'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
This blog is a source for intellectual exploration. It includes a list of alternative resources and a source of free books. The placement of an article does not imply that I agree with it, merely that I found it thought-provoking. There are also poems and book reviews. Texts written by me are labelled. Readers are free to re-post anything they like.
Saturday, July 18, 2015
Books reviewed: William Dalrymple - Under the Spell of Yoga
Yoga: The Art of Transformation - Catalog of the exhibition edited by Debra Diamond.
The Khecarīvidyā of Ādinātha: A Critical Edition and
Annotated Translation of an Early Text of Haṭhayoga by James Mallinson
Yogis by David Gordon White
Warrior Ascetics and Indian Empires by William R. Pinch
Reviewed by William Dalrymple
Around 1600, a dramatic shift took place in Mughal art. The
Mughal emperors of India were the most powerful monarchs of their day—at the
beginning of the seventeenth century, they ruled over a hundred million
subjects, five times the number administered by their only rivals, the
Ottomans. Much of the painting that took place in the ateliers of the first
Mughal emperors was effectively dynastic propaganda, and gloried in the
Mughals’ pomp and prestige. Illustrated copies were produced of the diaries of
Babur, the conqueror who first brought the Muslim dynasty of the Mughal
emperors to India in 1526, as well as exquisite paintings illustrating every
significant episode in the biography of his grandson, Akbar.
Then, quite suddenly, at this moment of imperial climax, a
young Hindu khanazad (or “palace-born”) prodigy named
Govardhan began painting images of a sort that had never been seen before in
Mughal art. They were not pictures of battles or court receptions. Instead they
were closely observed portraits of holy men performing yogic asanas or
exercises that aimed to focus the mind and achieve spiritual liberation and
transcendence. The results of Govardhan’s experiments in painting—along with a
superbly curated selection of several hundred other images from the history of
yoga—were recently on view in “Yoga: The Art of Transformation,”a
remarkable exhibition at the Freer and Sackler galleries in Washington, D.C.,
which will travel next to San Francisco and Cleveland.
Govardhan’s images of holy men are works of penetrating
intensity. They use the same skills of characterization and portraiture that
the artist had learned from his close study of the Renaissance gospel books
brought to India by the Jesuits. These portraits are as beautifully drawn and
observed as anything Govardhan had painted before, with carefully stippled
faces and the artist’s characteristically precise delineation of the subjects’
noses and cheekbones. But they are no longer the familiar courtiers or princes,
seekers of power or pleasure. Instead these humble sadhus outside their huts,
hair matted, limbs entwined, are engaged in a much harder quest: the long and
arduous journey toward enlightenment.