Yogi Sculptures

Complex Āsanas Across the Deccan

  • Seth Powell Harvard University


This chapter aims to broaden our understanding of the visual record of yogis carved upon the temple pillars and walls of several Vijayanagara-era temple sites in the Deccan—including major temple complexes at Hampi, Śrīśailam, Śṛṅgerī, Lepākṣī, and Śravaṇabeḷagola. The yogi sculptures are a key feature of a broader visual program of artistic temple production that spanned across these Vijayanagara temple sites during the 15th and 16th centuries. I argue that the pervasive sculptural presence of yogis performing complex āsanas in the Deccan during this period is a testament to the physical presence of lived yogis in and around these south-Indian temple sites. In several cases, the sculptures of particular āsanas predate and anticipate textual evidence thereof, providing unique insight into “on the ground” yoga traditions. Renditions of certain contortionist postures and those involving physical “props” may also be indicative of a shared performative community of physical culturalists (including yogis, dancers, and gymnasts) who were active at such temples, especially during annual festivals. The assessment of this material record of yoga practice is crucial for our understanding of the historical development and geographical location of physical yoga traditions in precolonial South India.

Author Biography

Seth Powell, Harvard University

Seth Powell is a PhD Candidate at Harvard University, where he is completing his dissertation on a 15th-century Vīraśaiva Sanskrit yoga text from South India known as Śivayogapradīpikā, the “Lamp on Śivayoga”—which uniquely synthesizes the traditions of yoga, bhakti, and ritual. His research focuses on the history, theory, and practice of premodern Sanskrit yoga texts and traditions, as well as the visual and material culture of yoga as found in Indian temple sculptures. Seth is also the founder and director of Yogic Studies—a leading online educational platform for yoga and South Asian studies.

How to Cite
POWELL, Seth. Yogi Sculptures. Journal of Yoga Studies, [S.l.], v. 4, p. 85 – 111, apr. 2023. ISSN 2664-1739. Available at: <https://journalofyogastudies.org/index.php/JoYS/article/view/JoYS.2023.V4.02>. Date accessed: 19 july 2024.