The Sufi Saints of the past centuries – even as early as in 1500’s were greatly influenced by Yogic and Sanskrit texts of India. In fact little known to many, an ancient Yogic scripture – Amritakunda – which no longer survives was translated into Arabic and called Bahr al-hayat (Ocean of Life) and has been copied from an earlier Arabic version. In fact these books also include drawings of poses of the asanas along with text. Here is what I found out about this – a professor at UNC, Carl Ernst, gave a presentation which this small piece refers to.. worth a read!
A room full of twenty-seven excited listeners gathered in the Rare Book Collection of Wilson Library at UNC. They listened attentively to Professor Carl Ernst’s lecture, slide projections and examined the newly acquired manuscript Bahr al-hayat (“The Ocean of Life”). The Bahr al-hayat manuscript has been copied in 1718 A.D. in the Deccan in India and has been recently acquired by the Rare Book Collection at Wilson Library. This very well preserved manuscript is one of four surviving illustrated copies of the Persian translation from an earlier Arabic version of the Sanskrit Amritakunda (“the Pool of Nectar”), which has not survived. Bahr al-hayat contains miniature illustrations of twenty-one Yogic postures. This particular version of Bahr al-hayat has been translated from an earlier Arabic translation entitled Hawd ma’ al-hayat (“the Pool of Water of Life”) in 1563 A.D. by the Indian Sufi master Shaykh Muhammad Ghawth Gwaliyari.
In addition to a translation and an Islamization of the Amritakunda, this Arabic version also contained other texts, namely, the “Hymn of the Pearl” (Acts of Thomas) which is a Gnostic text and “Risala fi haqiqat al-ishq” (“Treatise on the Reality of Love”) which is a Persian philosophical allegory by Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi. In the slide projections, Professor Carl Ernst compared pictures of miniatures of the yogic postures from an earlier copy of Bahr al-hayat dating from 1590 A.D. which is currently held in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin with the Wilson Library copy. The comparison showed a great deal of similarity between the drawings and the scripts in both manuscripts which demonstrated that the latter has been copied from the former. However, the 1718 copy shows more regional influence in the style of drawing and the use of colors.