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Yoga: Then and now

“The yoga practiced these days is Hatha Yoga. It targets fitness and has little bearing on the Patanjali system of yoga,” says Deepa Kothari, a physicist who teamed up with yoga practitioner Ramji Om to co-direct the 2011 Hindi documentary with English sub-titles, History of Yoga.

The film traces the beginnings of the orthodox discipline that is rooted in the teachings of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, or ancient Indian teachings. “The original system aimed to use meditation to attain spiritual insight and tranquility,” shares Kothari.

The film takes the viewer on a journey from the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation in Harappa to modern-day science that authenticates the efficacy of the discipline. Stops along the way include the Middle Ages where yoga was used as a tool to conquer disease and the 19th century when spiritualist Swami Vivekananda introduced yoga to westerners.

The film shows how the Vedic Age, and the introduction of Jainism and Buddhism impacted the practice of yoga. The Natha Sampradaya, an ancient lineage of mystics or saints that included spiritual master Matsyendranath, who wrote books on yoga as a means of self-realisation, have also been featured.


Hatha Yogic Pranayam depicted in a wall painting, dating back to the early 18th century

Yoga and art
Eighteen eminent scholars, historians and archaeologists from India and Nepal discuss key principles of the philosophy that is tied to meditative dance, drama, music, as well as stone and bronze sculptures.

“ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) approved sculptures, artefacts from 35 museums, ancient scripts and World Heritage sites have been featured in the documentary,” says Kothari, adding, “Post Al-Biruni (an Iranian-Muslim scholar who translated the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali into Arabic), this is the first attempt to record the history of yoga.”

Kothari, who has a doctorate in Physics, says that she was drawn to the Arts, specifically to Indian sculptures and Hindu philosophy, in what she describes as a “rational, open-minded way”. In 2008, the physicist teamed up with five others, including Ramji Om, to begin work on the documentary. Funding for the documentary was an uphill task. “They say that Lakshmi (money) and Saraswati (knowledge) don’t always come together,” says Kothari, who eventually had to depend on generous contributions from friends and family members to produce the film.

“We also got a lot of help from the Madhya Pradesh government,” says the co-director, who is hoping for a mainstream release in the near future. “We also hope to have screenings in schools and colleges.”

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