The Unsupported Pose from the 'Splendour of the Mind'

Nirālambanāsana of the Mānasollāsa


An assembly of Hindu gods, ascetics and worshippers.
Deccan, Hyderabad or Bidar. Early 18th century.
Gouache with gold on paper inscribed with the name in modi script 'Kakoji Ram'.
Painting size 41 x 33.6cm.
Sotheby's Catelogue, The Sven Gahlin Collection
, Lot 51.

The Mānasollāsa, which literally means ‘the mind’s splendour’, is a text attributed to Sureśvarācārya, a student of the great advaitavedāntin Ādiśaṅkara, who is generally ascribed to the eighth century CE. This text, otherwise called the Dakṣiṇāmūrtistotrabhāvārthavārttika, has an interesting chapter on yoga (i.e., chapter 9), which utilises the standard system of eight auxiliaries known as aṣṭāṅgayoga, consisting of yama, niyama, āsana, prāṇāyāma, etc.

Some scholars have claimed that the Mānasollāsa was written more recently than the eighth century.1 Our research suggests that chapter nine, at least, was probably written after the twelfth century because the definitions of its auxiliaries contain references to techniques specific to Haṭhayoga, such as the internal locks employed during prāṇāyāma and several complex āsana.

A striking feature of the Mānasollāsa’s aṣṭāṅgayoga is its discussion on āsanas. Unlike yoga texts of the preceding period that provide simple lists of āsanas, such as the  Pātañjalayogaśāstra and the Dharmaputrikā, the Mānasollāsa divides its āsanas into five categories according to the deities Brahmā, Viṣṇu, Rudra, Śakti and Śiva.

As far as we are aware, this categorisation of āsanas is unique to the Mānasollāsa.

Mānasollāsa 9.24cd–25cd
Brahmā’s āsanas are called Svastika, Gomukha, Padma and Haṃsāsana. 
Viṣṇu’s āsanaare Nṛsiṃha, Garuḍa, Kūrma and Nāgāsana. 
Rudras are Vīra, Mayūra, Vajra and Siddhāsana. 
[Yogins] know Śakti’s āsana as Yonyāsana and Śiva’s as Paścimatānāsana. 
svastikaṃ gomukhaṃ padmaṃ haṃsākhyaṃ brāhmam āsanam ||24|| 
nṛsiṃhaṃ garuḍaṃ kūrmaṃ nāgākhyaṃ vaiṣṇavāsanam | 
vīraṃ mayūraṃ vajrākhyaṃ siddhākhyaṃ raudram āsanam ||25|| 
yonyāsanaṃ viduḥ śāktaṃ śaivaṃ paścimatānakam |

The author of the Mānasollāsa does not describe these āsanas nor does he divulge the reasons for this classification. This raises the question of why particular āsanas have been associated with each of these deities. When worshipping, should a devotee adopt an āsana associated with the deity worshipped? Or, in some cases, might the reason be more obvious? For example, Garuḍāsana might be considered a vaiṣṇava posture because of Garuḍa’s role as the vehicle of Viṣṇu in vaiṣṇava mythology. 

In addition to the five categories another āsana, namely, Nirālambanāsana (The Unsupported Posture) is mentioned. It is associated with Sadāśiva, who is a mild form of Śiva worshipped in the Śaivasiddhānta, a normative tradition of Śaivism which still exists in south India. Nirālambanāsana appears to transcend the other āsanas just as Sadāśiva transcends the five other gods.

Mānasollāsa 9.26cd–27ab
For the unsupported yoga (nirālambanayoga), there is the unsupported āsana [called Nirālambanāsana]. Because [this āsana] is not supported, meditation [arises]. Sadāśiva is the unsupported [state of meditation]. 

nirālambanayogasya nirālambanam āsanam ||26|| 
nirālambatayā dhyānaṃ nirālambaḥ sadāśivaḥ |

The ‘unsupported yoga’ (nirālambanayogalikely refers to a meditative state without a point of focus, much like the ‘seedless’ samādhi of Pātañjalayoga. It’s possible that the author of the Mānasollāsa had no particular āsana in mind when referring to a Nirālambanāsana because it remains undefined. In other words, the transcendent Nirālambanāsana is simply that posture which enables the yogin to realise the unsupported state, that is Sadāśiva, in meditation.

However, a posture by the name Nirālambanāsana is described in a seventeenth-century yoga text called the Haṭharatnāvalī.

Haṭharatnāvalī (17th century)
Now, the Unsupported Āsana: 
Having made a lotus with the hands, the wise yogin remains on the elbows while raising up the face. [This is] Nirālambanāsana. Meditation is the state of being unsupported [just as this] āsana is unsupported.

atha nirālambanam 
karābhyāṃ paṅkajaṃ kṛtvā tiṣṭhet kūrparayoḥ sudhīḥ | 
mukham unnamayann uccair nirālambanāsanam ||3.61|| 
nirālambanatā dhyānaṃ nirālambanam āsanam |3.62|| 
emend: kūrparayoḥ : kūrparayā Ed. 2

Śrīnivāsa, the author of the Haṭharatnāvalī, does not suggest that Nirālambanāsana is superior to any other āsana nor does he give it a prominent place in his list of eighty-four āsanas. Nonetheless, this Haṭhayogin, who claimed to be an expert in tantric and vedāntic scriptures among others, appears to have known the yoga of the Mānasollāsa because verse 3.62 of the Haṭharatnāvalī seems to have been borrowed from the Mānasollāsa (9.26cd–26ab).3 In fact, it looks like Śrīnivāsa attempted to rewrite the verse, somewhat  incoherently, to remove the reference to Sadāśiva. 

It is unlikely that Śrīnivāsa’s description of Nirālambanāsana was ever that intended by the author of the Mānasollāsa. Like other Haṭha and Rājayoga texts, the the Haṭharatnāvalī is an act of bricolage. The source of its eighty-four āsanas remains unknown. 

Nirālaṃbanāsana as illustrated in Haṭharatnāvalī (a treatise on Haṭhayoga) of Śrīnivāsayogī.
Lonavla : Lonavla Yoga Institute (India), 2009, pp. 152 - 153.


1 See, for example, Karl H Potter, Encyclopaedia of Indian philosophies. Vol. 3 (Advaita Vedānta up to Śamkara and his pupils). Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1981, pp. 550-51.

2 Śrīnivāsayogī; M L Gharote; Parimal Devnath; Vijay Kant Jha, Haṭharatnāvalī (a treatise on Haṭhayoga) of Śrīnivāsayogī. Lonavla : Lonavla Yoga Institute (India), 2009.

3 Note that Gharote’s critical edition of Haṭharatnāvalī 3.62 has, nirālambanayogī syān nirālambanam āsanam | nirālambanatā dhyānaṃ nirālambanam āsanam. However, 3.62ab is somewhat redundant and does not occur in six of the seven manuscripts used in Gharote's critical edition (2009: 117 n. 2, 4). Therefore, Śrīnivāsa, the author of the Haṭharatnāvalī, may have added only 3.62cd (nirālambanatā dhyānaṃ nirālambanam āsanam = Mānasollāsa 9.27a and 9.26d).