(Oxford University, U.K.)


Unpublished Manuscript Evidence for the Practice of Many Āsanas in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

Numerous scholars have noted that the myriad postures (āsana) of modern yoga are not to be found in the well-known scriptures of Haṭhayoga. This has prompted some to assert that relatively few āsanas were practiced in Haṭhayoga and those we see today are largely the invention of twentieth-century Indian gurus. There is certainly some truth in these assertions, but they need to be assessed in the light of two unpublished manuscripts which indeed contain long lists of āsanas. The first is a seventeenth-century manuscript of the Yogacintāmaṇi which has a section on āsana added to the original text by the same scribe. The additional section consists of a list of over one hundred āsanas as well as a description of fifty-four of them. The second is an early-eighteenth century manuscript from Rajasthan that contains an extended version of the Haṭhapradīpikā and describes over one hundred āsanas. In this paper, I shall compare the āsanas in these unpublished works to those of the Haṭharatnāvalī and the Jogapradīpyakā. It is apparent that brief references to eighty-four āsanas in early Haṭhayoga literature are replaced by actual lists and descriptions of eight-four āsanas after the sixteenth century. During this time in the history of yoga, earlier traditions were synthesised and more scholarly compilations were composed. The types of āsanas seen in these compilations provide clear precedents to the floor and inverted postures in modern Indian yoga.