Yoga History in 9 Easy Steps.

Via Ramesh Bjonnes
on Oct 8, 2012
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History is important.

History keeps us connected. History gives us perspective.

But history can also be complex and confusing. How old is your asana or meditation practice? Answer: it depends. What was the social condition of India like during Buddha’s time? Answer: turbulent. Which philosophical system influenced Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as well as Ayurveda the most? Answer: Samkhya.

Yes, how old is your asana? A hundred years old? A thousand years old? Two thousand? Who created them, and why?

I’m not making this up: many of the asanas practiced in today’s yoga studios are no more than about 80 years old. In fact, many of them are no more than five to 20 years old. That’s been proven by such books as Mark Singleton’s Yoga Body. Singleton shows convincingly that modern Hatha Yoga is a mixture of Indian yoga and Western gymnastics first developed in a castle in Mysore, India by the great and late Krishnamacharya.

I’m not making this up, either: yoga is more than just a set of East-West fitness poses. Yoga also includes simple and sophisticated meditation and pranayama techniques, holistic medicine (ayurveda), philosophy and cosmology. And its total history is a lot longer than 80 years, at least a few thousand years longer.

Unlike what some yoga writers claim, there is no need to resort to unsubstantiated mythology or hearsay to prove that yoga is a lot older than the Ford Motor Company. That is, if we agree that Hatha Yoga can be divided in at least three periods—the modern, the medieval and the ancient—and that yoga includes more than just a set of physical exercises.

If we agree that yoga includes both preliminary and advanced practices for the body, mind and spirit, then there is plenty of archeological, linguistic, textual, genetic or other evidence to suggest that Hatha Yoga is at least 1500 years old, that Tantra is at least 6000 years old, that Yoga philosophy is at least 3500 years old, and that goraksasana (a complex Hatha Yoga bhanda) was practiced more than 4000 years ago.

As a teacher of yoga history to yoga teacher students, I have researched these issues for a number of years. Depending on your perspective of what yoga is, there are various ways to look at yoga history.

Here are seven, equally valid, but different, perspectives to keep in mind:

1) If yoga is thought to be synonymous with modern Hatha Yoga as taught from Krishnamacharya to Seane Corn, you may convincingly argue that its history is no more than 80-100 years old. Some poses are actually only five to 10 years old. Actually, a few new ones were invented just yesterday.

2) If yoga includes traditional practices of Hatha Yoga as preserved in texts such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Shiva Samhita and the Gheranda Samhita, yoga history is about 1000 years old.

3) If yoga history includes Patajali’s Yoga Sutras and its associated practices, its history is about 2200 years old.

4) If yoga includes the subtle teachings of Astavakra, who wrote the Astavakra Samhita describing a philosophy that is nondual and Vedantic in nature while his practical teachings were Tantric, then yoga history is about 2400 years old.

Astavakra, according to my teacher Anandamurti, taught that asanas should be practiced slowly and held in certain positions for a certain period of time to effect glandular secretions and thus your health and mood. Mayurasana (peacock) can thus be practiced to overcome both fear (including fear of public speaking) and certain digestive problems.

5) If yoga includes the inspirational teachings and deep philosophy and practices described in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, the history of yoga is at least 2700 years old.

6) If yoga includes the long and complex co-mingling of the Vedic and Tantric (Shaiva) civilizations and its associated literature (many texts yet to be translated into English) and oral teachings, then textual, archeological, linguistic and genetic evidence suggests this history to be nearly 7000 years old.

During the time of this Indus Valley civilization (2000-4500 BCE), the Vedic scriptures the Atharvaveda, Yajurveda and Samaveda were developed in India. The RigVeda had been composed earlier and mostly outside India. The Atharvaveda was greatly influenced by Tantra. Archeological evidence of Hatha Yoga and meditation postures (see archeologists John Marshall and Jonathan Mark Kenoyer and Indologists Heinrich Zimmer and Georg Feuerstein, among others).

While the script in the Indus Valley is Dravidyan according to Indologist Asko Parpola, archeological evidence points to a mixed culture of Shaiva Tantra (Dravidyan) and Vedic (Aryan) influences, much like India today. (Due to religious, caste and political overtones, this period of India is hotly debated, but science is slowly building consensus).

7) Many complain that there is little evidence of yoga practice in the ancient literature. It depends on what is meant by ancient.

There is scriptural evidence going back at least 2500 years or more. The main reason for lack of scriptural evidence is that most of the ancient history and practice of yoga has been preserved as oral teachings, much like in the shamanic tradition.

But, since the yogis preserved their knowledge in easy-to-remember sutras and slokas, it was passed down quite accurately for thousands of years.

There is thus often a huge discrepancy between the knowledge of yoga written in texts and the knowledge taught orally by yogis within the tradition.

Moreover, many texts have yet to be translated into English, but researchers in the Indian government’s Traditional Digital Knowledge Library have collected evidence of hundreds of asanas from ancient texts.

8) Finally, there are broadly two perspectives on ancient yogic history. 1) Some hold that ancient yoga originated with the early Vedic civilization. 2) Some hold that ancient yoga originated with the early Tantric civilization.

Both perspectives are partially true, because Indian civilization, and thus the yoga tradition, is a blend of these two cultural streams.

As yoga scholar Georg Feuerstein writes: “Except for the most orthodox pundits, who view Tantra as an abomination, educated traditional Hindus… distinguish between Vedic and Tantric—vaidika and tantrika—currents of Hindu spirituality.”

Most of what we associate as philosophy, religious ritual and mythology hails from the Vedic tradition, and, broadly, what we associate with yoga as practice originated from the Tantric tradition (also called Shaivism). Over thousands of years, these traditions merged and created what we often term Hindu Tantra.

That is to say, while different yogis invented different philosophies and schools of yoga, the practices they had in common can be characterized as Tantric, not Vedic. Not surprisingly, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (1400 AD) was not written by Vedic priests, it was written by Tantric yogis from the Natha school of Tantra.

9) So, if your perspective is that yoga is synonymous with contemporary Hatha Yoga or posture yoga, then you may argue that yoga history is not much older than Krishnamacharya and the Ford Motor Company.

But if your perspective is that yoga includes such marvelous texts as the Bhagavad Gita and the subtle insights of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, as well as the ancient Tantric teachings of meditation and kundalini awakening, then yoga history is a few thousand years older than Krishnamacharya.

Indeed, Krishnamacarya himself did not claim he invented yoga, he simply modified what he had learned from his teachers. And in that spirit of continuous reinvention, the history of yoga will move on.

Notes: Most dates above are approximate. My research sources are from oral history, ancient tantric and yogic texts such as the Puranas, Yoga Upanishads, Shiva Samhita, Agamas and Nigamas, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Gheranda Samhita, Astavakra Samhita, and from writers, teachers and scientists such as Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Shri Anandamurti, Lalan Prasad Singh, N. N. Bhattacarya, Alain Danielou, Richard Rosen, Georg Feuerstein, Mark Singleton, Spencer Wells (geneticist), genetic researchers from the University of Utah, Sir John Marshall (archeologist), and many more.



Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes is the co-founder of the Prama Institute, a holistic retreat center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the Director of the Prama Wellness Center, a retreat center specializing in detox by incorporating juice fasting, ayurveda, meditation and yoga to cleanse, relax and rejuvenate. Bjonnes is also a writer, yogi and workshop leader. He lived in India and Nepal in the 1980s learning directly from the traditional teachers of yoga and Tantra. He has taught workshops in many countries and is the author of Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit (InnerWorld) and Tantra: The Yoga of Love and Awakening (Hay House India). He lives and practices in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.


71 Responses to “Yoga History in 9 Easy Steps.”

  1. indra says:

    i like this

  2. Ramesh says:

    Thanks, Indra! I thought you would like this….

  3. Pankaj Seth says:

    Ramesh, congratulations on your new book… sounds like a fantastic read. In this blog too, you've brought in a lot of info and I really like how you've presented the argument as to 'depending on the criteria used, Yoga can be thought about this way.'

    It seems that that the West's Indo-European heritage, which predates Christianity is coming to the fore. In this, looking at Indian materials and practices has been important. This common heritage of all Indo-European cultures might even include the Druids who had a calendar which marked the 27 Nakshatras. I wonder what else historians will find…


    " 'Celtic cosmology is a parallel to Vedic cosmology. Ancient Celtic astrologers used a similar system based on twenty-seven lunar mansions, called nakshatras in Vedic Sanskrit. Like the Hindu Soma, King Ailill of Connacht, Ireland, had a circular palace constructed with twenty-seven windows through which he could gaze on his twenty-seven "star wives."
    There survives the famous first century bce Celtic calendar (the Coligny Calendar) which, as soon as it was first discovered in 1897, was seen to have parallels to Vedic calendrical computations.' Early Irish Astrology: An Historical Argument by Peter Berresford Ellis"

    *** I was recently made aware of the above. I wonder if you or someone else can corroborate this info…

  4. madhupamaypop says:

    I have a background in yoga/meditation and am currently studying Celtic Spirituality with a lovely teacher. I resonate with what you pointed out above in the quoted text. There are other things that resonate with me — in terms of the Indo-Europeans and the Celtic language… There are so many common themes and similarities… My teacher says that the Indo-Europeans migrated east and west from the coast of the Black Sea (roughly, current day Crimea — republic in Ukraine)… I think both the Druids and the 'fili' — the poets of the Celtic world that passed down mythologies and oral histories — both have a strong connection to the Sanskrit speaking/writing, Indo-European, Aryan Vedic priests… I am curious to learn about more information connecting these seemingly desperate peoples and the ways that they may have possibly communicated-connected over great distances…thus continuing to shift and shape along the trade routes of old Eurasia???

    If anyone else has any literature or info I can read about this, please share…

  5. leah says:

    Thank you for clarifying that as I am always amazed at the constant bombardment of new postures!

  6. Ramesh says:

    Dear Pankaj, Astrology is not my strong suit, but, yes, there are so many connections here to draw from. The Vedic peoples spread over a vast area from Turkey to Eastern Russia and the oldest head sculptures found in Turkey may be of an old Vedic priest as it has a shaved head with the "pig tail" in the back. Also, there are connections between the Indus Valley seals (pashupati) and similar figures found in Denmark (500 BCE) on the Gundestrup Caldron. You can look this up. Also, there is the Buddha Bucket from 800 AD found on a Viking ship, made in Norway or Ireland, it has a yogi in lotus with Swastikas. Also in France stone sculptures of yogis have been found from some time after Christ–mutilated most of them. So globalization is not new. Very fascinating.

  7. Ramesh says:

    The genetic science support much of this by showing how migrations from Africa created the various modern "races" and peoples over a 100-80 thousand year period. The Indo-Europeans lived in a vast area as mentioned above and entered India between 8-5000 BCE and later according to genetics. Thus the problems with the contentious idea that they destroyed the Indus Valley around 1900 BCE (they did not) as they had lived in India for a long time already. Alain Danielou wrote a lot about the connection between India and Europe in ancient times….

  8. shiva says:

    Good post Ramesh. Lots of good information. I just want to add one more piece. If you read indian scriptures specially mahabharata, and ramayana which were writtern few thousand years back there are many references to tapasya, standing with single leg like vrikshasana, pranayama, etc. These show that asana portion of yoga have been practiced for thousands of years. Because the emphasis was always on spiritual few references can be found for asanas than tapasya/meditation. I am impressed by your knowledge and understanding.


  9. madhupamaypop says:

    Great, thanks Ramesh… When I read your sentence about Africa creating various 'races' — I got a picture in my head (all of sudden) of a beehive and swarms leaving the hive and traveling and changing over time. With that said, another great connection across the Celtic world relates to the root word 'madhu' or honey, nectar, sweetness and intoxicating. This root word and related themes is particularly interesting to me. For example, you have spoken of 'madhuvidya' and mead, mid, myod are words littered across Europe for honey and honey wine. Lastly, one of the best known Celtic Queens of Ireland was Medb; she had something to do with the selection of the new king. I will look into Alain Danielou's work…

  10. Pankaj Seth says:

    Check this out… lots of stuff here, some of it on the linguistic connections of Indo-European languages. Its the website of Prof Nicholas Kazanas, a credentialed Vedic scholar. Under the links "Indology" and "Multimedia" especially, I found much useful reading and viewing…

  11. Pankaj Seth says:

    Ramesh, on what basis do you say that the Rg Veda was composed mostly outside of India? You are aware of course that the hymns describe the Sapta Sindhu region, which is northern Punjab and modern day Pakistan. So, given this, what is the basis of supposing that though local features are described, yet it is composed elsewhere?

  12. Ramesh says:

    Dear Shiva, thanks for bringing these points up. It is true that it's important to take into account that for the yogis of old, as asanas was seen as a stepping stone toward spiritual practice. Yes, such references are scattered throughout the various scriptures, even in the older scriptures, such as the Vedas, most particularly the Atharvaveda there are such references, which, as I said above points to the Tantric influences upon that text.

  13. Ramesh says:

    There are many ways to base that on, Pankaj. I think we have had that discussion here before, so do not have time to go over it in detail. This is one of those areas in which there is a lot of disagreement, some writers subscribe to the idea that the Vedic people composed the Rig Veda outside, others don't… it's a complex debate.

  14. Ramesh says:

    You are most welcome, Leah!

  15. Vic DiCara says:

    100% wonderful article.

    Question: Why do you say Tantra is inherently Siva oriented in its original, ancient form? Do you really mean "Siva" literally or various Rudras who later became Siva? My understanding (and experience) is that the name and person Siva is not found in Rg, Atharva, Sama, Yajur.

  16. Vic DiCara says:

    Dear Pankaj,

    Every human culture on earth will divide the stars into roughly 27 segments, because there are roughly 27 sunrises during one lap of the Moon through the circle of the heavens. Thus Chinese, Celtic, Vedic, etc. have roughly 27 stellar segments in the night sky.

    12 is another common number, but not from divisions of the stars. 12 are the number of divisions of the blue sky – the Sun's path, not the Moon's. Almost every culture has 12 divisions of the Sun's course through the year, because there are roughly 12 lunar cycles ("full moons") during one lap of the Sun through the complete circle of the heavens.


  17. Pankaj Seth says:

    Vic, there was a common Indo-European culture which predates Christianity. It had quite a span going by the spread of the Indo-European languages. Apart from this not found everywhere lunar/stellar concept, there are commonalities in iconography, language of course. Its an area of ongoing research. I'm not sure what you're trying to say when you paint a picture of isolation of cultures. That doesn't seem to have been the case. There's even an Aryan migration theory which talks about a people spreading out from central asia and sweeping through Europe, Mid-East, Iran and India. Arn't you a little bit curious about what happened to all that?

  18. Vic DiCara says:

    Dear Pankaj,

    I did not mean to paint a picture of cultural isolation – rather to show that this particular principle is easily adopted by every human culture, since all human cultures observe the same natural phenomenon in the time-keepers: sun, moon, and stars.

    What are the commonalities in symbolism and content between the Celtic and Vedic constellations?

    Thank you,

  19. Pankaj Seth says:

    Well there can be 27 divisions made, but naming them as the 27 wives of King Moon/Soma is not found everywhere, but it is in India and the Celtic world. That caught my eye too, as it has apparently many people in the modern Celtic culture. There are other things too, most particularly the similarity of the languages themselves.

    I am beginning to wonder if the pre-Christian West should be called Indo-European rather than 'pagan'.

  20. Vic DiCara says:

    "Pagan" is a Christian term also applied to Hindus.

    The 27 constellations as the wives of the Moon is self-evident, because the Moon visits each constellation each night. Like a king moving from one palace to the next each night to visit his queens.

    I am open and partial to the idea of a pan-global ancient culture, or at least very pervasive social integration – but I am not sure that the stars are a good place to rest evidence in this regard.

  21. Ramesh says:

    Dear Vic, according to my studies and the oral tradition I belong to, the Tantric and the Vedic traditions do not hail from the same tree, so to speak. But over time, as I mention in the article, they influenced each other. So, yes, Shiva is, in the Tantric and Shaiva tradition considered the father or King of Yoga. His origin can be traced apart from Aryan culture and his worship pervaded all of India. Shiva thus had non-Aryan origin and Aryan manifestations in different promiscuous forms including that of the Vedic Rudra (the power of destruction) and has other names: Mahadeva, Nataraja, Hara, etc. The name Harappa, which signifies a part of the Indus Valley, is named for Shiva (hara =shiva and appa=father) There are also bilva leaves found on sculptures of people in these ruins (3500 BCE), which shows early worship of Shiva as these leaves are still used in the worship of Shiva.

  22. Pankaj Seth says:

    Everything is self-evident on hindsight, Vic.

    I didn't say that Indo-European common culture theory is evidenced on just star names. If you want to look deeper, I've linked to a website on another comment, the website of Prof. N. Kazanas, where he has lots of information on some of the possible connections. Fascinating stuff…

  23. Eric Shaw says:

    With all due respect, Ramesh, even the most beyond-the-center scholars put the Vedas no later than 1800 BCE and none of them attribute them to the Indus-Sarasvati civilization. The most simple reason for this (to avoid the more complex arguments!) is that the I-S script is wholly different from the script of Sanskrit–Devanagri. The script of the Indus civilization is tantalizing, but it has never been deciphered. To call it Dravidian is a leap. We do not know enough about the culture to attribute it to this language or ethnic group. Also, to call the culture Tantric is reaching. The main evidence for yoga from the civilization–the seals and small terracotta molds that show a meditating figure–are definitely suggestive of Shiva's iconography, worship and mythic stories–as are the bilva leaves you mention–but it is a leap from that to say the I – S civilization was Tantric–and I know of no true scholarly consensus that suggests this. A good review of the scholarship here can be found in Aryan and Non-Aryan in South Asia, edited by Johannes Bronkhorst.

    A second point: Yoga is first described in the Upanishads (800 BCE to 200 CE). Formal Tantra does not emerge textually till the 4th century CE and not in full cultural bloom till the 7th century. To call any social movement before that "Tantric" would be difficult to sustain, as I suggest above. Are you calling ascetic culture Tantric culture? The ascetic and Brahmanic (Vedic) practices are certainly in conversation in the Upanishads and yoga becomes a new Vedic idiom thereby. By this time the conversations between ritualists (Vedic priestly culture) and ascetic (outcaste yogi culture) suggests a detente, if indeed they were ever wholly separate or at odds. People we can call yogis are described in the Vedas (c. 1200 – 800 BCE), but not yogic practices. (I would be curious to understand what you are pointing to in your "4000 year-old" practice of goraksasana.). It is odd to argue an "origin" for yoga that is "either Vedic or Tantric."

    A third point about your statements on Hatha Yoga: the current consensus is that it's provenance runs to 1300 CE–so to say it is 1500 years old is quite a leap. We have some evidence for postures from cave carvings around that time, but no description of a system, and certainly not one named "Hatha"–the term used by Gorakhnath in the period I mention.

    All best,

    Eric Shaw

  24. Ramesh says:

    Dear Eric, well, we are talking about history, so there is bound to be differnt versions, right? Howard Zinn wrote the People History of the Uniteda States to right some of the wrongs by the status quo historians; to write history from the point of view of the Indians, the poor. Similarly, in India, history has largely been written either by Brahmins and the Vedic, or at least their history has become the accepted one. So, what I have done is to write a people's history of India and of yoga, if you will. There will never be one singular and true story about what happend. It all depends who you ask. That said, there are common threads, but it depends which scholars you consult. Reagding Darvidyan language: Asko Parpola, the Finnish Indologist has concluded this and has spent 20 some years studing the glyphs; Brahui is the language in the region and is preserved in parts of Afghhanistan and is close to modern Dravidyan; and there are many other sources to draw from.

  25. Ramesh says:

    Eric, as i mentioned in the article, there are so many scholars and writers who call the indus Valley tantric and shaiva, in particular in India and especially in Bengal, so it all depends. In fact, there is a divide along Vedic Brahmin and Darvidyan Tantric lines. Similarly, if you talk to John Trudell about US history, a Lakota Indian, you will get a very different version from that of George Bush. So these issues are contentious and very politicized. From Satyananda saraswati to Bhattacharya, from Anandamurti to Lalan Singh, from Thapar to Marshall, you will hear that this was indeed a civilization very much influenced by Tantra. BUT, I did not say only Tantra–it was a blended civilization, much like Inida is today, btween the Vedic and the Tantric. In the Upanishads, in the philosophy, you see the Vedic influence, but when you go into the yogic practices, beyond the vedic prayers and rituals, that is all Tantra. That is my thesis, and dozens of others say the same thing.

  26. Ramesh says:

    Lastly, in my article I clearly separated textual and oral history. When you spend time in India with the oral tradition, you realize it is not just based on myths, but also on carefully preserved knowledge. Now, I understand that Western academics may not want to touch that, but nevertheless, that is also part of history. Moreover, I also define Asthanga Yoga of Ptanajali as tantric, and that is older than 800 AD. Regarding Goraksana: that is in reference to the Pashupati figure: Feuerstein, my self and many others have concluded that is the posture. Some Western scholars call it the lotus pose, but that does not make any sense at all as the heals are pressed into the scrotum. Archeologists draw conclusions from less eveidence than that, but it all depends on your background and your knowledge. Molst Western scholars have little or no knowledge of the actual practices of the traditions they study, they stick to the texts only and thus miss a great deal.

  27. Ramesh says:

    Eric, one more point: I mentioned in my article that all the dates are approximate. You are right that the oldest Hatha Yoga texts are only about 800-1000 years old. However, my point wqas that one can clearly argue that Hatha Yoga as a practice is much older. At least as old as Patanjali's Yoga Sutras in which Pranayama, a hatha yoga practice, is an integral part. Moreover, in order to practice pranayama and the other meditation practices of the eight limbs (partyahara, dharana, dhyan and samadhi), the yogin sits in various asanas, also a part of Hatha Yoga. So, it is safe to say, that Hatha Yoga, the practice of various asanas, bhandas, and breathing exrecises is a lot older than the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. And if the Pashupati seal depics someone in goraksasana, then the practice of Hatha Yoga is several thousand years older. Indeed, the various practices described by Patanjali are scattered in various older texts as well. So, I think it is important for the Western, yogic mind to venture beyond the narrow confines of academia, even though the latter is important and has its place.

  28. Bryan says:

    Just to engage the both of you. Eric, who would you attribute the Vedas to out of curiosity? Aside from most western scholars who seem to favor the 1500BCE time frame of the Veda, as well as the supposed primitiveness of the culture ( have you ever worked with yagna or mantra personally and felt its effects?), there is more than enough scholarship out of India itself that dates it to 3500-6000 years even. A lot of this is often based on actual astronomical data in that texts that quite frankly most western scholars would likely have little access to due to apprehension of astrology as a real science. I'm not proffering any view here as I'm no historian, but without understanding or at least having some familiarity with all the related disciplines out of India it seems dubious to draw any conclusion.
    For both of you, and perhaps this is simplified, but isn't Patanjali generally considered the codifier of what we consider yoga? I mean this as a philosophy and one of the six systems of philosophy aside from all the individual branches with their own histories. I would personally just view yoga and all of its branches as an outgrowth of the Vedic system as it is an evolving science.

  29. Ashton Szabo says:

    Hi Ramesh,

    I appreciate your article, but I, like others here, am having a hard time connecting some of your dots. Under what sort of definition are you classifying Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga as tantric? As well, saying that "Hatha Yoga" is old because the practices contained within it are old is logically invalid. The saying: "If I am in Bejing, I am in China. But to say that I'm in China does not mean I am in Bejing" applies here. Just because Hatha Yoga absorbed practices that might very well have been hundreds (maybe even a thousand+) of years old, doesn't mean that Hatha Yoga itself then is that old. If we were to take an arbitrary thing like a sport such as Football. And say that it is 100 years old (I have NO idea how old the sport with the name of football actually is, but that is irrelevant for this example), but that it borrowed ideas from much older ancient sports (the ball game of the aztecs, lets say). That doesn't mean that you can then date Football back hundreds more years to the aztecs, just because they gained ideas from those previous games… Because the game of football wasn't created until people got together, made the sport and called it football.

    So I'm quite curious as to where you are deriving your dates for things… To say "from the oral traditions"… well… I mean… sure… you go to India and every Kaustubh walking down the street might tell you that yoga is 5000 years old. But… walk down a street in a fundamentalist christian community and they will tell you the world is only a few thousand years old. Because that's "their" tradition. Unfortunately, the verifiable facts don't really add up. Yes, the "winners" right history, and Howard Zinn's book is a wonderful resource, and I get your point… but I'm still having a hard time with your evidence…

    I appreciate your comments and insights though, and I look forward to hear what you have to say.

  30. Ramesh says:

    Ashton, yes, I see your point, as well. This is complicated stuff, because in some countries, football is called soccer…in other words, it depends who you talk to and also how you define the concepts. I have listed a whole series of sources of writers that would term the Asthanga Yoga of Patanjali Tantric at the end of my article. Asthanga Yoga has many names, Raja Yoga, Kriya Yoga are but two of the most common. Tantra in India signifyes a system, a technique, a science. Tantra also means "the path of libetration," a practice, a system, a science that leads to liberation. That system of yoga is different from the prayers or rituals or philosophy outlined in the vedas, but is is very similar, no, actually the same as what Patanjali discusses in his yoga sutras.Alos Samkhya philosophy is also termed Tantra. Indeed, it is also called Kapilasya Tantra, as well, after Kapila, its founder. Aysurveda is also called Tantra, as well in many sources and systems, indicating its close relationship historically with Shaiva culture, as well as a specific system, a science, a technique. Hence what i am doing is in part referncing writers and sources who refer to things differently than what you are accustomed to.

  31. Ramesh says:

    Ashton, I have clearly defined two streams, Vedic and Tantric. I have also said that they signify two different streams of Indian culture, one a system of prayers, rituals and a certain philsophy, the other a system of yogic practices. Go look for them in the Vedas, and you will mainly find Tantric and yogic stuff in the Atharvaveda. So start by reading some of my sources listed above. Your verifibale facts may not add up, because you have been acusstomed to a certain way of looking at history. We cannot argue that the Cherokee language is only as old as its very recent script anymore than we can argue that Hatha Yoga is only as old as its first text. It is highly unlikely, especially when you have sculptures with sophisticated bandhas going back thousands of years more. But, sure, you are welcome to ignore that, or interpret it differntly I accept the value of textual origin, but I do not accept that as the whole way of dating reality. I have inlcuded many other sources above, including linguistics, genetics, archeology. Study it all, then make up your own mind. .

  32. Ramesh says:

    Ashton, all of the meditation techniques discussed by Patnajali are Tantric in nature, not Vedic. Mantra incantation is part of Ishvara Pranidhan, for example. Tantric scholar Gopinath Kavirajs writes:" According to the directive of Maharsi Patanajali, in mantra incantation, the ideation of mantra is essential. Incantation and ideation are inseparable." That point, is the heart of Tantric meditation. Patanjali defines yoga as the elimination of all vrittis. That process is indeed also at the very heart of tantric meditation, of kundalini yoga, as the vrittis are eliminated as the kundalini ascends, which leads to samadhi. Hatha Yoga is the basis of kriya yoga, of asthanga yoga, of raja yoga. So the reason why the various practices are not outlined in detail by Patanjali is because they were taught orally, from teacher to disciple. But the teachings, the knowledge was there, and we we see the evidence in that asanas (hatha yoga) comes before pranayma, pratyahara etc. in his system. So Asthanga yoga is all Tantra.

  33. Ramesh says:

    Ashton, finally, let me explain how I have connected my dots by using one important example: there are various theories about the Vedic Aryans. Mainly three: 1. they arrived in India in 2000 BCE and destroyed the Dravidian Indus Valley Civilization. This view is standard in academia. 2. They never arrived, they have always lived in India; the Indus Valley was not destroyed by invading Vedic Aryans. 3. The vedic Aryans arrived around 5000 BCE and, yes, there were conflicts but over a long period of time. These issues are crucial in our study of the history of yoga/tantra. I was taught an oral history saying that they arrived around 5000 BCE. This oral history has been proven with the genetic science of Spencer Wells and also Utah university researchers. That's how I connected two important dots: oral history and genetics. So, please read my essay more carefully… was all in there. Finally, I also explained how I deine and use the word tantra, much the same way you use the word yoga. That is also an important dot.

  34. Ramesh says:

    P.S. Most Western readers and students of yoga are not familiar with the way that I use the word Tantra. Simply put, I use it much the same way most of you use the word yoga, to mean a whole lot of things related to the practice of yoga. So to me, and to a host of other writers, pundits, gurus, sages, Tantra=Yoga.
    In india, one distinguishes between Tantric and Vedic initiation.
    So when Swami Satyananda titles one of his books (A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya), he uses the word Tantra to mean everything related to the practice, the science of yoga. As I said earlier, Tantra signifies practice, a science, a system. Apart from that, there are numerous schools of tantra and yoga, but that is another topic.

  35. Love this Ramesh. I'm amazed how attached we are to our ideas of what we "know" and found this fascinating. The more I learn, the more I realize I still have to learn. Thanks for writing.

  36. bflatbrad says:

    Good writing, Ramesh !!!

  37. bflatbrad says:

    but who am I, I only have 44 p's. I just noticed that. Kind of funny. I am 8 short of being goooooooood. 🙂

  38. bflatbrad says:


  39. Ramesh says:

    So true, Kate! And thanks for reading!

  40. paul says:

    I don't understand the mainstream view to be that there were conflicts, but assimilation. Also, I think calling them vedic is misleading, as the religion and cultural elements may have developed well after settling down.

    I am curious though, why does it matter so much (not necessarily to you) that these people were there a few thousand years older? I don't think a few thousand years proves the authenticity, genuineness, or authority of anything. It is interesting, but I don't see how it affects the truth of the revelations.

  41. Ramesh says:

    Paul, the mainstream academic point of view has been that the Vedic Aryans (and yes, that is also a common, mainstream term) arrived in India around 2000 BCE and violently destroyed the Indus Valley civilization. This view has been opposed by Feuerstein and Frawley arguing that there could not have been a destruction of the Indus Valley civilization due to violence, but rather due to climate change. But this is not the mainsgtream view, except for among Western yogis, perhaps, and largely Indian fundamentalists in the Hindutva movement. Strange bedfellows. The third view, which I present, and which Feuerstein is open to, is that the Vedic Aryans arrived much earlier around 5000 BCE. This is supported by genetics. There were violent conflics but also gradual migration and assimilation between the vedic Aryans and the natives. This is classic invasion history. The natives were thus called Anaryans, or Azuras–the dark devils. Sounds familiar? Hence, classic invasion-conquerer-and-conquered history. And something that has been whitewashed many times over.

  42. paul says:

    Could you give reference to the mainstream-ness? From my reading, the "invasion" theory has been replaced for some time by a migration theory, and that the "invasion" theory is used only by certain anti-migrationists to imply the migrationists are idiots. As to the Asuras, I understand that their "badness" is more likely to refer to an inter-religious conflict with the (to be called) Zoroastraians (as Asuras aren't especially bad guys in the Rig Veda), not a socio-racial designation.

    And I should have been more clear; that they showed up 10,000-5,000BCE doesn't mean they had a Vedic religion.

  43. Pankaj Seth says:

    "I think calling them vedic is misleading, as the religion and cultural elements may have developed well after settling down."

    Agreed. The migrationists however do not agree but insist upon carrying the invasionist idea of Ayrans arriving and somehow replacing the local culture/religion with their own, or combining with it but in a dominant way. In essence, the Vedic heritage is placed outside the Indian context in this story and brought to India "on horseback". Its not invasion this time, but a migration, a migration which supposedly came in dribs and drabs but somehow managed to control the area, changing even its religion and culture.

    If it were just the idea of migration of certain people into India but not also the idea of these people bringing the Vedic culture itself to India, then hardly anyone would object to this just so story. But when these assertions are made without evidence, and against the backdrop of a history of culture since neolithic times in India which itself contains many motifs still found in modern Hinduism, then why should an objection not be made? To make this objection is to somehow be a 'fundamentalist', it is said by the migrationists, previously known as the invasionists.

  44. Ramesh says:

    You will find evidence of the invasion theory even in recent tourist books about India. Also, when Feuerstein and Frawley's book came out in 1996 contesting this idea, theirs was considered heretical, and still is in many quarters. You are right, though, that on the internet especailly this idea has been replaced with the migration theory, which is much more plausible. However, conflict is noted all over the Vedic literature. Aurobindu notes, for example, how the Dravidians were "freely cursed" in the vedic hymns. So does Danielou, Lalan Singh, Bhattacraya, and many other sources, pointing to the use racially loaded language. However, others, interpret this as symbolic language. But I do not support the latter view. As for the Vedic religion: again it depends which sources you consult. "The Aryans were not the indigenous inhabitants of Bharavarsa (larger India at that time). They came to India from the northern part of Central Asia." –Lalan Prasad Singh He then points out that the Rig Veda was written outside India and why. This was written in 1976, years before Dr. Spencer Wells documented by genetic research that the first Aryans came into India via the steppes around 5000 BCE.

  45. Ramesh says:

    More on genetic evidence in this research work of a team led by Michael Bamshad of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. They compared the DNA of 265 Indian men of different castes with DNA from nearly 750 African, European, Asian and other Indian men. First, they analyzed mitochondrial DNA, which people inherit only from their mothers. When the researchers looked at specific sets of genes that tend to be inherited as a unit, they found that about 20 to 30 percent of the Indian sets resembled those in Europeans. The percentage was highest in upper-caste males, which is natural since the early Aryan settlers were by and large upper-caste Brahmins and Ksyattrias. The genes that entered India when Aryan settlers emigrated from Central Asia and the Middle East are still there. And, according to these scientists from the University of Utah and from Andhra Pradesh University in India, they still remain entrenched at the top of the caste system. The invaders apparently subdued the local men, married many of their women and created the rigid caste system that exists even today. Their descendants are still the elite within Hindu society. Indeed, I had finally found scientific support for the stories I had heard from my Tantric guru in India.

  46. Ramesh says:

    And finally: we also learn from the work of geneticist Lynn Jorde of the University of Utah that "a group of males" was largely responsible for the Aryan invasion. If women had accompanied the invaders, the evidence should be seen in the mitochondrial genes, but it is not evident. The research team found clear evidence that women could be upwardly mobile, in terms of caste, if they married higher-caste men. In contrast, men generally did not move higher, because women rarely married men from lower castes. Since the caste system is still in vogue today, the same practice prevails.
    Hence, Paul, there are multiple strands of evidence pointing toward these people being both Vedic and outsiders. Even the Dravidyans before them, came from somewhere else indo India. And there is also plenty of evidence, according to the sources I have consulted, that they were Vedic. See above in article, and many more.

  47. Ramesh says:

    Dear Pankaj, we have discussed this before you and I, so no need to start over. BUT there is plenty of evidence if you want to consult different sources than what you are used to.

  48. Ramesh says:

    In the evolution of the Vedic literature–from the archaic/mythic worship of nature gods in the Rigveda to the more transcendental voices of the later Vedas, especially in the the Upanishads–it is instructive to view human culture as outlined by Jean Gebser–from achaic to magic to mythic to rational to integral consciousness. RigVedic literature represent the dawn of human civilization with its nature gods–Indra, Marutas, Vayu, Agni, Suria, Usha, etc–whose power and wrath needed to be appeased w/ offerings of blood, ghee, etc by the Vedic priests. The Rigveda praises the nature Gods, it is mostly magical and mythic in nature, less rational/transcendental. In the Atharvaveda there is a marked difference, as we see the influence of yogic/tantric sages–there is a mixture of magic and myth and more transcendental wisdom. This becomes much more pronounced in the socalled fifth Veda, the Upanishads, as we see the influence of yogic/tantric and rational/integral wisdom even stronger. Thus, India has, through cultural evolution seen the emergence and blending of these two sacred archetypes–the priest/Vedic and the yogic/Tantric–wowen throughout its history. At their best, these archetypes have merged in the most sophisticated of Indias sages.

  49. Pankaj Seth says:

    Dear Ramesh, here is your blog where we discussed this last time…

    You mentioned Bamshad, and last time too, and I rebutted then with the link… but here is the relevant portion again…

    Bamshad writes: [genetic affinity between the Indian subcontinent and Europe] “should not be interpreted in terms of a recent admixture of western Caucasoids10 with Indians caused by a putative Indo-Aryan invasion 3,000–4,000 years BP.”

    The invasion theory has produced a divide between north and south Indians because the theory told that the people who are now northerners, in the past during this invasion scenario essentially overwhelmed the native southerners. This theory making is not done in a vacuum but has effects in the real world.

    Now let's look at the BBC, a bastion of the mainstream view if ever there was one…

    Note that the invasion scenario if off the table… the article was written in 2009 by Prof. Gavin Flood, as indicated on the BBC page. The migration scenario is supposedly still held because of horse remains not having been found in the Indus Valley. But they have been found for decades now…

    Also, at Bhimbhetika in India, there are rock paintings going back to 30,000 years ago. Of these there are horses depicted in painting 5000-10000 years old. I myself have been there and have seen them…

    As Paul writes, just because there is gene flow into India that doesn't by itself mean that the Vedic culture was brought in from outside somewhere. As I mentioned in the past discussion, Prof. Mark Kenoyer (someone you mentioned also), who is the chief scientist as some main Harappan sites has indicated very clearly that there are NO signs of invasion, warfare at these sites. The link to his talk where he says that is available in the blog comments where we had our earlier discussion.

    This is an important debate, with real world effects, so I don't mind engaging it again. All the best.

  50. Pankaj Seth says:

    This idea of the Rg Veda being about nature worship is an old idea whose time has passed, just like the AIT. Here is a credentialed Vedic scholar writing on the subject…

    Philosophy and Selfrealization in the R®gveda. N.Kazanas, Omilos Meleton, Athens, March 2003.
    1. Argument. This paper presents evidence that man’s highest good, the szreyas , as taught by the Bhagavad Gitaa and the Upaniswads, the aatmajn[aana ‘Self-knowledge’, brahmajn[aana ‘knowledge of the Absolute’, mokswa ‘liberation’ of the Vedaanta and related themes, are already present in the RV (=Rrgveda), not just as spermatic ideas but very fully. Only the terminology differs.

    *** A related idea had also been that the history of religious ideas began with archaic animism, evolved to polytheism and then gained perfection as monotheism. This is also now seen as poppycock. These terms were applied willy nilly to non Western/non monotheist cultures in the past and which were then christened as 'primitive cultures'.

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