Comparative Guts

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Rāja Mandhata

Nurpur, Himachal Pradesh, India c. 1690–1700. 

The yogic body was configured in different ways by various traditions. The abdomen was thought to be the seat of fire in the body, and it could be stimulated by the practice of physical yoga postures, such as the Siddha’s Pose (siddhāsana) depicted in this Figure. The heel of the lower leg presses against the perineum and pushes up the normally downward moving wind to fan the abdominal fire. As gestured by his right hand, the king is practising breath retentions (prāṇāyāma), which could be done while applying internal muscular locks to generate intense heat in the body. In some yogic traditions that worshipped the god Śiva, the abdominal conflagration brought about by yoga was thought to burn and thereby awaken the serpent goddess called Kuṇḍalinī, who remains asleep while coiled around a bulb (kanda) in the lower abdomen, her mouth blocking the lower aperture of the yogi’s central channel. By waking her, the aperture is opened and the yogi can proceed to move the breath (prāṇa) and Kuṇḍalinī herself into the central channel. However, as depicted in Figure 3, the channel is blocked by three knots (granthi), the first of which is at the navel and represented by the God Brahmā, here with multiple faces and arms. Intensive yoga practice was supposed to push the breath and Kuṇḍalinī so forcibly up through the central channel that they pierce and clear the knots. When Viṣṇu’s knot in the throat and Rudra’s knot between the eyebrows had been pierced, the yogi enters a profound state of meditation in which the body, mind and breath become still. Textual and visual evidence of kings engaged in yoga is rare. This figure portrays Rāja Mandhata as a serious practitioner who would have no doubt patronised yogis and protected the lay communities that supported them.

Debra Diamond. Yoga : The Art of Transformation. Washington D.C: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Smithsonian Institution, 2013.

Jacqueline Hargreaves, ‘Visual Evidence for Royal Yogins.’ The Luminescent, 2020. Retrieved from: link [accessed 12.1.2023]