• Andrew Kelly

The Mysore Hathabhyasapaddhati


In Mysore:


The images above and below are taken from an article by Jason Birch and Mark Singleton published last year in the Journal of Yoga Studies about the haṭhayogic text, the Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati.


Haṭha + abhyāsa + paddhati

haṭha practice manual


This text, known only in two 19th century manuscripts, one in Pune (with spaces for illustrations which were never added) and the other in Mysore with illustrations, is an outlier in the haṭhayogic corpus.


In Pune:


For instance most such texts propose a single small hut for the lone practitioner: such a set-up appears very frequently in artistic representations. But the HAP specifies a cluster of huts each with its own function and building material (the āsana hut is to be made of red earth: presumably for wattle and daub). In particular one of these is to have a roof over five metres high to allow for rope exercises—which are mentioned in no other comparable text. Ten such exercises are described in the HAP.


But most strikingly the poses in the work (many of which are unique) are organised and described in sequences. It gives six pose groupings with names like ‘prone’ and ‘standing.’ The groups are in fact mixes of all different kinds of poses linked via a recurring signature pose that gives the group its name — as for instance taḍāsana gets used as a linking pose for arranging standing poses. In other texts, with very few exceptions, poses are treated in isolation.


The illustrated version of the HAP was formerly in the palace library of the Maharaja of Mysore. Sometime in the 19th century (Birch/Singleton suggest around 1850) the poses of the HAP were fed into one section of a lavish multi-topic manuscript production called the Śrī-tattva-nidhi, the ‘Glorious Treasury of Reality’ where they were combined with wrestling exercises.



Examples above (also in the article) are from a later printed training manual. Note the thick set of the bodies: distinctly different from the lean and robust (or sometimes emaciated but robust) presentation favoured for yogins and ascetics.


The upper image looks very much like a subset of the sun salute. But the particularities are less import than the intent: someone training to win a bout is doing something very different from someone using the body as a ground for psychospiritual liberation, especially if the latter leans toward ascetic practice where ‘No gain without pain’ takes on a different sense: strong sensation being used to purge the mind, sometimes at the cost of permanent physical trauma.


Once the physical competency of martial arts is made part of, begins speaking to āsana practice the balance of worldly and non-worldly has to shift. At the same time it is never only either/or: martial arts or really any highly focused physical discipline ('the Zen of Golf') easily provide a basis for rich internal awareness, and haṭha yoga took place in the world.


It was at Mysore that Tirumalai Krishnamacharya was employed to teach yoga to the 150 royal princes and where B. K. S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois studied with him, the main site from which fluid or sequenced āsana practice would become a transnational phenomenon.


As far as the details go, the practices in the HAP overlap with modern yoga practice only to a small degree. (HAP’s ropes are not the same as Iyengar’s.) But they may have fed into, or helped authorise, the culture of experiment at Mysore—impossible to disentangle all of the influences at play, even perhaps for the innovators themselves. At any rate their accounts of their antecedents are problematic.


As a text the HAP is unusual in the haṭhayogic corpus, but it is hard to know how much it was an outlier in the world of practice. Most things people do don’t make it into texts. Having a text may be an emblem of high standing (this is partly what Sanskrit is for) without really determing what is going on. Just because the other haṭhayogic texts ignore sequence doesn’t mean the practice did: after all things must be down in a order and unless the items are held firmly apart habits and consequences are likley to arise.


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Hats off to the researchers who undertook this study: it must have been a bit of a slog. Both copies of the HAP are incomplete and filled with copying errors, and on top of that written in “a crude register of Sanskrit.” (That last item is indication that haṭha yoga did not arise in a high culture literate milieu but has moved imperfectly into it: the Sanskrit of these texts gets called aisha, literally "of the lord" i.e. with inspiration from the wild god Shiva, but practically meaning "full of errors".) For reasons they don’t go into, the Oriental Research Institute which holds the illustrated Mysore copy declined to give them access to it: instead they had to rely on a transcript and decade-old photographs.