CC-By Attribution 4.0 International DOI 10.17605/OSF.IO/5MZFJ

Last updated Jan 18 2021

© Patrick McCartney @yogascapesinjap Academia Linkedin

bodhapūrvam calema ;-)

These are notes available for whoever wishes to read them. I might use them in a future article. I’m curious about comparing the narratives of Yoga’s many folk origin stories and comparing this mythical corpus with one more aligned with historical sociology, linguistic archaeology and classical philology and genetics (both linguistic and biological).

#1 the “forest dweller” stage was not “early vedic”- not by quite a few centuries — it developed, or at least begins to be mentioned, thru the upanishadic (mid/late) periods YET it is too often the mid-late definition that is attributed to the “earliest mention of ‘yoga’ in the ṛgveda” thus obfuscating the earlier thoroughly martial meaning in order to present some sort of Gandhian ahimsa-like ideal of proto-yogis being vegetarian hippies or something similar — for eg notice how in this link it carefully avoids this by simply referring to yoga = yoking…which is not wrong but not the full context — here is another eg — “The Vedas are considered to be the most ancient Hindu texts in the world.

Written in Sanskrit around 3000 B.C.E., these scriptures are brimming with yogic wisdom.” // — historical linguistics shows that 3000 BCE is too early and even grammarians in 500 BCE didn’t refer to their language as “Sanskrit” they used other terms like bhāṣā etc depending on whether they were talking about language used in ritual or in normal speech… and nothing was written down in any “sanskritic language” … {{many people are aware of ancient Sumeria’s cuneiform script and consider it the earliest form or writing, yet there is the proto-writing, Vinča symbols, from the earlier Cucuteni–Trypillia culture located in the Danube valley from about 8000BCE — which was superseded by the Yamnaya culture from the Pontic steppes which is where the “proto-Sanskrit” speakers emerged from migrating both east to South Asia and west to Europe}}.

Here is another example “The word yoga itself first appeared in writing in the ancient and sacred texts of Hinduism — the Vedas. Specifically, yoga first made an appearance in the Rig Veda, the oldest of these scriptures.The word “yoga” itself comes from the root “yuj,” which means “to yoke.” Now this is no longer a word that is commonplace in the English language, so you might not catch its meaning at first glance. Yoking was a practice used to connect and harness two animals. They would be “yoked” together (typically at their necks) to then be able to perform tasks (such as plowing a field). So, essentially, to yoke is to create a union, and this is typically how we hear yoga defined today.”

It similarly avoids mentioning the explicit and primary meaning linked to martial “action” and expresses something limited to agrarian pursuits when it is made clear in the Rgveda that yoking animals was primarily to get ready to go to battle. For eg, in book 1, which is one of the later additions to the total 10 books of the Ṛgveda, two prayers in particular show the intention — prayer I.29.1–7 and I.30.1–22 explain the relationship between Indra (the god of war), the psychoactive drink Soma, and succeeding in warfare and acquisition of more cows at the expense of destruction of rivals. At I.30.7 is the first mention in the Ṛgveda of “yoga” in the distributed noun phrase “yoge yoge” , which means “in every yoga” which refers to “in every preparation (hitching together) for battle”

yoge-yoge tavastaraṁ vāje-vāje havāmahe | sakhāya indram ūtaye || RV_1,030.07 ||. Notice the similar construction of “vāje vāje” which means “in every battle/contest” — essentially what this first mention of yoga is saying is that “at every preparation for war, at every battle, as comrades of Indra, we call upon him, the more powerful one, for help (with smiting our enemies).”

People increasingly talk about decolonising yoga and putting it into perspective and moving beyond a romantic / orientalist lens…well anyone who is actually sincere in #decolonizingyoga needs to start here… at RV I.30.07…

#2 yoga was, just like today, never a static thing taught in a singular way around a singular praxis, text, or soteriology.

#4 Maybe going outside of the home was fraught with danger and women did well to stay where it was safer?

#5 Some interesting things include the Vedic clan queen got to copulate with either the corpse of the young virgin man sacrificed (male privilege?) or the horse, or the horse’s penis was severed — this rite, is an ancient indo-european ritual to ensure fertility that found its way to South Asia as the aśvamedha and puruṣamedha rites that have links to ancient Sumeria. As well through seals M-304/5/6 and other seals from Mohenjodaro that you would know as the Paśupati seal, the guy with the horns on his head sitting cross legged “proving yoga is really old” is linked to royal insignia and is clearly connected to the ancient merger of the goddesses Isthar and Innana and the “sitting of the bulls.” The latter part of this short article explains the connections and includes images.

#6 One could imagine that “yoga” exists prior to its earliest attested mention and maybe that the seals mentioned above do prove this…but, dissolving the appeals to mystery used to legitimize this claim archaeologists/historical linguists have known rather convincingly for at least 3 decades what the function of this and related seals is AND combining this with the most up to date knowledge that that earliest haṭhayoga concepts do not appear until buddhist tantric texts around the 10th century begin to discuss bandhas. That is a solid 3000+ years between the seal M-304 and the first mention of haṭhayoga related documents.

#7 There is actually a deep historical link to professional wandering troupes of wrestler-acrobats-gymnastic-dancers who are attested in multiple texts in different traditions. The profession of “pole dancing” for eg is found in the Vājaseneyisaṃhitā, in the section on the puruṣamedha, which was the human sacrifice which required a member from all these prescribed groups to offer up a sacrificial member, one of these groups included vaṃśanartin — “bamboo pole dancer” — there is a lot of information in Buddhist texts about these groups which are linked to trans-Asian trade routes, tracing the historiography of professional “circus troupes” is one of my research projects. I have an article in Om Yoga Magazine in feb/march exploring the broad idea of tracing the origins of “pole dancing” and “acro yoga” back to these groups. One theory I’m testing is how these troupes full of gymnasts, etc might have in some ways influenced the development of haṭhayoga or just ‘yoga’ in general. The interesting thing is that these groups, just like the idea of “carnies” today, are social outcastes due to their professions being considered “deceptive” ie magic performance is about misdirection/deception which evolves to a general value that circus performers are criminal types. This is not my opinion but the opinions of people who have written about these groups throughout history. This results in them being ignored by ancient writers as well as historians and Sanskritists.

#8 While there are many instances of misogyny in texts like the Manusmriti, there are also egs of agency ascribed to women. But this was centuries later in the post Vedic “sutra period” that is found in several economic treatises like manusmriti. It is only one such text in this genre though the others say similar things. They provide interesting glimpses at a prescribed, ideal, life for various groups. Chapter 9 verse 6 explains the highest duty of the husband (of all castes, even if he is weak) is to protect his wife (imaṃ hi sarvavarṇānāṃ paśyanto dharmam uttamam yatante rakṣituṃ bhāryāṃ bhartāro durbalā api // Manu_9.6).

Verses 9.10–12 explain that forcefully controlling wives is not possible… and women should instead be empowered to take care of the households expenses, etc. and that a woman who guards herself is better (more trustful) than one who needs to be guarded… ; though…

Verse 9.55 considers wives to be gifts from gods whom men do not choose but for the will of the gods have bestowed upon them and that men should always support them…as long as the wives are faithful.

Verse 5.153 demands that a husband should across all seasons always give happiness to his wife including in this world and in the next. There is some agency in performing rituals prescribed in 9.86, which explains how twice-born wives married to men of equal castes can personally attend and assist husbands in his daily sacred rites.

In choosing a husband verse 9.90 states that after waiting 3 years a young woman of marriageable age can choose for herself a bridegroom of equal caste/rank. But it gets super funky at 9.94, when a 30 year old man shall marry a 12 year old girl or a 24 year old man shall marry an 8 year old girl. Yet, while the first mentions of the word “yoga” in the context of yoga-kṣema, where it means “action” in the pursuit of acquiring property and securing prosperity wasn’t just for subjugating women on a global scale, it was about protecting the clan, half of whom were women… verse 7.96 states that chariots and horses, elephants, parasols, money, grain, cattle, women, all sorts of (marketable) goods and valueless metals belong to him who takes them from defeated rivals [rathāśvaṃ hastinaṃ chatraṃ dhanaṃ dhānyaṃ paśūn striyaḥ sarvadravyāṇi kupyaṃ ca yo yaj jayati tasya tat // Manu_7.96].

Verses 9.72–9.81 explain how both the husband and wife can petition for divorce or if the husband goes missing (maybe dying protecting the clan).

6 types of property rights for women in verses 9.192–9.200.

Chapter 6 explains the rules for a “forest dweller” though they don’t sound fun or comfortable at all… for eg verse 6.43 says one cannot make a fire or live in a dwelling and verse 6.26 says the forest dweller should not acquire anything for comfort and should sleep on the bare ground, not caring for any shelter, dwelling at the roots of trees. Verse 6.23 says that in summer he should perform the pañcatapaḥ sādhana of sitting within the five fires and during the rainy season he should live under the open sky, and in winter be dressed in wet clothes. I spend a lot of time hiking and camping in the forest (and currently snow) by myself at night, even though there are bears and boars and poisonous snakes, and I’m always happy to get home and have a hot shower. I cannot imagine that 4000 years ago the world was more tolerant or comfortable than it is today. But if someone wanted to be a forest dwelling ascetic or still wants to be…have at it, suppose. Yet, women were not restricted from being ascetics, as: kāmaṃ tu ksapayed dehaṃ puṣpamūlaphalaiḥ śubhaiḥ na tu nāmāpi gṛhṇīyāt patyau prete parasya tu // Manu_5.157 // explains — if a woman wants to emaciate her body and live on flowers, roots and fruit then fine, but she shouldn’t mention the name of any man after her husband has died.

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