Yoga poses early pregnancy

Which social groups linked the siddhis with yoga?

Until now we have not heard much about the siddhis in the Brahmin writings in relation to yoga. Yoga was often associated with supernatural powers – flying, time-travelling, sorcery and so on. Who were the main promoters of the discourse of supernatural powers – the siddhis? The siddhis probably evolved outside the Brahmin milieu. The siddhis were not really a subject of the Upanishads as these discussed mystic realisation. The Dharma-sutras are also more about purity than about supernatural powers. But the Mahabharata was imbued with supernatural powers. The Brahmins – a scribal class – wrote the Mahabharata, but the Epic had the ruling political elites as both its subject and audience. So it was probably the amateur Kshatriyas who generated the discourse of siddhi.

It was probably in such upper class circles – representing the emergent civilisation and state form – that many early-yoga forms were developed. The emergence of notions of supernatural powers and their association with yoga would be a natural outgrowth in this stratum. Leaders in pre-modern societies found numerous ways of linking themselves with symbols of power. Such links would strongly legitimise their political powers. Political power always needs ideological legitimisation, and linking their emergent yoga practices with supernatural powers could do this. As the Kshatriya amateur practised yoga he simultaneously established legitimisation. Finally, in the eyes of society supernatural powers were real powers – real weapons – which would strengthen the warrior leader in war. So for Axial Age India supernatural powers – the ability to travel in time and enter other people – had real use-value, but seen with modern eyes they are symbolic powers.

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