for the well being of an individual, through salutations to the Sun. These daily procedures were termed as Surya Namaskara (literally translates as “sun salutations”). Physical prostration to Sun, showing complete surrender of oneself to God, is the main aspect of these procedures. The forms of Surya Namaskar practiced vary from region to region. Two such popular practices are Trucha Kalpa Namaskarah and Aditya Prasna.

Excerpt From Wikipedia Articles, Surya Namaskar and  Surya Namaskar Origins


virabhadra

Origins of Virabhadrasana

Shiva: Shiva and family with Nandi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shiva and his family at the burning ground.  Parvati, Shiva’s wife, holds Skanda while watching Ganesa (left) and Shiva string together the skulls of the dead.  The bull Nandi rests behind the tree.  Kangra painting, 18th century; in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Kumara sambhava ( Sanskrit: “Birth of Kumara”) is an epic poem by Kalidasa written in the 5th century ce. The work describes the courting of the ascetic Shiva, who is meditating in the mountains, by Parvati, the daughter of the Himalayas; the conflagration of Kama (the god of desire)—after his arrow struck Shiva—by the fire from Shiva’s third eye; the wedding and lovemaking of Shiva and Parvati; and the subsequent birth of Kumara (Skanda), the war god.

Virabhadrasana is commonly known as Warrior Pose.  In Light on Yoga, Iyengar tells the story of Kumara sambhava, which he gives as the origin of this asana’s name:

Daksa once celebrated a great sacrifice, but he did not invite his daughter Sati nor her husband Siva, the chief of the gods. Sati, however, went to the sacrifice, but being greatly humiliated and insulted threw herself into the fire and perished. When Siva heard this he was gravely provoked, tore a hair from his matted locks and threw it to the ground. A powerful hero named Virabhadra rose up and awaited his orders. He was told to lead Siva’s army against Daksa and destroy his sacrifice. Virabhadra and his army appeared in the midst of Daksa’s assembly like a hurrican and destroyed the sacrifice, routed the other gods and priests and beheaded Daksa. Siva in grief for Sati withdrew to Kailas and plunged into meditation. Sati was born again as Uma in the house of Himalaya. She strove once more for the love of Siva and ultimately won his heart. The story is told by Kalidasa in his great poem Kumara sambhava (The Birth of the War-Lord).

Sreenivasarao S. provides additional insight into the mythological Virabhadra:

  • Virabhadra the auspicious hero raging like flaming fire is Shiva‘s ferocious instrument for destruction of ignorance, ritualism and dogma. Virabhadra, the Great Warrior,is the sublimation of Shiva’s impatience and anger; the embodiment of his resolute might; and is therefore regarded an aspect of Shiva in blazing mood burning down delusion and falsehood (samhara –murti).
  • Virabhadra also symbolizes the sharp incisive power of discrimination, potent in each of us, to sever  attachments to conceited values, misplaced faith and the routines that we all run through thoughtlessly.  He points out to our adulation of that which should not be esteemed; and to our neglect of that which ought to be valued.  Virabhadra’s message is to open our heart, to embrace everything that life has given us, without fear or prejudice.
  • Shiva represents pure-consciousness (jnana shakthi); Devi is the creative energy, the thought within his consciousness, the will to intend an act (itccha shakthi); and Virabhadra is the power of action (kriya-shakthi) the determined might to transform that will into an act.  Virabhadra, the action-hero, personifies implicit faith, absolute devotion and reverence as also the ruthless efficiency in carrying out the command of his creator.
  • The origin and the relevance of Virabhadra have to be appreciated in the context of the running feud between Daksha and Shiva spread over many eons, manvantara.  The two mighty personages represent two different realities, two divergent faiths, two separate streams of understanding and two opposed world orders.  Daksha meaning ‘able, competent, skilled in performing rituals’, is rooted in the propriety and the relevance of elaborate rituals; and in their techniques as prescribed in the scriptures.  Shiva, in contrast, was beyond the pale of normal society; and stood for everything that Daksha dreaded.  Shiva was a Vratya, and the most distinguished among them, Ekavratya, an unorthodox hermit, who lived by his own rules, not always acceptable to traditional society.  He refused to conform to the ways of the world.

new light on yoga

New Light on Yoga

But while the Sritattvanidhi extends the written history of the asanas a hundred years further back than has previously been documented, it does not support the popular myth of a monolithic, unchanging tradition of yoga poses. Rather, Sjoman says that the yoga section of the Sritattvanidhiis itself clearly a compilation, drawing on techniques from a wide range of disparate traditions. In addition to variations on poses from earlier yogic texts, it includes such things as the rope exercises used by Indian wrestlers and the danda push-ups developed at the vyayamasalas, the indigenous Indian gymnasiums. (In the twentieth century, these push-ups begin to show up as Chaturanga Dandasana, part of the Sun Salutation). In the Sritattvanidhi, these physical techniques are for the first time given yogic names and symbolism and incorporated into the body of yogic knowledge. The text reflects a practice tradition that is dynamic, creative, and syncretistic, rather than fixed and static. It does not limit itself to the asana systems described in more ancient texts: Instead, it builds on them.

Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article by Anne Cushman


historical lineage of asana

Historical Lineage of Asana

The other highly influential figure in the development of modern asana practice in 20th-century India was, of course, T. Krishnamacharya (1888-1989), who studied at Kuvalayananda’s institute in the early 1930s and went on to teach some of the most influential global yoga teachers of the 20th century, like B.K.S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois, Indra Devi, and T.K.V. Desikachar. Krishnamacharya was steeped in the traditional teachings of Hinduism, holding degrees in all six darshanas (the philosophical systems of orthodox Hinduism) and Ayurveda. But he was also receptive to the needs of his day, and he was not afraid to innovate, as evidenced by the new forms of asana practice he developed during the 1930s. During his tenure as a yoga teacher under the great modernizer and physical culture enthusiast Krishnarajendra Wodeyar, the maharajah of Mysore, Krishnamacharya formulated a dynamic asana practice, intended mainly for India’s youth, that was very much in line with the physical culture zeitgeist. It was, like Kuvalayananda’s system, a marriage of hatha yoga, wrestling exercises, and modern Western gymnastic movement, and unlike anything seen before in the yoga tradition.

Mark Singleton holds a PhD in divinity from Cambridge University. He is the author of Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice.