Comparative Guts

Indian anatomical painting

Circa eighteenth century, western India. An old-Gujarati manuscript (circa 1900?). (Wellcome MS Indic d 74. Photo Wellcome Library, London.)

Premodern anatomical images in India were influenced by Persian drawings on anatomy, particularly during the Mughal dynasty’s reign in north India from the sixteenth to eighteenth century. This figure depicts the veins, arteries and intestinal tract in the manner of Persian drawings. The body’s position with the legs splayed and the hands on the inner thighs is very similar to anatomical images from the Taṣrīḥ-i Manṣūrī tradition, which included many of the observations of Galen. However, the labels within the figure and text surrounding it, which consist of Sanskrit and Gujarati, overlay tantric ideas onto the anatomical body. In particular, flower-like cakras have been added along the central axis of the body, as well as the ‘aperture to Brahma’ (brahmarandhra)  above the head. The text describes a system of six cakras, sixteen bodily supports (ādhāra), three meditative gazing points (lakṣya) and five voids (vyoman) in the body, which all facilitate the practice of yoga.

This distinct conception of the yogic body was described in a nineth-century Kashmirian work called the Netratantra. Mythical animals, including the tortoise that supports the universe, have been added below the figure.

Dominik Wujastyk, ‘A Persian Anatomical Image in a non-Muslim Manuscript from Gujarat’, Medical History, 2007, 51: 239.