Yoga from the Yoginīs ’ point of viewby Olga Serbaeva

J Hindu Studies


Religious studies


Yoga from the Yoginas’ point of view*

Olga Serbaeva*

University of Zurich *Corresponding

Abstract: The aim of this article is to trace and to analyse the co-occurrence of the terms yoga and yogina in the selected corpus of yogic and tantric texts (Vidy@pabha). The findings demonstrate that these terms start to appear together only from a precise point in time and in the sources that belong to or were influenced by a particular tantric tradition, namely, the S´akti-tantras belonging to the Vidy@pabha (classification of A. Sanderson), and it is within this part of the corpus that the yoginas (be them women or supernatural beings) are said to perform a very particular kind of yoga, that breaks the current definitions of yoga as being voluntary and conscious practice.

The expressions ‘a yogina practicing yoga’ or ‘yoginas related to yoga’ seem to be selfevident and redundant when referred to dictionary definitions, including that of

Monier-Williams, which gives yogina as a derivation from yoga and a feminine form of yogin.1 However, the link of yogina and yoga is not in fact obvious at all. We encounter these two terms in a number of texts and they have nothing to do with each other in most of them.2

One of the results of my Ph. D. thesis (2006) was the establishment of the typology of meanings of the term yogina and its synonyms in pur@>ic and tantric medieval S´aiva texts. This typology proves that the terms yoga and yogina cannot be easily connected.

For example, the MBh is full of yogins and yoga; however, the only occurrence of the term yogina as such indicates in this text a sort of astronomic junction.3 In older S´aiva pur@>as, there are two types of yoginas: the non-S´aiva and the S´aiva.4

The first type, appearing in the earlier pur@>as representing brahmanic tradition, is linked to a very particular kind of ‘yoga’, that of the creation of the universe and of the various species that populate it. It has nothing to do with a set of particular physical and mental exercises and, even if some practices of this sort appear in the pur@>ic descriptions of the non-S´aiva yoginas in question, they are called tapas and not yoga.5 The occurrences of the term yogina used to qualify Sata-P@rvata constitute a bridge between the S´aiva and the non-S´aiva types of yoginas. The earlier pur@>ic texts also prefer to use the term tapas and not yoga to talk about her exploits. The goddess receives the title of yogina in the pur@>as not because of  The Author 2015. Oxford University Press and The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. All rights reserved.

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The Journal of Hindu Studies 2015;1–18 doi:10.1093/jhs/hiv019

The Journal of Hindu Studies Advance Access published June 22, 2015 at N orth D akota State U niversity on July 1, 2015

D ow nloaded from her particular qualities achieved through yogic practices, but mostly because she is the wife of S´iva who is a great yogin.6

The other type of the yoginas, the S´aiva ones, desired or feared, can be found in both pur@>ic and tantric texts, as well as in lay medieval Indian literature. These

S´aiva yoginas can assume the following four aspects: they can be: (i) real women, sometimes engaged in tantric practice, (ii) non-human beings or possessing spirits of ambiguous and mostly harmful nature, manifesting themselves to the practitioners after some emotionally powerful and often transgressive practice, these also appear in pur@>ic stories where they are helping the gods to destroy the demons. Following the same logic, they are invoked by initiated S´aivas in order to magically destroy the enemies of kings, (iii) Yoginas are worshipped in their symbolic forms in ma>nalas as surrounding the absolute deity; they can also symbolise the centres of the body, the transitions between these centres and the accompanying states of consciousness; they embody mantras, which their names serve to codify and to decode, and they often appear as mantras or vidy@s themselves, (iv) finally, a yogina is a name and a quality of the absolute, representing the highest state of consciousness in the radical traditions of the initiated S´@ktas such as Trika and K@lakula.

This net of overlapping forms and functions of yoginas incites us to analyse how these meanings can be related to yoga and what this yoga, or, rather, these yogas might be. In order to clarify the relation between the terms yoga and yogina , I shall now address the yogic texts. The yoginas (along with feminine figures in general) are absent from the YS, the text that has become a root one in discussion of what yoga is. Moreover, I have not come across a single description of a woman who practices ‘classical’ yoga in early texts, and who would be termed a yogina for this reason. However, the siddhis that can be gained with the help of the practices described by the YS are the same as those yoginas possess in tantric texts.7

In later texts on yoga, such as the HYP, the terms yoga, yogin and yoginas appear together. In the HYP the result of practice is, in fact, comparable to the state of yoginas.8 These yoginas, whose state the successful practitioner achieves, together with the capacity to perform creation, preservation and destruction of the universe, can come from one source only: the early texts of Trika and/or of K@lakula.

We also find yoginas in the passage dealing with sexual practices and the war of fluids a` la David White, (which clearly suppose the participation of real women), namely vajrola , sahajola and amarola . 9 HYP defines yogina in terms of the mastery of physical and subtle bodies.10 These references have greatly influenced the

European vision of what is called tantric yoga. However, S´aiva tantric influence in these passages is not reflected in secondary literature.

Khecara-mudr@ and khecara-siddhi are mentioned in GherS.11 The text acknowledges the same practices as HYP, but does not mention any yoginas. The common feature between these yogic texts is the fact that they refer to tantras and to