A 16th-century Nibandha on Vaiṣṇava Devotional Procedure

By Avni Chag

For the fourth Sanskrit Reading Room session of this year we were joined by our first specialist in Vaiṣṇava studies, Dr. Måns Broo, all the way from Åbo Akademi University, Finland. The session took place on Wednesday 15th November at SOAS. Dr Broo presented on a 16th-century Sanskrit Vaiṣṇava ritual text, the Haribhaktivilāsa, also known as the Bhagavadbhaktivilāsa. The text is one of the earliest texts of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava texts and historically important for this tradition. The verses are said to have been written by Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmin, a devotee of Caitanya, and the Digdarśinī commentary by Sanātana Gosvāmin. It is a voluminous nibandha, and a tantric text, which as Broo explained, not only describes ritual practice but also the fruits of that practice, and has played a significant role in developing ritual procedures within the sampradāya. Generally the text dedicates 3 to 4 verses to a particular procedure, followed by a selection of verses on the procedure’s māhātmya, i.e. what great fruits the practitioner can expect from the particular ritual. We learned, to our surprise, that most procedures were directed to also members that fell outside the 3 twice-born varṇas as well as women. Like most texts written in the early stages of a developing sampradāya the Haribhaktivilāsa is orthopractic, referencing authoritative treatises, especially the Veda, whilst also incorporating something new, something specifically Vaiṣṇava.

The devotional and ritual procedures the text covers are varied. With a total of nearly 10,000 verses the text describes in various degrees of detail how a Vaiṣṇava devotee ought to:

Honour one’s guru

Self-purification in preparation of worship

Offer worship to Kṛṣṇa

Reciting mantras

Reciting the 1000 names

Read the scriptures and narrate Kṛṣṇa’s līlās

Perform rituals at various junctures of the day

Shun bad company

Make offerings

Perform arcana

Perform vratas

Installing images in a temple


Partake of offerings made to the deity

Prostrations and circumambulations etc. etc.

Broo’s work in putting together a critical edition of the text is the first comprehensive one of its kind as most earlier editions are not critical editions. These earlier editions do not allow the scholar to understand what the text might have originally looked like or how it might have changed during its dissemination throughout India. His efforts in producing a critical edition involved collating as many manuscripts as are available, a process that he lamented had not been straightforward. The catalogus catalogorum records around 100 manuscripts, many of these unfortunately are not available or are not in fact manuscripts of the Haribhaktivilāsa. He has also been able to locate many manuscripts that do not appear in the catalogue. Getting copies of manuscripts has not always been an easy process; even the selected archives in India that have digitised collections are not always so interested in sharing them.

Broo has been collecting manuscripts for quite some time now and has collected near to 100. Manuscripts are located all over India, as far west as Gujarat, or north as Panjab and Assam, down to Orissa etc. This was the product of the rise in manuscript culture during the Mughal period, when paper was comparatively cheap and readily available. Most of these are not dated, but those that are were copied in the 19th or early 20th centuries. The oldest dated manuscript he was able to secure is from Jaipur, dated 1743 CE:


Other early manuscripts include one from 1770, from Patna:


One from the same year, from Orissa:


Broo interestingly brought us back to Dr. Formigatti’s session from last year on manuscript marginalia with this particular manuscript. While the marginalia, he explained, were often glosses of particular words in the manuscript, they also referred to various other treatises and well known interpretations, something that might help us to understand more about the scribe or the particular manuscript’s use.

And another manuscript from Calcutta, dated 1790:


We do not know much about the scribes because they generally did not include their names. Broo has found that for those manuscripts in which scribes did sign off their work, though many were brāhmins, who probably copied manuscripts for a living, some were Vaiṣṇava devotees, recognised by their dikṣā name ‘dāsa’.

The edition we read from in the session used 11 manuscripts, which were chosen on the basis of age, geographical spread and interesting particularities that have affected further discoveries to do with the text. We began right at the beginning of the text from the first Vilāsa, here meaning ‘types of bhakti or devotional past times’. Although the first vilāsa didn’t quite give us a taste of the codified ritual aspects of the Gauḍiya Sampradāya, it showed us how the Digdarśinī gloss reports on the mūla text. We were looking for how, despite the understanding that the gloss is an auto-commentary or was written by a close companion of the author, it sometimes reports curious, alternative readings of the mūla text or uses a different text than the received one. In the gloss of verse 2, for example, the commentator leaves out the names of two of the gurus honoured in the verse, only mentioning Ragunāthadāsa:

bhakter vilāsāṃś cinute probodhānandasya śiṣyo bhagavatpriyasya |

gopālabhaṭṭo ragunāthadāsaṃ santoṣayan rūpasanātanau ca ||2||

…śrīraghunāthadāso nāma gauḍakāyasthakulābjabhāskaraḥ paramabhāgavataḥ śrīmathu-

rāśritas tadādīn nijasaṅginaḥ santoṣayitum ity arthaḥ ||2||

This might tell us something to do with the author of the commentary – did he perhaps consider Ragunāthadāsa the most important of the three, or did he feel that his non-brahminical background needed to be explained?

Another interesting aspect of the text, or what we learned is a typical feature of many Vaiṣṇava texts, is the common use of the ablative, such as the suffix –taḥ. For example, verse 1 ends with samastaśāstrataḥ (from all the śāstras).

The first volume of Dr Broo’s work on the Haribhaktivilāsa will hopefully be available next year, the first of what will probably be a series of volumes. Here is a link to Dr Broo’s most recent text critical work on the Rādhā Tantra.


Graduate Sanskrit Reading Room

Wednesday 29th November, 2017, 3-5pm, Room T102, 22 Russell Sq

Session 5: Graduate Sanskrit Reading Room


Translation immoral? Contamination, hybridity, and vociferous silences in

early twentieth-century translations of Sanskrit erotic poetry

Maddalena Italia (SOAS)

This paper focuses on a selection of early twentieth-century French, Italian, and English translations, re-translations, and trans-creations of the 7th century Sanskrit anthology titled Amaruśataka, or “The hundred verses of Amaru”. The practice of comparing, collating and inventively muddling variants from different sources is the defining feature of these literary translations. Indeed, most of their authors lacked the linguistic skills to access the original Sanskrit text, which was only available to them through earlier translations; what is more, each translator creatively ‘contaminated’ the text with his own notion of what the ‘exotic erotic’ should be like, going so far as to insert forged passages and excise what was not perceived as aesthetically or – more often – morally appropriate. My aim is to follow and unpack the selective, comparative and combinatory process that produced each modern re-translation or trans-creation. In this perspective, what I call ‘translational contamination’ reveals its creative rather than polluting force: paradoxically, it is often the hybrid, if not outright spurious, details of these modern versions that act as a litmus paper of the aesthetic and moral preoccupations of their authors and projected readers, thus turning such texts into new and newly translatable originals.

Bio: Maddalena started working on her doctoral thesis in 2013, after completing her MA in Languages and Cultures of South Asia at SOAS, preceded by a BA and an MA in Classics. In her PhD thesis (“The erotic untranslatable: the modern reception of Sanskrit love poetry in the West and in India”), Maddalena analyses commentaries, translations, and rewritings of Sanskrit erotic poetry authored by Western and Indian poets and philologists.

Vedic Chanting and Demonstration

Rohini Bakhshi (Independent Scholar)

The saṃhitās of the four Vedas have been transmitted faithfully for millennia not through the written word, but orally through rigorous and varied recitation styles. Even today, traditional paṇḍits reject printed copies as potentially faulty, and rely exclusively on the unbroken oral transmission of their own school.  Each Veda has its own method of chanting. In modern India it is the taittirīya śākhā of the Yajur veda which has reached lay audiences more than other schools. The sound of Veda being chanted is considered mystical and sacred by most Hindus even if they do not understand a word of what is being said. The method of even the most basic chant is extremely challenging. It calls for multiple and simultaneous application of attention (avadhāna). It can take a full-time student dedicated to no other pursuit up to sixteen years to complete Vedic studies. Traditionally this has been and continues to be exclusively a male domain. While there have been reformers who allow women to learn/chant the Vedas (adhyayana) Hindu orthodoxy prohibits it even today. There is no provision for girls to do veda-adhyayana in traditional gurukulas. Even ‘part-time’ engagement is discouraged actively. As a female, finding a traditionally trained brāhmin willing to teach Vedic chanting is no easy task. Having said all that, technology has facilitated access to the few who are willing to teach. In this session of SRR, I would like to share my lived experience of learning how to chant Veda from a teacher from rural Karnataka – over Skype. The challenges, the disappointments, but most of all the exhilaration.

Bio: Rohini Bakshi is a Sanskrit teacher and columnist with an M.A. in Hindu Studies from SOAS. She has been popularising the study of Sanskrit using social media for the last five years. Her platform #SanskritAppreciationHour reaches over 14,000 followers on Twitter. Having authored an independent reader for Sanskrit students, she is currently working on a book about the early history of Rudra-Śiva. A devout Hindu, she campaigns for women’s rights based on her study of ancient Hindu texts. Oxford alumna, she returned to academia after a successful career in marketing communications spanning twenty years.

Formulation, Substitution, Veneration: three controversial Upanisadic terms

Graham Burns (SOAS)

Later philosophical interpretations of the Vedic Upaniads (compiled c. 700 BCE to the very early years of the Common Era) often proceed on the basis of specific technical understandings of certain important terms. But are those understandings necessarily justified? In this session, Graham Burns will look at three important Upaniṣadic terms, exploring their etymology and background, and considering whether the way in which they were later interpreted helps or hinders understanding of what the Upaniads themselves were trying to say.


Bio: Graham Burns holds a BA in Law from Durham University and an MA in Religions from SOAS. He is currently in the final year of work in the Department of Religions and Philosophies at SOAS on his doctoral thesis: ‘Neti neti: the Search for the Ultimate Principle in the Vedic Upaniṣads’. He has taught yoga professionally since 2001 and helped train yoga teachers since 2004, and has also lectured at SOAS on the ‘Origins and Development of Yoga in Ancient India’ and ‘Hinduism: Foundation’ modules.


To book your space, please contact Ruth Westoby:


















Room T102, 22 Russell Square, SOAS


An audio-recording of the session will be made.



To book your space, please contact Ruth Westoby:




Don’t cross the line

Critiquing a Critical Edition: The Anāthapiṇḍadāvadāna with Dr Camillo Formigatti

On a crisp November afternoon the Sanskrit Reading Room was hosted by the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Under the careful guidance of Dr Camillo Formigatti, the John Clay Sanskrit Librarian at the Bodleian, we read the critical edition of the Anāthapiṇḍadāvadāna, deconstructed the text with the use of additional manuscripts, and were treated to a fascinating manuscript viewing.


Manuscript 1: Kāraṇḍavyūha (13th or 14th century CE) on palm leaf and Svayambhū Pūrana (18th century CE) on paper.

The genre of the Anāthapiṇḍadāvadāna from the Avadānaśataka is the jātaka and avadāna tales – the stories of the previous lives of the Buddha. The Avadānaśataka is one of the most ancient of its kind, the earliest forms dating to the early centuries of the common era. The form of these tales present three levels: a story of the present, a story of the past, and the conjunction of the two which reveals the moral.

During the reading Camillo engaged precisely what is presented in the manuscript rather than making automatic adjustments in conformity with our expectations. He drew attention to how previous studies – of Pāṇini, of kāvya – might influence the choices we make in reading manuscripts. We saw the use of virāma in the manuscript for the purpose of punctuating the text where a danda would have been too decisive. J. Speyer, in his critical edition of 1902, chose to use a danda.

A lively discussion sparked about the interpretation of an apparently simple passage, in which Anāthapiṇḍada fills a basket with… what? Dr Formigatti provided this blog with further detail on the debate: ‘The Sanskrit goes as sa hiraṇyasuvarṇasya helāṃ pūrayitvā, and several suggestions were made as to how to interpret the compound hiraṇyasuvarṇasya. The first one is that Anāthapiṇḍada filled a basket (BHS helā) with hiraṇyasuvarṇa, the second one is that the basket was made of hiraṇyasuvarṇa. But what exactly does the compound hiraṇyasuvarṇa mean? Other suggestions were made: does it mean ‘coins and gold’ or ‘gold and coins’? Or maybe ‘gold and silver’? Or does it even denote a specific type of gold? Apparently, the most plausible answer is that hiraṇya means ‘coins’ and suvarṇa simply ‘refined (but unminted) gold,’ and that Anāthapiṇḍada filled a basket with them. According to the Nachtragswörterbuch des Sanskrit (NWS), the word hiraṇyasuvarṇa (corresponding to Pāli hirañña-suvaṇṇaṃ) can mean both ‘coins and unminted gold’ (‘Goldmünzen und ungeprägtes Gold‘) as well as ‘silver and gold’ (‘Silber und Gold’). Unfortunately, the Tibetan translation of hiraṇyasuvarṇa with gser dngul shares the same ambiguity of meaning with the NWS, and is therefore of no help. (Moreover, in order not to make any mistake, the Tibetan translators decided to render the Sanskrit helā with gser gyi gzhong pa, ‘golden bowl’!) In order to reach a decisive interpretation it is necessary to consult also Oliver Hellwig’s rasavidyā dictionary, where the second meaning provided in the entry hiraṇya is ‘a gold piece or coin (generally with suvarṇa as opp. to base metal).’ However, since both hiraṇya as well as suvarṇa can mean both simply ‘gold,’ but also ‘coin,’ it is also possible that the compound hiraṇyasuvarṇa simply means ‘gold coin’, as suggested by the entry in the rasavidyā dictionary. Bottom line, without a careful perusal of all passages in which this compound occurs, we cannot be sure of its precise meaning.’

Familiarity with Classical Sanskrit was not enough to unravel the clues in the manuscripts. As well as unpicking the (perhaps less familiar) forms of Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, Camillo’s expertise in Tibetan enabled him to elucidate the texts. The 9th-century Tibetan translation adds significant detail to Speyer’s critical edition. As well as including stock phrases used also in other avadānas, the Tibetan includes a key segment upon which the plot hinges (and not included in CUL MS Add.1611 used by Speyer as the basis for his edition): that in the previous life-time recounted by the Buddha he reneges on an agreement to provide security for a debt incurred by his friend whom he vouched for during a gambling match. This is the evidence for the samavadhāna – the comparison the Buddha makes between the past and the present – and the reason he cannot cross the line, the lekhā.

To conclude the session Dr Formigatti showed us an array of manuscripts to indicate different writing technologies across Asia. The manuscripts appear delectable to any bookworm and I was astonished to learn that the yellow of some was due to treatment with arsenic, intended to dissuade insects from wreaking destruction. Even more delightful was the revelation (at least to me) that sometimes turmeric was used by scribes to trick patrons into believing arsenic had been applied.


Manuscript 2: Prajñapāramitā Sūtra (1880) on arsenic-treated yellow paper.

MSS 3.jpg

Manuscript 3: Muva Jātakaya (1864), Sinhalese manuscript with a sublimely illuminated incarnation of the Buddha as a gazelle. This Sinhala versification of the Nigrodhamiga Jātaka is incised with a stylus on palm leaf, which is passed over with soot, then cleaned.


Manuscript 4: Kāraṇḍavyūha (1050 CE) on palm leaf.

MSS 5.jpg

Manuscript 5: Japanese facsimile of the Horiuzi (Hōryū-ji) manuscript (beginning of the 7th century CE), produced in the 19th century for Max Müller’s edition of the Prajñāpāramitāhṛdayasūtra.


Manuscript 6: Collection of containing Shaiva Stotras and texts of Sāhib Kaul and his pupils, written by Dīlārāma (18th century) from Kashmir, in śāradā script. The second part of the manuscript contains notes as in a personal notebook. The layout of this form of annotations may be influenced by the Persian culture in which manuscripts may be heavily annotated in diagonal lines.

MSS 7.jpgManuscript 7: A Vasudhārā dhāraṇī manuscript in Jain nāgarī [1663 CE]: a Buddhist dhāraṇī transformed by Jainas to fit their purpose. It has the typical Jaina ornamented stringhole in a geometric pattern. The decoration has now faded but it would once have been bright red.

In his first session for the Sanskrit Reading Room in May 2017 Dr Formigatti steered participants through the meticulous study of marginalia in Sanskrit manuscripts. For a detailed write up of this session please see Rohini Bakshi’s blogpost at

To explore Dr Formigatti’s work further please see:

‘Walking the Deckle Edge: Scribe or Author? Jayamuni and the Creation of the Nepalese Avadanamala Literature’, in Buddhist Studies Review33(1-2), 2016, p.101-140.

‘Towards a Cultural History of Nepal, 14th – 17th century. A Nepalese Renaissance?,’ in Studies in Honour of Luciano Petech. A Commemoration volume, 1914-2014. Rivista degli studi orientali, vol. LXXXIX, Roma 2016, p. 51–66.6.

‘A Forgotten Chapter in South Asian Book History? A Bird’s Eye View of Sanskrit Print Culture,’ in Printing as an Agent of Change in Tibet and Beyond, Leiden: Brill, 2016, p.72–134.8.

‘Travelling Books,’ in Buddha’s Word. The Life of Books in Tibet and Beyond, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge 2014, p. 19–24.

An audio recording of Dr Formigatti’s session will be available soon.

Ruth Westoby is a first-year doctoral researcher at SOAS and a co-organiser of the Sanskrit Reading Room.

Session 3: Dr Camillo Formigatti

Wednesday 8th November, 2017, 3-5pm 

Session 3:  Dr Camillo Formigatti

John Clay Sanskrit Librarian, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Deconstructing a Critical Edition:

The Anāthapiṇḍadāvadāna from the Avadānaśataka 

The Avadānaśataka is considered one of the most ancient collections of Buddhist narrative literature. In its earliest form, it is dated to the early centuries CE. It was translated into Chinese and Tibetan during the first millennium CE, gaining large popularity across Asia. In his seminal work Introduction à l’histoire du Bouddhisme indien (1844), E. Burnouf considered it as one of the most representative of the literary genre of the avadāna. Based on the date of the Chinese translations and the character of the language, the original core of this collection is to be dated between the first half of the 5th century and the beginning of the 6th century CE at the latest. The Avadānaśataka underwent a redactional process around the 7th century CE in a Mūlasarvāstivāda environment. In this session we will read the short 39th story, the Anāthapiṇḍadāvadāna, in the version published by J. Speyer in his editio princeps of 1902. This edition is largely based on a single Nepalese manuscript dated 1645 CE (CUL MS Add.1611), written and edited by the Nepalese scholar Jayamuni. In order to assess Jayamuni’s editorial work, in the second part of the session we will “deconstruct” Speyer’s critical edition, comparing the version of the story as edited by Speyer with the version transmitted in CUL MS Add.1611, with the version transmitted in older palm-leaf manuscripts from the 13th-15th century, as well as with the 9th century Tibetan translation.

(No knowledge of Classical Tibetan is required to attend the session.) 

Weston Library

Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BG 


Please note we will only be making this text available to session participants.

Spaces are limited and will be booked on a first come first serve basis.

An audio-recording of the session will be made.

Brief Bio: Camillo Formigatti studied Indology and Sanskrit as a secondary subject when he was studying Classics at the “Università Statale” in Milan. After that he spent ten years in Germany, learning Tibetan and textual criticism in Marburg and manuscript studies in Hamburg. From June 2008 to May 2011, he worked as a research associate on the project: In the Margins of the Text: Annotated Manuscripts from Northern India and Nepal, in Hamburg. From November 2011 to November 2014 he worked as a Research Associate on the Sanskrit Manuscripts Project in Cambridge and later as a collaborator in the project Transforming Tibetan and Buddhist Book Culture. After having briefly taught Sanskrit at SOAS, since February 2016 he is the John Clay Sanskrit Librarian at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.


To book your space, please contact Ruth Westoby:

Haṭhayoga’s Tantric Buddhist source text

By Graham Burns

The idea that yoga is Indian is, of course, taken for granted by almost everyone. And those who have studied the yoga traditions in more depth know of the close connections between the tradition known as haṭhayoga and Śaivism, particularly Tantric Śaivism. So the idea that the earliest known text to teach some of the important principles and practices of haṭhayoga originated not in Tantric Śaivism, but rather in a Buddhist milieu, is guaranteed to disturb the pre-conceptions of many students and scholars of yoga.

Yet, that is exactly the argument put forward by James Mallinson in an extremely well attended, and live streamed, first session of the Sanskrit Reading Room of 2017/18. Dr. Mallinson’s radical conclusion comes after years of study of a text called the Amṛtasiddhi, an influential text, many of whose verses have found their way more or less verbatim into later texts on haṭhayoga. Although modern manuscripts of the Amṛtasiddhi do indeed suggest that it was composed in a Śaivite milieu, the discovery in the China Nationalities Library in Beijing of a manuscript of the text, dated, according to its colophon, to 1160 CE, cast doubt on this ‘traditional’ attribution to the Śaivite traditions. This dating, if accurate, puts the Amṛtasiddhi earlier than any other known text to teach techniques of haṭhayoga, even if the term haṭhayoga does not itself appear in it.

Although the Amṛtasiddhi was composed in India by Tantric Buddhists, the text was later transliterated and translated into Tibetan, and it is from the bilingual manuscript that the team were able to deduce that it had, most likely, been written by Buddhists. The manuscript discovered in Beijing contained the text of the Amṛtasiddhi not just in Sanskrit, but also transliterated into one Tibetan script and translated into another. Dr. Mallinson’s reading of the manuscript with Tantric Buddhism scholar Dr. Péter-Dániel Szántό from Oxford University revealed that the Amṛtasiddhi uses numerous examples of technical terms of art from Tantric Buddhism, suggesting strongly that its origins lay in that tradition, albeit with what Dr. Mallinson described as ‘pretty eccentric’ Tantric Buddhists, who used the text to pit themselves against certain better known Tantric Buddhist traditions.

amrta 2

Our reading focussed on two parts of the Amṛtasiddhi: Chapter 7, the Bindudhāraṇaviveka, and Chapter 11, the Mahāmudrāviveka. The first ten Chapters of the text explain the workings of the ‘yogic body’, and Chapter 7 introduces the idea of a single ‘seed’ (bījam ekam), a little later in the Chapter called bindu, as the fundamental essence of the whole of existence. This seed is identified with Sadāśiva, one of the highest forms of Śiva in Śaivite Tantra, as well as with the moon, and with other exotic substances such as mada, ‘the fluid that flows from elephants’ temples when they are in rut’ (Mallinson and Singleton 2017:492 n.57). Chapter 7 makes clear that control of the bindu is brought about by control of the breath, which, in turn, leads to the very yogic goal of control of the mind, and Chapter 7.7 introduces terms from alchemy to refer to this control: if bindu is mūrcchita (stunned) it removes disease, if baddha (bound) it can make one a ‘sky-rover’ (khecara), perhaps here suggesting that the practitioner can actually fly. (In passing, many years ago I encountered a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Ladakh who recounted his ability to fly as if it were the most matter of fact accomplishment – maybe he had succeeded in ‘binding’ his bindu.)

The reference to Sadāśiva in Chapter 7.2, and other Śaivite references in the Amṛtasiddhi, led to a debate about the text’s Buddhist origins, for it would clearly have been unusual for a Buddhist text to give Śiva such prominence. Dr. Szántό, who was present at the reading, agreed that this was unusual, and suggested that the text was most likely composed for a Śaivite Tantric audience, but that, nevertheless, the extensive use of Tantric Buddhist terminology suggested that that milieu had been the text’s original starting point. As an example, Chapter 7.4 refers to ānandā viramāntāḥ (‘the [four] blisses ending in [the bliss of] cessation’), a term with no technical meaning in a non-Buddhist context, but with a clear meaning in Tantric Buddhism as the fourth and final level of ‘bliss’ in Tantric sexual ritual.

Although the Amṛtasiddhi does not itself teach Tantric sexual rituals, this association may also find reflection in the somewhat mysterious idea of ‘male’ and ‘female’ bindu, introduced in Chapter 7.8. While male bindu is easily identified as semen, the identity of the female seed, rajas, is more uncertain, though it was noted by one reader that the ancient Greek medical tradition sometimes referred to both male and female ‘seeds’. Although rajas is described as red, possibly suggesting menstrual fluid, it is also said to unite with the male bindu externally in the act of procreation, while uniting the two internally is said to be the ‘highest dharma and the best yoga’ (7.13: paro dharma… yogaḥ paro mataḥ). The male bindu is said to be ‘lunar’ and the female ‘solar’, making this reference to their inner union a possible precursor of the later popular notion that the term haṭhayoga itself refers to some form of ‘uniting’ of ‘solar’ and ‘lunar’ energies in the body.

Chapter 7 closes by re-emphasising the relationship of bindu, breath and mind, while Chapter 11, by contrast, discusses one of the most important methods of achieving the control of bindu. This is the practice of mahāmudrā, a yogic practice which finds its way into later texts of haṭhayoga, and one which is still reasonably well known and widely practised in contemporary yoga. Mahāmudrā (the ‘great seal’) is another well-known Tantric Buddhist term, even if there meaning something somewhat different to the practice described in the Amṛtasiddhi, and Dr. Szántό noted that this section of the Amṛtasiddhi had appeared in an even older Tibetan text. Conversely, as Dr. Mallinson pointed out, mahāmudrā was an unknown term in Śaivite circles before this text.

The practice of mahāmudrā is explicitly said to hold bindu, in turn leading to control of body, speech and mind (11.7: kāyavākcittasādhanam, again an unusual triad in Śaivite texts but a common one in Tantric Buddhism). The method of practice, as described in the text, is perhaps better shown in illustration, as in these images (the first from a manuscript of the 18th century Jogpradīpakā and the second of the famous 20th century yogi Tirumalai Krishnamacarya).

amrta 1

However, for those of us who practise mahāmudrā regularly, the text’s instruction to ‘raise the buttocks onto a seat’ (11.4: āsane kaṭim āropya) while the heel is pressed into the perineum (11.3: yoniṃ saṃpīḍya vāmena pādamūlena) caused some confusion.

amrta 3

Ultimately, the very practice of mahāmudrā, according to the Amṛtasiddhi, stops death (11.10: anayā bādhyate mṛtyor…), and its description also brought the first, fascinating, session of the Sanskrit Reading Room for 2017/18 to a close.

Graham Burns is a final-year doctoral researcher at SOAS.


Forthcoming (2018). “The AmṛtasiddhiHaṭhayoga’s Tantric Buddhist Source Text.” In Śaivism and the Tantric Traditions: A Festschrift for Alexis Sanderson, ed. Dominic Goodall, Shaman Hatley & Harunaga Isaacson. Leiden: Brill.ṛtasiddhi_Haṭhayogas_Tantric_Buddhist_Source_Text

Mallinson, James and Singleton, Mark 2017 Roots of Yoga London: Penguin Random House

Image credits:

Image 1 (Amṛtasiddhi manuscript): China Nationalities Library of the Cultural Palace of Nationalities MS 005125 (21).

Image 2: British Library Add. 24099 Jogpradīpakā āsana No. 19

Image 3: Source unknown

Winter Term Schedule 2017

Wednesday October 11, 3-5 pm

Dr James Mallinson (SOAS)


Room T102, 22 Russell Sq, SOAS

(With a tea reception to follow, 5-6 pm)

Wednesday October 25, 3-5 pm

Dr Péter Szántó (University of Oxford)

Padminī of Mahāsukhavajra and commentary to Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇatantra

Room T101, 22 Russell Sq, SOAS

Wednesday November 8, 3-5 pm

Dr Camillo Formigatti (John Clay Sanskrit Lib)

Deconstructing a critical edition: The Anāthapiṇḍadāvadāna from the Avadānaśataka

The Weston Library, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Wednesday November 15, 3-5 pm

Dr Måns Broo (Abo Akademie University)

Hari Bhaktivilāsa

Room 404, 30 Russell Sq, SOAS

Wednesday November 29, 3-5 pm

Graduate Sanskrit Reading Room

Maddalena Italia (SOAS)

Translation immoral? Contamination, hybridity, and vociferous silences in

early twentieth-century translations of Sanskrit erotic poetry

Rohini Bakshi (Independent Scholar)

Vedic Chanting Method and Demonstration

Graham Burns (SOAS)

Formulation, Substitution and Veneration: three controversial Upanisadic terms.

Room T102, 22 Russell Sq, SOAS

Wednesday December 6, 3-5 pm

Dr Lidia Wojtczak (SOAS)

Pimps and beggars. Poets through the lens of Sanskrit satirical verse.

Room 404, 30 Russell Sq, SOAS

Wednesday December 13, 3-5pm

Dr Marie-Hélène Gorisse (Ghent University)

Ratnakīrti’s Īśvarasādhanadūṣaṇa

Room T101, 22 Russell Sq, SOAS

For more details, subscribe to or our Facebook group: Sanskrit Reading Room. Sessions will be streamed live or available as an audio recording.

For any enquiries contact Karen O’Brien-Kop (Karen_O’ or Avni Chag (

To book a space in any of these sessions please email Ruth Westoby (


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