In the 17th-century watercolor painting pictured above and featured in "Yoga: The Art of Transformation," an upcoming exhibition at the Sackler Gallery, a man sits on a mat outside a hut, contorted into a fetal position. The picture is one of the exhibit’s 10 folios from the Bahr al-Hayat, the earliest known treatise to illustrate yoga postures systematically.
Today, yoga is practiced by millions, in styles that range from tranquil relaxation poses to intense workouts. But the activity emerged centuries before stretchy yoga pants were invented. Indian spiritual leaders conceived it a means of disciplining the body and mind as early as 500 BCE, and over time Hindu, Buddhist and Jain schools philosophically ordered the practice into its various forms.
"Yoga: The Art of Transformation," the world’s first yogic art exhibition, visually traces yoga’s development and dissemination. In addition to the 10 Bahr al-Hayat folios, which have never been shown in the United States before, the exhibition includes more than 100 temple sculptures, devotional icons, illustrated manuscripts, court paintings, photographs, books and films borrowed from 25 museums and private collections in India, Europe and the United States.
"These works of art allow us to trace, often for the first time, yoga’s meanings across the diverse social landscapes of India," said Debra Diamond, the museum’s curator of South Asian art. "United for the first time, they not only invite aesthetic wonder, but also unlock the past—opening a portal onto yoga’s surprisingly down-to-earth aspects over 2,000 years."
The exhibition opens on October 19 and runs through January 26 next year.
Image courtesy of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.