Āsanas in Clay


The craft of doll making and clay modelling from the district of Ghurni in Krishnagar, Bengal, India is thought to be about 250 years old. To this day, artisans exquisitely handcraft dolls that attempt to capture the diverse lives and occupations of various people. These decorative creations often reflect the period in which they were produced. The style is realistic and most pieces are intricately painted or clothed in fabric. They were highly sought after by collectors in Europe during the late-19th and early 20th centuries.

The Albert Hall Museum of Jaipur, whose main vision is to collect, protect and persevere the industrial arts and handicrafts of India, has a gallery dedicated to such pottery works. Its impressive collection contains a selection of Sadhus performing a variety of seated, inverted and dynamic āsanas. Below are a few of these miniature clay figurines that can be dated to the late-19th century.

Dr M. L. Gharote of the Lonavla Yoga Institute (India) documented the complete collection, which includes one hundred āsana miniatures1, in his book, Encyclopaedia of Traditional Asanas (2006). Gharote (2006, lxvi) notes that the Jaipur Central Museum (also known as the Albert Hall Museum) commenced its collection in August 1881 and that its catalogue, which was first published by the Imperial Medical Hall Press in 1896, includes descriptions of these figurines by Pandit Lakshmi Nath Sastri, Principal Sanskrit College, Jaipur.

The models provide some insightful details about the lives of ascetics during this early modern period, such as their accoutrements (like a very practical umbrella), sectarian affiliation (most commonly Vaiṣṇava and Śaiva) and use of texts. Also, the collection as a whole is valuable for scholarly efforts to document premodern variations of āsanas. For example, there are three variations of viparītakaraṇāsana, four variations of aikapādāsana, and two variations of kappyāsana and kubri-āsana, respectively.

1 Although Gharote states there are one hundred āsana miniatures in the collection of the Jaipur Central Museum (2006, lxvi), I have found references to only seventy-two of these āsanas in his book.

A Sadhu seated in an āsana (labelled siddhāsana)
with arm raised (likely ūrdhvabāhu) and dressed in a loin clothe.
Albert Hall Museum, Jaipur. Accession No.: 7143.
Bearded Sadhu with jaṭā (dreadlocked hair),
fire tongs and a kamaṇḍalu (water pot).
Albert Hall Museum, Jaipur. Accession No.: 7240.
Sadhu from the Nirguna sect performing an āsana
(labelled vṛkṣāsana and resembles vātāyanāsna).
Albert Hall Museum, Jaipur. Accession No.: 7152.

An ash covered ascetic performing an āsana
(labelled ardha garuḍa bheda).
Albert Hall Museum, Jaipur. Accession No.: 7145.

Sadhu seated in an āsana
(labelled vajrāsana).
Albert Hall Museum, Jaipur. Accession No.: 7161.

Sadhu performing a supine posture
(labelled matsyāsana).
Albert Hall Museum, Jaipur. Accession No.: 7172.

Sadhu performing a dynamic back bending āsana from the standing position
(labelled ardha kapāliāsana).
Albert Hall Museum, Jaipur. Accession No.: 7183.

Sadhu seated in an āsana (labelled kubriāsana)
with a crutch (yogadaṇḍa) under the his left armpit.
Albert Hall Museum, Jaipur. Accession No.: 7199.

Sadhu seated in sahajāsana under an umbrella.
Albert Hall Museum, Jaipur. Accession No.: 7211.
Sadhu performing kukkuṭāsana.
Albert Hall Museum, Jaipur. Accession No.: 7144.
(Photograph: Borayin Maitreya Larios)

Sadhu performing gorakṣāsana.
Albert Hall Museum, Jaipur. Accession No.: 7177.
(Photograph: Borayin Maitreya Larios)

Watch the Bengali artisans at work in this documentary.


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