Vedic roots of Yoga: Meera Nanda distorts yoga - I
by Panikkath Krishnanunni on 19 Dec 2018 24 Comments

Yoga, especially the asanas of Hatha Yoga, is very popular. Though it is generally accepted that yoga originated in India, Meera Nanda questions the Vedic origins of Hatha Yoga and claims that yoga is non-Vedic in origin. Meera Nanda claims to have a rational, scientific temper, but, as noted archaeologist, B.S. Harishankar, points out: “Meera Nanda was a John Templeton Foundation Fellow in Religion and Science, which has links with fundamental Christian Protestantism”.

[Rancour towards our knowledge traditions, B.S. Harishankar]


On the basis of this information, the question arises: How can a person like Meera Nanda hope to maintain a rational or scientific attitude when she is associated with and influenced by Christian values? Nanda’s irrationality and bias is evident in her arbitrary denial of scientifically derived archaeological conclusions that attest to the existence of yoga during the Harappan era.


In her article, “Not as old as you think”, Meera Nanda said, “Indians affirm their claim on yoga of 5000 years’ Vedic tradition, which stretches from the Pashupati seal of (very un-Vedic) Indus Valley civilization. There is one problem with this purist history of yoga. It is false. Yogasanas were never Vedic”.

[, Feb. 12, 2011]


Nanda’s conclusion is readily debunked by the archaeological discoveries of eminent archaeologists such as Dr. B.B. Lal: “The findings of terracotta figurines in various yogasanas, which take the Ashtanga yoga of Panini (2 B.C.) back to the Harappan, must make us pause. It is a staggering material evidence of a spiritual quest unmatched in any civilization”. This establishes the existence of Hatha Yoga as well as its antiquity rooted in the Harappan period.


This period is disputed, some estimate it as 2600-1500 B.C. and others 3102 B.C. All that Meera Nanda can hope to do is try to reduce the antiquity period; but our main concern is vindicated: yoga is Vedic in origin, for which archaeological evidence is available.




Srimad Bhagavat Gita, chapter 1:4-6 as expounded by Sri Paramhansa Yogananda, disciple of Sri Yukteshwar Giri, contains parallels between the Mahabharata and Patanjali yoga. The character, Kuntibhoja, represents the concept of Asana of Patanjali. Similarly, Shaibhya and Dristaketu of Mahabharata corresponds to niyama and yama - the five do’s and don’ts of Patanjali  yoga. Yudhamanyu of Mahabharata means “pranayama” in Patanjali yoga.


The importance of pranayama, has been highlighted in Rudra Yamala, a tantric text: “pranayamo mahadharmo, Vedanamapya gocharaha”. It is pertinent that the word “Veda” occurs in a tantric text, indicating its close relation to Vedic tradition. This is evident from temple rituals in Kerala, where both Vedic mantras and tantric mudras are combined in the worship of the deity.


The Gita, also explains various types of yoga like karma yoga, jnana yoga, bhakti yoga and mantra yoga (meditation on AUM), varieties to choose according to one’s mental and physical aptitude and intellectual taste. Hence the term “yoga” cannot be defined in a narrow sense to mean only “hatha yoga”. Yoga is defined as “union of the Soul with Parabrahman – root word of the term yoga is ‘yuj’ “which means to join. To achieve this union, various methods are employed and Hatha yoga is just one of those tools used in our Sadhana”.


The Gita, although only a portion of the Mahabharata (world’s longest epic), is considered as another Veda as it contains the essence of some of the important Vedic Upanishads. Unlike the four Vedas revealed to ancient rishis in deep meditation, the Bhagavat Gita consists of upadesha (advice) by Sri Krishna, directly to prince Arjuna, orally as well as through the medium of samadhi. As the Gita is Paramatma Vani (voice of the Supreme), it can be treated as a veda. Analysis of the concepts veda, tantra, yoga, pranayam and their interconnectedness with the Gita and Patanjali yoga indicates the existence of many types of yoga during the Mahabharata period.


Meera Nanda pompously states “admitting to being ignoramuses is the first step towards acquiring knowledge”. This not only reveals her ignorance, but also her arrogance. Is the concept of “zero” that enabled ancient rishis to calculate crores of years called “Yugas” a product of ignoramuses? Is yoga that gives health and knowledge, a product of ignoramuses? Are the highly technical engineering feats seen in the construction of magnificent temples, a product of Hindu ignoramuses?


Meera Nanda should pause and ponder how Vedic Hindu Bharat achieved these feats if it lacked knowledge of various sciences. Nanda gloats copiously over the achievements in science by Greeks, Europe, China and the West. That is fine. But her attempt to show the achievements of ancient Bharat in poor light is lopsided and biased. The evidence of ancient India’s achievements is too strong to be ignored.


(To be concluded …)

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