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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Kelly

Mughal yoga cats

Detail from an album (muraqqa) prepared for the Mughal Emperor Jahangir (reigned 1605-27), currently in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (online here). The Mughal emperors frequently had themselves portrayed visiting ashrams and holding discussions with yogins/ascetics, perhaps as a way of positioning themselves as tolerant, pluralistic monarchs of the huge multi-ethnic empire they ruled, at its height the richest and most populous state in the world.  For good measure the album also includes a painting of the Virgin Mary and a print of the Massacre of the Innocents.  The British would end up taking a very different line with hatha yogins. 

There's a fable about a cat in the Mahabharata (5.161) who practices yoga but only in order to attract mice students who then mysteriously go missing. Eventually the mice realise the cat’s claim to be a vegetarian is a big fat lie! A warning to be on the lookout for shady gurus. This cat appears in the 7th-8th century Great Relief at Mammallapuram in Tamil Nadu. The sculpture is worn but you can just make out the adoring mice around it.

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