Events & News | Perso-Indica


June 4th 2019 - Conference
Ecoles des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales

Yoga and Yogis in the Persianate Culture of South Asia

Carl W. Ernst (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – DE invite à l’EHESS)

“Muhammad Ghawth’s additions to the yoga practices in The Ocean of Life

The yogic and occult practices found in the corpus of texts identified with The Pool of Nectar and the Fifty Verses of Kamarupa included core techniques involving breath, summoning spirits, and meditating on chakras and mantras. Like other editors and translators of the text, Muhammad Ghawth (d. 1562) was critical of the earlier versions, but he also enthusiastically inserted an array of new materials both Indic and Islamic. This presentation examines the ninth and tenth chapters of the text, which completely replaced the original contents of the earlier versions, with a long collection of Sufi exercises in chapter 9, and a detached Qur’anic and Qur’anic cosmogony that includes an account of the Goddess and the Waqwaq tree and their role in creation. The presentation concludes with an evaluation of the act of introducing these new materials into the text, along with their implications for understanding the nature of translation.

Fabrizio Speziale (EHESS, Paris)

“Beyond the “wonders of India” (ajā’ib al-Hind): Yogis, Persianate alchemy and medicine in South Asia”

This paper discusses how yogis’ knowledge is presented and integrated in some Persian medical and alchemical texts written in South Asia, from the 14th century onwards. I suggest that looking at non-religious notions and context helps to provide a more comprehensive view of how knowledge about yogis circulated among Persian readers. For what concerns the epistemic categories of the target culture, I suggest that Persian scientific writings contributed to shape Muslim views of yogis beyond the paradigm of the ajā’ib al-Hind (wonders of India). The integration of yogis’ knowledge in Persian texts dealt chiefly with the technical procedures of rasaśāstra (alchemy) for processing mercury and other poisonous metals for medical treatment. I propose to consider the transfer of Indic technical notions into Persian texts as a socio-economic process and that yogis functioned as social actors of this cross-cultural transfer. The target culture looked at yogis as masters of this art, Persian texts reveal Muslim physicians’ endeavor in assimilating methods to produce mercurial drugs which were highly sought by ruling elites and wealthy clients. Moreover, I discuss some accounts of pedagogical interaction by Muslim writers who relate their studies with yogis and I analyze what these narratives reveal about the features of contact between social groups and scholars’ networks.

Location and info

Venue:  17h-19h, EHESS, salle A07-51 (7e étage), 54 bd. Raspail, 75006, Paris.

Organisation and contacts: Fabrizio Speziale (EHESS,