Since I am on the topic of James Mallinson, I missed a recent showing of Mystical Journey: Kumbh Mela on the Smithsonian Channel. But you needn’t worry. It’s coming again on December 2 at 3:00 pm, December 3 at 2:00 pm and December 12 at 1:00 pm:
West meets East when acclaimed actor Dominic West joins his childhood friend on a pilgrimage to Northern India and the biggest religious festival in the world, Kumbh Mela. Here, 100 million Hindus have gathered to wash away their sins in the holy rivers near Allahabad, on the banks of Sangam. It is also where Dominic’s friend Sir James Mallinson will be initiated into a senior role called a mahant. Follow these friends on this incredible two-week journey, and submerge yourself in the sacred waters and culture of this triennial celebration.
Hidden away in the Freer-Sackler Gallery website is the following jewel, combining photography, historical watercolor paintings, and archival research:
Yogic Identities: Tradition and Transformation by James Mallinson:
The earliest textual descriptions of yogic techniques date to the last few centuries BCE and show their practitioners to have been ascetics who had turned their backs on ordinary society. These renouncers have been considered practitioners of yoga par excellence throughout Indian history. While ascetics, including some seated in meditative yoga postures, have been represented in Indian statuary since that early period, the first detailed depictions of Indian ascetics are not found until circa 1560 in paintings produced under the patronage of Mughal Emperor Akbar (reigned 1556–1605) and his successors. These wonderfully naturalistic and precise images illuminate not only Mughal manuscripts and albums but also our understanding of the history of yogis and their sects. Scholars have argued for these paintings’ value as historical documents; their usefulness in establishing the history of Indian ascetic orders bears this out. The consistency of their depictions and the astonishing detail they reveal allow us to flesh out—and, sometimes, rewrite—the incomplete and partisan history that can be surmised from Sanskrit and vernacular texts, travelers’ reports, hagiography, and ethnography.
I went down to the Yoga: The Art of Transformation today and sat through the first day of the Yoga and Visual Culture: An Interdisciplinary Symposium. It was overwhelming to absorb the depth and sway of the panels. I also made a fast run through the exhibit at lunch hour, and after the panels were over went back for a second take. Again, just too much to take in during a visit of a few hours. Stunning, jaw-dropping, eye-opening, compelling—I am running out of superlatives.
I bought the catalog, 328 pages of color reproductions of the exhibit items, additional graphic material (200 color and black-and-white illustrations) and interpretative framework to fill the eyes, mind and soul. I am tempted to say that the book is better than the exhibit, but that would be wrong, because they inhabit different realms. The catalog can swing wide with its full-page color reproductions and authoritative essays, but the exhibit has a physicality, a presence, a gravity that leaves an impression on my senses .
…and they’re going to their Supreme Court to settle the matter.
The Washington Post – Is yoga religious? An Indian court mulls mandatory school exercises
India’s school policy considers yoga an integral component of physical education. But the court has expressed caution, and is considering arguments that yoga has a religious component. The issue is complicated because India is a secular democracy but has pockets of Hindu nationals who would like to force their way of life on others.
India’s court system may not be the best place to get a quick and clear decision because it is famously slow and inept, but that’s India’s problem. The Indian political system is just as intertwined with religious and secular currents and the American one is. And that affects yoga is both countries.
The point is that there is no black-and-white, cut-and-dry answer as to whether yoga owes its impact to its religious roots or can be adopted without fear of being contaminated by pagan rites. As yoga practitioners and advocates, we’d be well-advised to tread carefully.
Kavita Das published an opinion piece about the distance developing between yoga in the Western world and the South Asian community. She’s also concerned that it is losing its spiritual dimension.
QuartzAny practice of yoga that isn’t spiritual isn’t really yoga
“Recently, I attended a panel discussion to launch the South Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America (SAAPYA), a new initiative that seeks to restore yoga’s South Asian heritage. Specifically, the group was founded to provide a “platform and network for the voices of yoga teachers and students from across the South Asian diaspora.” Among its findings: a survey of more than two years worth of yoga journals yielded no South Asians on covers or articles authored by South Asians. Similarly, at a major yoga conference, out of 64 presenters, only seven of them were people of color. Of them, three were of South Asian origin; none was a woman.”
The crowd funding initiative for the Smithsonian exhibit of yoga-inspired art may be coming up short:
Freer and Sackler Galleries: Yoga: The Art of Transformation
This groundbreaking exhibition requires special support, and the Smithsonian needs you! Through “Together We’re One,” our crowdfunding campaign for Yoga: The Art of Transformation, we’re hoping to raise $125,000 to help bring yoga’s incredible past to light. All donations will be used to ship more than 130 artworks from around the world to Washington, DC; offer yoga classes in the galleries; host concerts, a symposium, and a family arts festival; and publish a full-color catalogue.
As of today, $59,000 have been raised and there are only five more days to get cash. It’s gutsy to pass the hat so that a government-sponsored event can take place, but in this case, the cause is worthy and a demonstration of how yoga is affecting mainstream American culture. Sequestration has altered budgets at all levels of the Federal government.
Get ready, Washington, we are about to dive deep into yoga’s history over the ages.
YOGA: THE ART OF TRANSFORMATION | Freer and Sackler Galleries
Through masterpieces of Indian sculpture and painting, Yoga: The Art of Transformation explores yoga’s goals; its Hindu as well as Buddhist, Jain, and Sufi manifestations; its means of transforming body and consciousness; and its profound philosophical foundations. The first exhibition to present this leitmotif of Indian visual culture, it also examines the roles that yogis and yoginis played in Indian society over two thousand years.
The Brooklyn Museum is offering an exhibit of Indian paintings, sculptures and other artefacts on Vishnu, June 24-October 2, obviously in that borough of New York City.
Vishnu: Hinduism’s Blue-Skinned Savior is the first major museum exhibition to focus on Vishnu, one of Hinduism’s three major deities. Presenting approximately 170 paintings, sculptures, and ritual objects that were made in India between the fourth and twentieth centuries, this exhibition serves as a brief survey of Hindu art styles as well as an examination of the Vaishnava (Vishnu-worshipping) tradition.
Will all of this news help you get into Eka Pada Koundiyanasana II or understanding the aphorisms of Patanjali? No. But it will help you to get a handle on the macro-cosmovision from which the multiple expressions of yoga emerged over the past couple of millenia. If you’re going to the Big Apple, it might be an opportunity to take in the exhibit.