Prostration or Potentiation?
Hindu Ritual, Physical Culture, and the “Sun Salutation” (Sūryanamaskār)
The so-called “Sun Salutation” (S. sūryanamaskāra, H. sūryanamaskār), is one of the most ubiquitous and iconic of all modern yoga practices. As Alter (1992, 2000), Goldberg (2006, 2016), and Singleton (2010, 2016), have discussed at length, the modern history of yoga, and of the sūryanamaskār in particular, is deeply rooted in the soil of Hindu ritual, Indian nationalism, and the emergence of a cosmopolitan middle-class physical culture in late 19th and early 20th century Europe and India. The goal of this paper is to explore three interrelated issues connected to the sūryanamaskār. First, we will further explore the genealogical and morphological relationships between the sūryanamaskār exercise and Hindu traditions of ritual worship. Second, we will examine the thesis forwarded by Mujumdar (1950) that the sūryanamaskār was taught in a communal exercise (H. akhāṛā-vyāyām) mode by Samarth Rāmdās to the Maharashtrian culture-hero Shivaji (Śivajī), considering his principal work, the Dāsbodh (17th century CE). Lastly, we will discuss the tensions between religion and physical culture associated with the sūryanamaskār and with yoga as understood in the work of Bhavanrao Pant and Swami Kuvalayananda, key proponents of the respective systems. We will conclude with reflections on the ways in which the modern sūryanamaskār and modern postural yoga demonstrate an ongoing process of interpretation and expression between the poles of the demonstration of religious piety (prostration) and empowerment through physical culture (potentiation), and why their conjunction, particularly in the modern era, makes sense historically and philosophically.