Scroll In: Yoga is not a culturally homogenous, all-Hindu, Vedic tradition, as is often portrayed by revivalist demagogues and those who have set up a raucous campaign to reclaim its roots. It is, in fact, a liberal, eclectic tradition that absorbed freely from Buddhist, Jain, even Sufist ascetic practices.
Roots of Yoga, a new academic work by renowned yoga scholars Mark Singleton and James Mallinson, is an intensive study of over 100 core texts on the subject. These date from 1000 BCE to the 19 century CE, from early Upanishads and Mahabharata to Jnaneswari and Hawz al-Hayat (The Spring of Life), and include rare texts in several languages, including Tamil, Avadhi, Marathi, Kashmiri, Pali, Tibetan, Arabic and Persian.
The book, five years in the making and launched last week by Abhyas Trust in Delhi, punctures some of the popular myths around yoga. To begin with, there is no evidence that yoga started as a religious tradition.
“Yoga was a sort of floating technology between various religious systems,” said Singleton. “The Dattatreyayogasastra (13CE), for instance, says that yoga can be practised by anyone irrespective of religion or caste, ascetics, Brahmins, Buddhists, Jains, tantrics and even materialists.”
Dattatreyayogasastra has some pithy things to say about religious figureheads in “ochre robes” claiming to be great yogis, while lacking practice, faith and wisdom – “men like that do not practise yoga but attain their ends through words alone, one should shun those who wear religious garb”.