Pūrṇ Purī in his own words

My head is still spinning from this wonderful discovery thanks to the miracle that is Google books. (Please be patient with the download - it is a 20MB file. If it still doesn’t work, email me and I’ll send it to you.) A couple of nights ago I was preparing for a paper I’m giving at a conference on Warren Hastings’s circle next week in Wales. I was working from Jonathan Duncan’s 1799 article in Asiatic Researches, which is an account of the ūrdhvabāhu sādhu Pūrṇ Purī’s own account of his life, in which, with both arms always held above his head, he travels to Moscow and Malaysia and thousands of places in between. [Edit: the text of the lecture can be found here and the accompanying slideshow here.]


It is an amazing story, and full of tantalising hints as to what might be in the great ascetic’s own account. But nowhere could I find any reference to the original, not even in Duncan’s own papers. Then, while trying to identify a mountain mentioned in Duncan’s article, Google took me to a piece in the European Magazine from 1810 which turned out to be Pūrṇ Purī’s own account! I don’t think any modern scholars have noticed it - it is certainly not cited in any of the secondary sources I’ve consulted. As well as being the travel story to end all travel stories told by a sympathetic and funny narrator, it is full of all sorts of fascinating incidental information, including more grist to the mill of my thesis that tapas is the main source of non-seated āsana practice. PP lists the 18 tapasyās (which as far as I know are not found elsewhere) and number 8 is caurasi āsan, i.e. the 84 āsanas, “difficult postures in sitting, such as continuing several hours with the feet on the neck or under the arms; after which the members are returned to their natural positions” (pp. 263-264). He makes no mention of yoga anywhere.

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