An Ancient Story of Yoga: from the Museum of Classical Yoga

Shri Yogendra Museum of Classical Yoga is the world's first museum established on the theme of Yoga

By The Yoga Institute

Shri Yogendra Museum of Classical Yoga

World's first Yoga Museum, Shri Yogendra Museum of Classical Yoga, was inaugurated in 1987 at The Yoga Institute, by the then President of India, Shri Giani Zail Singh. Conceptualized to show Yoga as a way of life, it provides guidelines for all those who are interested in studying classical Yoga. The museum presents a historical and balanced view of Yoga, which is a necessity amidst the confusion that has spawned in Yoga activities in India and abroad. 

Yogendra MuseumThe Yoga Institute

With an array of indoor and outdoor displays, and amongst the various sections on the history and concepts of Yoga, the museum also has a collection of articles belonging to Shri Yogendraji, in honour of his memory.

Let's take a dive into the History of Yoga.

LotusThe Yoga Institute

“Like the lotus, a yogi lives in the midst of the samsara and blooms.”

Yoga is not a religious doctrine, nor a primitive philosophy of mysticism. Is it some exotic Hindu magic that can be accepted only with awe and through prolonged ascetic studies? Does its mastery give magical powers over yourself and others? These are colourful misconceptions. The improvements that Yoga can make in your mind and body are often magical almost miraculous, but it does not make Yoga a system of magic. You can use Yoga in your ordinary daily life

Eight fold pathThe Yoga Institute

When people say they are going for a yoga class they generally mean an asana class. However, asana is a small part of yoga whereas yoga is the comprehensive whole, including the body– breath–mind–intellect–spirit complex.

In the Yoga Sutras of Maharishi Patanjali, asana is a part of the eight-fold path called Ashtanga Yoga. Ashtanga Yoga comprises of yamas which deal with an entire value system and niyamas which is related to personal disciplines. Ashtanga means eight limbs or branches, of which an asana or physical yoga posture is merely one branch, breath while or pranayama is another. These four stages form the bahiranga yoga sadhana.

Pratyahara, the 4th limb, is the connecting bridge between Bhairanga Yoga i.e. external and Antaranga Yoga i.e. internal. Here we try to curtail our external senses and move towards the true inner self.

The last three inner stages are dharana, dhyana and samadhi. These three form the antaranga yoga sadhana (the inner journey of yoga). The sutras on antaranga yoga of Maharishi Patanjali are briefly explained in the section on meditative postures.

This inward journey is expressed extensively throughout this book, especially through the inspiring thoughts and the philosophical introduction.

Here's a brief chronology of Yoga from around 3000 BC to 7th century AD:

• Richas (Vedas) - 3000 B.C. - Indicate earliest stirrings of Bhakti
• Shrutis (Upanisads) - 1500-600 B.C. - Earliest experiences of Aryan Rishis
• Yajnavalkya - 600 B.C. - Legendary author 'Yogi Yajnavalkya'
• Panchratta Sattvats - 400 B.C - Tribe of kshatriyas who took up the Ekantika Bhakti cult
• Patanjali - Earlier than 200 B.C. - Author of 'Yogasutra'
• Svetasvataropanishad - 200 B.C. - First to mention Bhakti cult
• Mathara - 1st Century A.D. - Author of 'Mathara Vrtti’
• Bhagvata - 5th Century A.D. - Flowering of the 'Pancharata' or 'Bhagvata' religion
• Nayanamaras - 5th Century A.D. - Sivabhaktas
• Bhakti Cult - 5th Century A.D. - Nucleus of Indian Culture
• Paramartha - 6th Century A.D - Translated 'Mathara Vrtti' into Chinese
• Gaudapda - 6th Century A.D - Wrote commentary on Samkhya Karika
• Tattvasamasa Sutra - 6th Century A.D - Small work of Sutras of varying numbers; those from no. 22-27, the author is unknown.

Let's take a look at some of the documented people in history related to Yoga.

Yajnavalkya, From the collection of: The Yoga Institute
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This legendary author of Yoga Yajnavalkya lived around 600 BC. There is a text on yoga in the form of a dialogue between rishi Yajnavalkya and his wife Gargi. He is the central figure in some early Upanishads, wherein he expands on the nature of Atman.

Vashistha, From the collection of: The Yoga Institute
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Sage Vashistha was priest to King Dashratha and preceptor of Lord Rama. He imparted spiritual knowledge to the sons of Kings Dashratha in a series of discourses. These appear in the “Yoga Vasishtha Maharamayana” composed by Valmiki as an appendage to the Ramayana.

Alexander the Great, From the collection of: The Yoga Institute
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Alexander invaded India in 326 BC. The Greeks for the first time saw yogis and were impressed with their ascetic practices, when summoned one yogi refused to meet Alexander as he (the yogi) was having his sunbath. Alexander negotiated with one of them to accompany him back to Greece.

Patanjali, From the collection of: The Yoga Institute
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Patanjali lived earlier than 2nd century BC. Near Taxila. He compiled the existing material on Yoga and systematized it into ‘Yoga Sutras’. He also composed the ‘Mahabhasya’, a treatise on Panini’s grammar and the present form of ‘ Charaka Samhita’, the text of Ayurveda.

Hsuan Tsang, From the collection of: The Yoga Institute
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The Chinese monk and traveller Hsuan Tsang came to India in 631 AD and stayed for some 14 years studying Sanskrit language and Buddhist Philosophy.

He collected several books during his stay in India. He visited the Kumbha Mela at Allahabad and met many yogis. He later compiled his impressions during his stay in India and translated it along with other literature into Chinese.

Vyasa, From the collection of: The Yoga Institute
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The great philosopher was born on an island in river Yamuna. Around the 7th century AD, Vyasa wrote the earliest and best commentary on the Yoga Sutras. He classified four vedas and wrote 18 Puranas. He is the author the great epic Mahabharatha.

Vacaspati Misra, From the collection of: The Yoga Institute
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Asana is understood as that which is performed within a defined space. ‘It is the manner of sitting or the seat whereon one sits’ says Vachaspati Mishra, an early proponent of Samkhya Yoga.

The great Indian philosopher Vachaspati Mishra lived in the 9th century AD.

He wrote commentaries on the Yoga Sutras, Brahma Sutras and Bhagavad Gita. The commentary on Brahma Sutras is named Bhamati after his wife.

Gorakshnath, From the collection of: The Yoga Institute
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Yogi Gorakhnath lived in the 10th century AD, practiced and taught Hatha yoga in its pure form. He established many mutts (temples) of Nath Yogis and wrote several Hatha yoga texts.

Alberuni, From the collection of: The Yoga Institute
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The Persian writer Alberuni came to India in 1017 AD and stayed for 13 years, studying Indian religion. science, literature and philosophy. He wrote several works based on this study including a translation and commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in Arabic. It is called Kitab-e-Patanjali.

Marco Polo, From the collection of: The Yoga Institute
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Marco Polo (1254-1324) is probably the most famous westerner who traveled on the silk route. His journey through Asia lasted 24 years. He was only 17 years of age when he embarked upon his journey with his father and uncle.

Marco Polo became a confidant of Mughal King - Kublai Khan - who ruled China then. He was a gifted linguist and a keen observer. During his travel through North India, he admired the techniques of Yoga when he saw yogis in meditation and other yogic postures who looked very serene and poised.

Dara Shikoh, From the collection of: The Yoga Institute
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Born in 1615 AD, eldest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan, and was heir apparent to the throne of Delhi. He studied Sufism as well as ancient Indian scriptures. He translated the Yoga Vashitha, Ramayana, Bhagavadgita and 52 Upanishads into Persian. He synthesized and transcended the apparently different faiths. Dara Shikoh was later executed by his younger brother Aurangzeb who later ascended to the throne of Delhi.

Paramahamsa Madhavadasji, From the collection of: The Yoga Institute
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Paramahamsa Madhavadasji (1798-1924) was the revered guru of Shri Yogendraji. He followed the Bhakti tradition of Chaitanya but was also interested to know the other tradition of yoga, and to that and he travelled the country 11 times by foot, during the 19th century. He had a fine intuition about the future of yoga and after many years of search, finally chose Manibhai Haribhai Desai, (now known as Shri Yogendraji) to carry the torch of Yoga to the world.

Paramahamsa Madhavdasji was master of several traditions of Yoga. His great work in Yoga continues to this day. He lived a full 123 years.

The ashram and final resting place of Paramahamsa Madhavadasji are on the banks of river Narmada at Malsar, where he lived as a Karma Yogi.

During his long life Paramahamsa Madhavadasji selected just 3 pupils for learning Hatha Yoga, amongst whom was Shri Yogendraji.

Sigmund Freud, From the collection of: The Yoga Institute
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Austrian neurologist and the founder of modern psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud himself had numerous psychological disorders. In 1927 he confessed to Felix Valyi (Professor of Philosophy) that it was too late for him (Freud) to study Yoga. He added that had he studied Yoga earlier, he would have been much happier person.

Illustrated here are some of the yoga devotees.

Top: Meera, Purdas, Gyaneshwar, Gora-Kumbhar.

Bottom: Eknath, Narsi Mehta, Ramdev, Namdev, Tulsidas, Tukaram, Savta Mali, Kabir.

The Yoga Institute's publications preserved in the Crypt of Civilization (1940)The Yoga Institute

'Crypt of Civilization' 

Crypt was one of the greatest historical projects conceived by Dr. Thornwell Jacobs, then President of the Oglethorpe University, Atlanta, Georgia. According to the Guinness Book of World Records (New York, 1990) Crypt of Civilization is the first successful attempt to bury a record for any future inhabitants. Out of the 700 books selected by a panel of eminent judges from millions of books available for selection, only a few were selected from India, out of which 4 books from The Yoga Institute were included in the Crypt of Civilization. 

Dr. Thornwell Jacobs, From the collection of: The Yoga Institute
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More than half a century ago, detailed plans were executed at Oglethorpe University, then on the outskirts of Atlanta, to build an extraordinary time capsule designed to store records for more than six thousand years. Done on an epic scale never before conceived, the result was the Oglethorpe Atlanta Crypt of Civilization, “the first successful attempt to bury a record for any future inhabitants."

The visionary of this improbable quest was Dr. Thornwell Jacobs (1877-1956), who has been called “the father of the modern time capsule.”

Jacobs was a remarkable Georgia educator, clergyman and author. In 1915 in North Atlanta he single handedly refounded Oglethorpe University. Formerly located near Milledgeville, the antebellum collage had perished during the Civil War. Jacobs was to be president of the revived institution for thirty years.

While engaged in teaching and research at Oglethorpe, Jacobs was struck by the dearth of information on the ancient civilizations. In November 1936, in scientific American magazine, he explained at length an idea for preserving contemporary records for prosperity.

Published Books, From the collection of: The Yoga Institute
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The crypt is stored in a massive chamber of 20 feet long, 10 feet wide and 10 feet high, filled with inert nitrogen gas to prevent oxidation due to the ageing process.

Thornwell Jacobs envisioned the crypt as a synoptic compilation and thus aimed for a whole “museum” of not only accumulated formal knowledge of over six thousand years, but also 1930’s popular culture with contributions as diverse as King Gustav V of Sweden and Eastman Kodak Company.

The founder, Shri Yogendraji’s work on Yoga also finds a pride of place in this unique time capsule. The chamber of the crypt was finally finished in the spring of 1940. The crypt will be opened in the year 8113 A.D., 6000 years later than it is buried.

The Yoga Institute's four books preserved in Crypt of Civilization -

Yoga Personal Hygiene by Shri Yogendraji: A detailed and authoritative book on Yogic practices for internal and external cleansing, poise and control of body and mind, non-violent, non-fatiguing physical exercises and breathing exercises.

Yoga Asanas Simplified by Shri Yogendraji: This book presents a balanced course of simple yoga postures which are both traditional and scientific.

Hatha Yoga Simplified by Shri Yogendraji: The ancient science of Hatha Yoga has been simplified in this book which deals with some important topics like respiratory activity, sexual drive and its control, brain and nervous system, skin and hygiene in general.

Yoga Physical Education for Women by Smt. Sitadevi Yogendra: This book evolved after decades of clinical and laboratory research to suit the special needs of women. It outlines yoga psychosomatics for treatment of diseases like overweight, diet, sex, painless childbirth, neurasthenia, relaxation and mental health.

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See the the personal effects of Shri Yogendra ji at Yogendra Museum here

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