Advice on Āsana in the Śivayogapradīpikā

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Siddhāsana and Padmāsana.
Schmidt, Richard. 1908.
Fakire und Fakirtum im alten und modernen Indien: Yoga-Lehre und Yoga-Praxis nach den indischen Originalquellen.
Berlin: Hermann Barsdorf.

The Śivayogapradīpikā (c. 15th century), or “Lamp on Śiva’s Yoga” is an important and overlooked late-medieval yoga text from south India that uniquely integrates the theory and praxis of yoga within the devotional framework (bhakti) of ritual worship (pūjā). Little scholarly attention has yet been brought to bear on this text, although its prominence within south Indian Haṭha and Rājayoga traditions is attested by commentaries and citations of the Śivayogapradīpikā in several later texts on yoga.2 My ongoing dissertation research at Harvard University aims to assemble the first critical edition, translation, and in-depth study of the Śivayogapradīpikā, based on the collation of over a dozen Sanskrit manuscripts and several printed editions collected from libraries and archives across south India. In this short article, I’ll provide a brief introduction to the text, followed by an exposé of one of its instructional gems: advice on the practice of yogic posture (āsana).

An Introduction to the Text

The Śivayogapradīpikā is attributed to an author named Cennasadāśivayogī, about whom little is known beyond the text itself, although evidence suggests that he was likely a Vīraśaiva (“Heroic Devotee of Śiva”) — the form of devotional Śaivism found predominantly in the Karnataka region which traces its history to Basava, the renowned twelfth-century philosopher, poet, and statesman. Based on the extant manuscript records and commentarial traditions, the text was likely composed in the Karnataka or Tamil Nadu regions of south India around the second half of the fifteenth century, and thus falls between the nexus of the late medieval and early modern periods. As an unstudied text, it offers an important historical window onto the bricolage of Sanskrit intellectual, religious, and yoga traditions active in south India prior to the colonial period.

The Śivayogapradīpikā comprises five chapters (paṭala) and approximately 290 verses. Its teachings are unique among the corpus of second-millennium Sanskrit yoga treatises for a number of important reasons.

The soteriological goal of its yoga system, like other medieval Yogaśāstras, is the attainment of the stone-like supra-mental state of samādhi (also known as sahajā, unmanī, or amanaska) described by the author in Vedāntic terms as the oneness of the individual (jivātman) and supreme soul (paramātman) (ŚYP 3.48), and elsewhere, given the Vīraśaiva inflection of our author, as the non-dual (advaita) state of oneness with the liṅga (ŚYP 3.63). The text also extends the possibility of the yogin becoming “equal to Śiva” (śivatulya, ŚYP 3.56).

The Śivayogapradīpikā teaches the standard tetrad of medieval yogas, namely: Mantrayoga, Layayoga, Haṭhayoga, and Rājayoga — only it understands their methods as a progressive curriculum leading to Śivayoga, a unique form of Rājayoga intended for devotees of Śiva. Here, the traditional eight auxiliaries of yoga (aṣṭāṅgayoga) and the physical techniques of Haṭhayoga are reinterpreted as a method of internal ritual worship of the god Śiva (śivapūjā) — located not within the inner sanctum of the temple, but on the altar of the heart within the mind of the yogin. Thus, unlike other contemporaneous Haṭhayoga texts which tend to disavow any particular sectarian order or religious affiliation (Mallinson 2014; Birch 2015), the Śivayogapradīpikā is an unabashedly Śaiva text, aimed at devotees of Śiva. And yet, within the world of late medieval south India, I argue that the author sought to make the text appeal to Śaivas and non-Śaivas alike,3 including both renunciates and householders — a message we will see invoked in the Śivayogapradīpikā’s advice on yogic posture (āsana).

Āsanas for All

After establishing the proper context for the ritual worship of Śiva, the author describes the methods of Aṣṭāṅgayoga, which includes techniques of Haṭhayoga. Verses 2.13-15 provide recommendations for the practice of āsana, beginning with a set list of ten postures.
Then, these ten best āsanas are enumerated together — Accomplished (siddha), Lotus (ambuja), Auspicious (svastika), Liberated (mukta), Hero (vīra), Blessed (bhadra), Peacock (ahibhuj), Lion (kesari), Cow-faced (gomukha), and Comfortable Posture (sukhāsana).4
The author Cennasadāśivayogī simply lists the postures as such and provides no descriptions, although a later Kannada commentary,5 attributed to the Vīraśaiva scholar Basavārādhya (c. 17/18th century), furnishes instructions for each āsana by quoting the Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā.6 Each of these āsanas are seated postures, save for the non-seated balancing posture, the Peacock, known more commonly as mayūrāsana. Here, however, the author has employed an unusual Sanskrit synonym, ahibhuj, which translates literally as the “snake-eater.” That peacocks eat snakes is well-known in India, and it is for this reason that they are thought to be immune to deadly poisons. Thus, in the Haṭhapradīpikā, Peacock Posture is said to make the stomach and digestive fires so strong that the yogin can even consume poison! (HP 1.31).7

Mayūrāsana. The Peacock Posture.
Mahāmandir, Jodhpur. Late 18th - 19th century.
Photograph by Lenscraft.

Likewise, rather than the more common padma for Lotus posture, the author employs the word ambuja, literally “water-born,” a common epithet for the lotus flower. Such variant names serve as a poignant reminder of the fluidity of āsana names across Sanskrit texts and traditions in the premodern period. In this case, it is unclear if these variants reflected a difference in orthopraxis, that is, of the proper manner to physically perform the āsana. More likely, the author uses these variant names simply to satisfy Sanskrit poetical and metrical purposes.

Next, the author simplifies his list of ten āsanas into three, which are then uniquely prescribed to types of yoga practitioners according to their station in life.
Lotus (ambuja) is for householders, Accomplished (siddha) is for those on paths other than householders (i.e., ascetics), and Comfortable Posture (sukhāsana) is for all — this threefold [division] is best.8
Through this verse we might gain some practical insight into the anticipated audience of the Śivayogapradīpikā, as we are informed that this yoga is available not only to ascetics but to householders (gṛhin), and indeed to all. It is interesting to note that Lotus posture is prescribed for householders, while Accomplished (siddha) is recommended for non-householders. This is because the application of siddhāsana requires pressing the the foot against the penis (e.g., dṛḍhaṃ vinyaset meḍhre pādam, HP 1.35), symbolizing, if not directly causing, celibacy. Thus, it is prescribed for celibate ascetics and not progenitive householders.9 However, for those who are unable to perform padmāsana or siddhāsana, the author reassures us, Comfortable Posture (sukhāsana) is available to all — or indeed, any preferred āsana from this list.
Indeed, any such āsana may be praised and mastered. Seated in the āsana preferred among those, the [yogin] should dwell in a solitary place.10
The author concludes this short section on yogic posture, stating that while the previous three were recommended according to one’s station, in effect, any posture on this list may be selected, so long as its recommended by tradition (praśasta), and mastered (vaśa) by the yogin. Once established, the yogin should take his seat in a secluded and solitary location (viviktathāna). The Śivayogapradīpikā then goes on to describe such an ideal locale for yogic practice, the original yogaśālā, otherwise known as the medieval yoga hut (yogamaṭha).

Śivayogapradīpikā Witnesses

Ped 1978 [1907]. Śivayogadīpikā: mantra-laya-haṭha-rājākhyacaturvidhayogānāṃ vivaraṇam Sadāśivabrahmendrapañcaratnaṃ ca. Dvitīyāvṛttiḥ. Ānandaśramasaṃskṛtagranthāvaliḥ; granthāṅkaḥ 139. Puṇyākhyapattanam: Ānandāśramaḥ.

Ked Śivayōgapradīpikā: Basavārādhyaṭīkāsamētā. M.M. Kalaburgi, and Nāgabhūṣana Śāstri, eds. Śrī Basavēśvarapīṭha taraṅga ; 4. Dhāravāḍa: Kannaḍa Adhyayanapīṭha, Karnāṭaka Viśvavidyālaya.

T1 Pondicherry IFP T.0871. Transcription of MGOL D.4385, Grantha.

T2 Pondicherry IFP T.1019d. Transcription of IFP RE.20181, Grantha(?).

T3 Pondicherry IFP T.1027a. Transcription of unknown ms. Tulu(?).

Other Sources

Birch, Jason. 2015. “The Yogatārāvalī and the Hidden History of Yoga.” Nāmarūpa 20: 4-13.

Haṭhapradīpikā. 1998. Ed. and trans., Swami Digambarji. Second edition. Lonavla, Pune: Kaivalyadhama. 

Mallinson, James. 2014. “Haṭhayoga’s Philosophy: A Fortuitous Union of Non-Dualities.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 42 (1): 225–47.

Vasiṣṭasaṃhitā. 1984. Ed., Swami Digambarji, Dr. Pitambar Jha, and Shri Gyan Shankar Sahay. Lonavla, Pune: Kaivalyadhama.


1 I wish to thank Jason Birch and Jacqueline Hargreaves for their kind invitation to write this post for The Luminescent, and for their valuable and astute editorial remarks. 

2 The Śivayogapradīpikā was rendered into Kannada prose with a commentary known as the Paramārthaprakāśike by Nijaguṇa Śivayogī, who may have been the same author of the important Vīraśaiva compendium the Vivekacintāmani (c. 15th century). Another Kannada commentary was written by the Vīraśaiva scholar Basavārādhya (c. 17/18th century). Citations of the Śivayogapradīpikā in later compilations on yoga include the Yogacintāmaṇi of Śivānanda (early 17th century), the Upāsanāsārasaṅgraha (17th century), the later Yogasārasaṅgraha and a commentary on the Yogatārāvalī, the Rājatarala of Rāmasvāmipaṇḍita. 

3 In the effort of inclusivity, the author Cennasadāśivayogī assures his audience that “Truly, there is no difference between Śivayoga and Rājayoga” (ŚYP 1.13ab na bhedaḥ śivayogasya rājayogasya tattvataḥ /).

4 Śivayogapradīpikā 2.13
siddhāmbujasvastikamuktavīrabhadrāhibhukkesarigomukhāni |
sukhāsanaṃ caiva samaṅkitāni tato daśemāni varāsanāni ||

2.13a siddhāmbuja- ] Ked T1 T2 ; siddhāmbujaṃ Ped ; siddhāmbujaḥ T3 • -mutkavīra- ] Ped Ked T1 ; muktavī T2 ; yuktavīra T3     2.13b -bhadrāhibhukkesarigomukhāni ] Ped T1 ; bhadrāhibhuksiṃhagavāṃ mukhāni Ked ; bhadrabhuksiṃhagavāṃ mukhāni T2 ; bhadrābhibhuksiṃhajago mukhāni T3     2.13c samaṅkitāni ] Ped Ked T3 ; samāhitāni T1 ; samāṃtāni T2     2.13d tato daśemāni ] Ked T1 ; tathā daśaitāni Ped ; tato daśamānī T2 ; tato daśaitāni T3

5 I am grateful to Shubha Shanthamurthy for her translation of Basavārādhya’s Kannada commentary.

6 The āsanas in the Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā likely draw from the earlier Vaiṣṇava Pāñcarātra text, the Vimānārcanākalpa, which teaches a similar list of nine āsanas. I am grateful to James Mallinson for drawing this to my attention. 

7 I thank Jason Birch for this observation. 

8 Śivayogapradīpikā 2.14
gṛhiṇām ambujaṃ siddhaṃ gṛhasthetaravartmanām |
sukhāsanaṃ ca sarveṣām ity etat trividhaṃ varam ||

2.14a gṛhiṇām ambujaṃ siddhaṃ ] Ked T3 ; gṛhiṇām ambujaṃ nityaṃ Ped ; gṛhiṇām ambujamukhaṃ T1 ; gṛhiṇām ajaṃ siddhaṃ T2     2.14b gṛhasthetaravartmanām ] Ked ; siddhaṃ tv itaravartmanām Ped ; siddhādi vanavāsinām T1 ; grahasthetaravartmanām T2 T3     2.14d ity etat trividhaṃ ] Ked Ped ; madhy etat trividhaṃ T2 • varam ] Ked Ped T3 ; param T1 T2

9 I thank Jason Birch and James Mallinson for clarifying this. 

10 Śivayogapradīpikā 2.15
yāni kāni praśastāni hy āsanāni vaśāni ca |
teṣv abhīṣṭāsanāsīno viviktasthānam āśrayet ||

2.15b hy āsanāni vaśāni ca ] Ped ; hy āsanāni samāni ca Ked ; āsanāni vaśāni ca T1 T2 ; āsaneṣu vaśāni ca T3     

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