A busy hiatus

Over six months since I posted anything here. Just as “no news is good news”, nothing happening here means I’ve been very busy. Now back in the UK after lots of travelling. Most fun was the Kumbh Mela, about which I wrote this piece for the Financial Times. More to come soon.



Haṭhayoga and Philosophy

I’ve just uploaded here a draft of an article to appear in a special issue of the Journal of Indian Philosophy edited by Judit Torszok and Lyne Bansat-Boudon, a collection of revised papers from the panel on Śaiva philosophy at the 2012 World Sanskrit Conference in Delhi. The article is completely different from the paper I gave, in which, because it’s not really my métier, I didn’t address matters of philosophy. But I have girded my loins for the JIP and addressed philosophy’s place in haṭhayoga. I’m glad I did. As ever, looking at something from a different angle gives one new insights. And, as Dzongsar Khyentse Rimpoche said in Temples in the Clouds, “If you really want to progress, you need to take yourself out of your comfort zone”.

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.


Yoga and Yogis

Namarupa have just published a revised version of the lecture on Yoga and Yogis I gave at Columbia University, New York, in September 2011, complete with beautiful reproductions of pre-modern miniatures and lots of my photos. You can find it here. I’m afraid you’ll have to pay, but at only $2.16 it’s not too painful.


A yogī and a tapasvī at Jwalaji

On a visit to the Nāth maṭh at Jwalaji on the full moon day of 11/11/11, I met a fine bunch of young Nāths, among whom were “Yogī Bābā Anūp Nāth” of Manikaran, and resident of the maṭha Tapsvī Mānav Nāth. The latter is renowned for his practice of an ancient austerity called in Hindi Meghadambara, in which water is poured over the ascetic throughout a long winter night. He also showed me the ancient āsana associated with tapasvīs called vīrāsana (which is mentioned in the Mahābhārata, Manu and the Vaikhānasadharmaśāstra).

Manav Nath Asana LoRes

Then, after making me establish my credentials with a demonstration of my finest āsanas, Anūp Nāth Jī proceeded to smoke a chillum and
show me an amazing sequence of poses marred only by a rather grating “dance” soundtrack. I was surprised, not least because I had thought that there were very few āsana practitioners among the Nāths. When I asked him where he had learnt his practice, he said it had come to him apne-āp, “automatically”, when he was a boy. Apologies for the poor quality - the lighting was low and the camera a point-and-shoot compact.