Could Modi’s push to claim yoga for India reveal yoga’s past — and the Yoga Korunta?

You’ve been thinking about where Ashtanga comes from, right?

Or so I assume, given my various social media feeds.

Now, you may be thinking: Isn’t  it your policy not to highlight what’s happening on social media because that’s what social media is for? Yes. But some ongoing yoga-related news in India plays a role here.

As we’ve covered, India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is looking to strengthen its claim to yoga — for a bunch of reasons that arguably are good and bad. Some more of that rationale is at this link:

If India recreates itself as the pioneer of yogic practices, tourism will increase. People from all over the world will come here to learn the art. With the Government in the process of expanding the privilege of visa on arrival to citizens from 150 countries, yoga hubs like Mysore are expected to witness an influx of foreign money.

Moreover, in a speech in 2013, Modi pointed out the long-term need of yoga instructors and institutions in battling stress. He argued, that with the future generation of the country producing stressed out individuals, yoga will become a lucrative profession in the form of stress management.

As I’ve watched this story unfold and then during the past day or so seen people again wondering about Ashtanga’s history — and the role played by the Yoga Korunta, that found but never seen collection of asanas — it occurs to me that Modi’s yoga push could end up with India’s finding evidence of this text. (Also, can you imagine more people going to Mysore?)

I’ll say right up front that most every time I’ve heard stories of the Yoga Korunta, I feel like they’ve been delivered with a heavy dose of skepticism. Given the oral nature of the teaching of yoga — and how much it was not mainstream for so many years — it makes sense to me that there isn’t such a text. It equally makes sense that as Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois wanted to legitimize what they were teaching (perhaps especially when it started under the patronage of the Maharaja in Mysore), there’d be the temptation to ascribe the asana sequence to a third, historical source.

At the same time, there are yoga texts (although our go-to one, the Yoga Sutras, famously are nothing like what the Korunta is claimed to be), so there is precedent for there to be something written down. But I also see where that’s an argument for why the Korunta might not exist — there would be the natural pressure to suggest the existence of a text akin to the Sutras and others.

I’m frankly not even sure how important an issue it is — although I understand why people would fixate on it. Whether one derives benefits from yoga is, to me, more important.

But if Modi continues pressing with his “yoga resurrection” effort, I’d think tracking down a copy of the Korunta would be a key piece to laying claim to India’s (pretty obvious) role. Apparently efforts to make such a discovery are getting some government benefit (from the same source as above):

“Yoga is India’s well acknowledged gift to the world. It is proposed to include Yoga within the ambit of charitable purpose under Section 2(15) of the Income-tax Act,” [Indian Finance Minister Arun] Jaitley said.

He further added: “The institutions which, as part of genuine charitable activities, undertake activities like publishing books or holding programme on yoga or other programmes as part of actual carrying out of the objects which are of charitable nature are being put to hardship due to first and second proviso to section 2(15).”

Yoga institutions will now benefit from tax exemptions, a move that will encourage more people to take part in the activity. After all, the benefit of tax exemption will be passed on to consumers in the form of reduced fee.

And it may just encourage someone to do some research and track down more evidence of yoga’s history in India.

Posted by Steve


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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

One thought on “Could Modi’s push to claim yoga for India reveal yoga’s past — and the Yoga Korunta?”

  1. If there is to be any resurrection of yoga, perhaps it could start with distinguishing from that which has been co-opted by the American narcissism-industrial complex. That is, the practice of “yoga” as a means to fortify the ego and seem attractive to one’s peers.

    Good luck to anyone intending to track down Yoga Korunta. Granted, the legend serves a purpose, as do Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. A less lucrative though more authentic (and readily accessible) catalyst for a yoga resurrection might be the work of Swami Vivekananda.

    However, this idea would not be consistent with mainstream Indian culture in its current form. It is telling that the native interest cited in the story is all in relation to economic development: more tourist visas, more students, more shala fees.

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