Millions worldwide practice yoga daily, but few are aware of its origins and relative importance to Indian culture and identity. Although its history is long and complex, yoga reflects the rich philosophical and cultural currents that traversed the Indian subcontinent over thousands of years. An exhibition titled ‘Yoga in Indian Visual Art’ presents 150 works that illuminate and frame the history of yoga through art, and its evolution over thousands of years.
“We have tried to present a pictorial story on yoga as a vigorous cultural force across a varied and divergent social landscape around the world and how the discipline has become a global phenomenon. These works are presently displayed at various foreign museums,” shares the curator of the show Virender Bangroo and adds, “The artworks reflects the rich philosophical and cultural currents that passed through the Indian subcontinent over thousands of years in the form of sculpture, paintings, scrolls, illustrated manuscripts and books that explain the key aspects of yoga from micro to macro level.”
The show explores yoga’s goals and means of transforming body and consciousness and its profound philosophy and spiritual commitments. He explains, “Yoga is a medium to rise above the visual world and to dive deep into the spiritual experience, the latter being a source of ultimate and eternal pleasure. It has embraced a variety of practices and orientations, borrowing from and influencing a vast array of Indic religious traditions down the centuries.”
In its three thematic sections under jnana, dhayana and karma, the exhibition takes a deep look at how India in tradition has evolved over the centuries and how historical and classical art continues to impact creativity. “The objective of yoga is to achieve the union with the ‘Supreme Soul’, in other words, to achieve salvation. Through knowledge, meditation and action one could attain the same. In jnana method, the mind has the ultimate objective, i.e., liberation that finally leads to all attainments. In the Dhyanayoga chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita, Bhisma outlines to Yudhisthira the fourfold yoga of meditation (dhyanayogam caturvidham), where one should collect all the senses, fix the mind on a single point and sit like a log of wood and, after passing through further stages of meditation (vitarka, vichara and viveka) and finally withdrawing the senses through concentration, one becomes completely tranquil and gains nirvana. Finally, Kriyayoga or karmayoga where the soul is in the process of several rebirt hs and due to acquiring vices, which are not natural to its original being, gets depleted. It is through good deeds and actions, including purity of thought that it can again regain its original virtues.”
He continues, “Every religion teaches the right way of life. In this exhibition with the help of the images of ancient sculpture, we try to trace the history of yoga and the significance of each posture. For example, one of the works displayed is a Chola period bronze sculpture of Lord Narasimha meditating with a yoga paatta (strap), and ten folios from the first illustrated treatises of yoga posture outline the path of yoga.”
On a wall of the final room, a collection of coloured drawings of the different positions practiced by yogis with explanatory direction in Bra- bhasha verses is displayed. Talking about the works Virender says, “These works are from the Library of Rani of Jhansi after the British army took over her province in 1858. Showcasing the significant role yoga played during that time and age too.”
This show is a visual representation of Indian sculptures and painting that showcases yoga posture.
The exhibition opened the windows to enlighten and emphasise yoga’s crucial position in the Hindu religious psyche as well as its presence in Jain and Buddhist traditions. “,” he points out.