[INDOLOGY] dhanvantari

patrick mccartney psdmccartney at gmail.com
Fri Sep 29 04:04:23 UTC 2017

Dear Nagaraj,

Sorry, but I've been dealing with getting married 2x in two different
states over the past two weeks to respond.
Let me respond to your questions. Sorry if it is a bit over the place. I've
written in a bit of a rush.

* 'within the multi-trillion dollar wellness industry', what is the ratio
of the 'the global consumption of yoga-inflected lifestyles' ?  *
The global wellness industry is valued at about USD 4 trillion and global
yoga is worth about USD 500billion. This link
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tourism_in_India> explains the value of
tourism to India.

*Is your current research project focused, among other things, on the
'socio, political, economic aspirations of the Indian state through AYUSH
and MEA' ? *
++ yes. I am explicitly interested in the marketing of yoga, wellness and
mindfulness by AYUSH and MEA and the economic, social and political impacts.

 *Why are you interested in those aspirations? What is so intriguing about
a state having such aspirations? *
++ because they are interesting. I'm intrigued by how different narratives
are woven together to create 'history', legitimacy and authority,
particularly when it comes to consumption of yoga within a global framework
- there are many reconstituted narratives that are used by the Indian state
and global yoga/wellness to sell commodified spiritual tourism to India,
which reifies and essentialises many things to create a romantic,
idealised, sanitized image of yoga and India. How these narratives
intersect fascinates me. How they are involved in promoting a soft hindutva
and banal consumption through the global yoga industry are interesting. So,
you could say i'm mostly interested in how the Indian state 'weaponises'
yoga in the pursuit of increasing its soft power potential.

There are many criticisms levelled at consumers of global yoga: white
washing and cultural appropriation being the most egregious, but if you
look at the rhetoric of global yoga and the Indian state, they essentialise
an image of yoga that will possibly re-enchant worlds using the same 19th
century tropes. So, it's a bit hard to just go after consumers of yoga, who
are enticed by the many things, but also the official rhetoric of the India
state about magical, mystical, sacred, amulya bharat.   For instance, the MEA
says the following


A Brief History and Development of Yoga:

The practice of Yoga is believed to have started with the very dawn of
civilization. The science of yoga has its origin thousands of years ago,
long before the first religions or belief systems were born. In the yogic
lore, Shiva is seen as the first yogi or Adiyogi, and the first Guru or Adi

Several Thousand years ago, on the banks of the lake Kantisarovar in the
Himalayas, Adiyogi poured his profound knowledge into the legendary
Saptarishis or "seven sages”. The sages carried this powerful yogic science
to different parts of the world, including Asia, the Middle East, Northern
Africa and South America. Interestingly, modern scholars have noted and
marvelled at the close parallels found between ancient cultures across the
globe. However, it was in India that the yogic system found its fullest
expression. Agastya, the Saptarishi who travelled across the Indian
subcontinent, crafted this culture around a core yogic way of life.


*Do you think 'Vedic Thai Yoga Massage' that claims to be 5000 years old,
and which also claims this date for the Bhāgavatam, and which explicitly
states that Dhanvantari is a Vedic god' is part of 'the construction of
narratives to also suit socio, political, economic aspirations of the
Indian state through AYUSH and MEA' ?*
++yes. I argue that they built upon the official rhetoric of the state,
which is doing the opposite of decolonising yoga.

*Are you feeling bad that ' there are many people within yogaland who do
not have any appreciation for historicity, and would prefer for a sense of
magic and wonder to reenchant their lives.'? In a recent mail, you said,
" , my remit is to suspend judgement and disbelief, and try to privilege
the emic perspective." I said, "Do you think Indology centred around
/rooted in historical critical method and privileging emic perspectives
that are neither historical nor critical can go hand in hand? **" Here is a
sample of that mismatch*.
++ I have no feeling, either way, towards what people do or not do within
yogaland. If people do want to live in a magic-fuelled world of
neo-orientalist imaginings, that's up to them.

It's a good question you raise - but I don't think what you say above
matters, does it? - are you really trying to say that we should not use the
historical/critical method? What would you prefer or offer as an
alternative?  As you know, history is complicated. So is what we as
individuals and groups do with it to create meaning and legitimacy. I'm
quite happy to listen to what someone believes to be 'true', I'm also happy
to accept in a subjective relativist way that it's 'true' for them. But
that doesn't mean we should not fact check and try and understand larger,
deeper, forces at play, and contextualise things. There are many, many non
sequiturs that I've endured, patiently, through fieldwork, which are
beliefs and opinions - suspending judgement means not having an argument
with someone who has taken the time to answer my questions; while
privileging their perspective means including it in my narrative. I'm
honestly not sure how else to go about overriding the mismatch you speak
of, other than this.


*Who are the target market of this Vedic Thai Yoga massage ? Why or how do
they have a respect or attraction for the label 'Vedic' ? Indians,
particularly Hindus, more particularly traditionally oriented educated
Hindus may have a pull for the 'Vedic' label. Why at all does that label
matter for any customers other than of that category? Why does that label
create magic and wonder?*
++ people who want massages and who want to feel connected to some ancient,
unbroken lineage.
Like I've already said, and I don't think it matters whether it's an emic
or etic perspective, 'vedic' just like Dominik asserts '5000' is more about
a feeling than anything else, its an appeal to tradition, emotion,
authority and purity.

But, it does matter. Obviously, because people are attracted to it. Why
not, instead, just call it Thai (yoga) massage, or Thai massage? Because
they are trying to create distinction and carve up a piece of crowded
market place. But I also think that Vedic is a more preferred term by
global yoga consumers as a euphemism, which helps many to digest the
indelible Hindu elements of the worlds they create and consume. But there
are many errors, for instance, with the 5000 yr date for the Bhāgavatam,
just one example. Another is mentioning that many purānic gods are vedic.
There is very little appreciation for the historical development from the
Vedic period today, it's just seen as a flatland without many, if any,
contours. Perhaps the time scale and depth and breadth are just too much
for most people. One certainly won't learn much, if at all, about these
complexities in a yoga teacher-training course. Certainly not anything
about the politics of yoga. Instead, one will be told many things, such as
the way in which the hieratic and structural inequalities of caste is
essentialised as simply true. These types of statements are too often
consumed uncritically. For instance, I was once told by a non-Hindu,
American yoga teacher who was visiting an ashram: "the reason there are
shudras is so we can do yoga, someone has to do the cleaning, otherwise
when will we get to do our yoga". There is so much going on in this one
statement. The uncritical support for caste oppression astounds me... One
thing is also for certain is that yoga-teacher trainees will most likely be
told that the pashupatinath seal is undisputed proof of yoga's claims to
antiquity. That is a stretch...as I'm guessing there were many people
sitting cross-legged on the floor 3500years ago. This same claim is made by
a few gurus as well, that because there are figures found in South America,
that this proves that these yogis mentioned above travelled there and gave
'yoga' to the cultures of South America.  Are you suggesting, then, that we
should just not bother with the historical critical method and accept these
truth claims as true, because of someone's misinformed opinion? This sort
of epistemic relativism, combined with the disintellectualisation+cultivation
of affect that underlies the logic of the guru-disciple relationship, plus
the normalising group-think inherent in many social networks creates an
unsustainably toxic situation, in my humble opinion, that leads people to
accept many things as 'true' simply because the guru says it is.

All the best,

Patrick McCartney, PhD
JSPS Fellow - Kyoto University
Visiting Fellow - Australian National University

Skype - psdmccartney
Phone + Whatsapp:  +61 414 954 748
Twitter - @psdmccartney

*bodhapūrvam calema* ;-)

academia <https://patrickmccartney.academia.edu/>



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Modern Yoga Research <http://www.modernyogaresearch.org/events/>


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