118 Asanas of the mid-17th century

An extract from:
Birch, J. (Submitted 2013, 2018). "The Proliferation of Āsana-s in Late Mediaeval Yoga Texts." In Yoga in Transformation: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Karl Baier, Philipp A. Maas & Karin Preisendanz (eds.). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht Unipress.

Detail from the Krishna Vishvarupa (ca. 1740)
which includes various Gods & a Nāth yogī seated in an āsana with ankles crossed.
Bilaspur School. Himachal Pradesh, India.
Opaque watercolour and gold on paper. H x W (Image): 19.8 × 11.7 cm (7 13/16 × 4 5/8 in).
Catherine and Ralph Benkaim Collection.

Birch writes:
Two centuries after the Hathapradīpikā, several large yoga compilations which integrated teachings of Haṭha and Rāja Yoga with those of Pātañjalayoga and Brahmanical texts were written. One such work is the early seventeenth-century Yogacintāmaṇi of Śivānandasarasvati, an Advaitavedāntin who probably resided in Vārāṇsī during the reigns of the Moghul rulers Shāh Jahān and his sons. The latter half of this work is structured according to the standard eight auxiliaries of yoga. In the section on āsana, there are descriptions of thirty-four āsana-s from a wide selection of sources [...]. 
Among the five manuscripts and one printed edition of the Yogacintāmaṇi that have been consulted for this chapter, one manuscript contains considerably more āsana-s than the others. The manuscript in question, which I refer to as the “Ujjain manuscript” [dated vikramasamvat 1717, Thursday, 5 June 1659 CE], is held at the Scindia Oriental Research Library in Ujjain. [...] The names of āsana-s in the Ujjain manuscript have been reproduced in [the table], below. 
The Ujjain Manuscript of the Yogacintāmaṇi, folio 62v.
Photograph: Jacqueline Hargreaves (2009).
The Ujjain manuscript extends our knowledge of āsana-s practised in the seventeenth century by providing lists 1b, 2 and 3. List 1b consists of the twenty-eight āsana-s that have been added to list 1a. List 2 adds thirty-nine āsana-s to lists 1a and 1b. List 3 adds another seventeen, which yields a total of one hundred and eighteen āsana-s in the Ujjain manuscript. Therefore, the Ujjain manuscript contains an additional eighty-four āsana-s to the thirty-four in other manuscripts of the Yogacintāmaṇi (i.e., list 1a). Eight of these have been taken from Vācaspatimiśra’s Tattvavaiśāradī. However, I am yet to find the names of the other seventy-six additional āsana-s in any yoga text dated before the sixteenth century.

Table: Names of āsana-s listed in the Ujjain manuscript of the Yogacintāmaṇi

The Yogacintāmaṇi (Ujjain ms.) contains descriptions for sixty-two (62) of the 118  āsana-s listed. Apart from those few which are based on Vācaspatimiśra’s Tattvavaiśāradī, I am yet to find the majority of these descriptions in another text or manuscript. 
Generally speaking, most of the seated, forward, backward, twisting and arm-balancing poses in modern yoga have been anticipated by these seventeenth and eighteenth-century sources. This may not be so apparent in comparing the names of āsana-s from one tradition to another, because similar āsana-s can have different names. This is true for both medieval and modern yoga. Such differences may reflect regional influences and attempts by gurus to distinguish their own repertoire of techniques. The main exceptions to this are the names of āsana-s in the well-known, principal texts such as the Pātañjalayogaśāstra and the Hathapradīpikā. Since these texts have been invoked to establish the traditional credentials, so to speak, of more recent lineages, the names of their āsana-s have endured. 

Yogin seated in a squat
with ankles crossed, holding a mālā.

Wellcome Library (MS Hindi 371, folio 62r).

About the Author

Jason Birch is a Post-doctoral Research Fellow on the Hatha Yoga Project, SOAS University of London. His current area of research is the history of physical yoga on the eve of colonialism. He is editing and translating six key Sanskrit texts on Haṭha and Rājayoga, which are outputs of the project. He holds a DPhil in Oriental Studies (2013) from the University of Oxford and is a founding member of the Journal of Yoga Studies

Birch, J. (Submitted 2013, 2018). "The Proliferation of Āsana-s in Late Mediaeval Yoga Texts."
Yoga in Transformation: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Karl Baier, Philipp A. Maas & Karin Preisendanz (eds.). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht Unipress.



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How to succeed at Āsana: A seventeenth-century Marginal Note