(University of California, Santa Barbara, U.S.A.)


'Classical Yoga'? The Fall and Rise of the Yoga Sūtras

It is something of a scholarly convention to refer to the yoga system of the Yoga Sūtras as classical yoga. However, an examination of the reception history of this work indicates that apart from a 500-year period between the eighth and twelfth centuries approximately, the Yoga Sūtras were rarely attested in South Asian sources. The work is the subject of very few commentaries, and attracted only limited attention in South Asian intellectual circles (which were largely limited to Kashmir and Tamilnadu, and this most likely due to mythological traditions regarding a certain Patañjali). Most striking is the utter neglect of Patañjali’s system in the Puranic and Smṛti canons, which appear to censor not only Patañjali’s name, but also the title of his work, and any discussion of yoga philosophy from their many chapters devoted to yoga. It is only since its ”rediscovery” by the British Orientalist Henry Thomas Colebrooke and subsequent appropriation by Swami Vivekananda that Patañjali’s work has been elevated to ”classical” status. My presentation will outline the Yoga Sūtra’s reception history, relying mainly on quantitative data to make the case that, prior to the nineteenth century, the work lay in relative oblivion throughout much of its history. In the light of these data, the identification of the work as a system of ”classical yoga” is highly questionable.