Nāth Saṃpradāya

Here is my entry on the Nāth Saṃpradāya for the Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism Vol. 3, 407-428 (2011).


Early āsanas

I’m very excited to be working with Debra Diamond, Carl Ernst and Mark Singleton, among others, on the catalogue for the Yoga: Art of Transformation exhibition to be held at the Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute in autumn 2013.

The Chester Beatty Library in Dublin has kindly given Debra permission to use the beautiful
āsana pictures from a c.1603 manuscript of the Bahr al-hayat in their collection. As far as I’m aware, these pictures are the earliest paintings of non-seated āsanas (the carvings on the prākāra or outer wall at the Mallikārjuna temple at Śrīśailam in Andhra Pradesh include depictions of kukkuṭāsana and mayūrāsana and are nearly a century older - they were carved in 1510-1511).

Bahr al-hayat is a sixteenth-century Persian recension of the “Water of Life” - a text cycle worked on extensively by Carl - which was written by Shaykh Muhammad Ghawth Gwaliyari (d. 1563), an Indian master of the Shattari order, who, as his last name makes clear, was from Gwalior. Some of the pictures are rather mysterious and do not correspond to āsanas taught in contemporaneous, or indeed later, Sanskrit texts.

Or so I thought. My Oxford colleague Jason Birch recently drew my attention to the colophons of a couple of manuscripts of Śivānanda’s
Yogacintāmaṇi. I somewhat aimlessly started to read the āsana descriptions in the second manuscript, Scindia Oriental Institute Library, Ujjain, ms No. 3537, which dates to 1660, and discovered that it includes two groups of āsanas that are not found in the published edition of the Yogacintāmaṇi. The first group, whose teaching seems to be credited to one Mohanadāsa, consists of six, all of which are taught and depicted in the Chester Beatty ms.

Here is a close-up of part of the first of the Chester Beatty manuscript illustrations (
CBL In 16.10a), which depicts haṃsāsana:

[Waiting for permissions from the CBL… watch this space]

© Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library www.cbl.ie

And here is the description of haṃsāsana in the SOI Yogacintāmaṇi ms (folio 62v lines 3-4):

pṛṣṭhaśīrṣakaṭīḥ kṛtvā samāḥ jaṃghāṃ tu jaṃghikā
madhye saṃsthāpya vyatyasya pārṣṇījānvor adhaḥ sthitau
hastāgrābhyāṃ samākuṃcya haṃsaṃ jāpī ca haṃsake || haṃsa so haṃ

which means something like:

“Having aligned his back, head and waist, [and] turned back his lower leg and inserted it between his lower leg [and thigh], and having bent/contracted the two [?] situated below the heel and knee with the tips of his hands, he recites
haṃsa. Haṃsa is so 'ham.”

Please let me know of any improvements to the translation you might have (japet for jāpī? we need a main verb), and, in particular, any suggestions as to what that flame going from the yogi’s loins into his
dhūni might be.


Śrī Rām Bālak Dās Jī Yogirāj and Cambridge Jones

Here is a short clip of Cambridge Jones taking pictures of my guru, Śrī Rām Bālak Dās Jī Yogirāj, practising nauli at the ashram of Śrī Jagannāth Dās Jī Yogirāj (pictured on the right) at the Dirgheshwar Mahadev Temple on the UP/Bihar border on January 16th 2012. Cambridge Jones and I are working on an illustrated history of yoga.