Keith Cantú – Yogic embodiment in Bengali Islamic esoteric texts and songs

Key information

7:00 pm to 8:45 pm

About this event

This talk brings attention to the feature of yogic embodiment (Bengali dehatattva, literally "principles of the body") in Islamic esoteric texts and songs composed in Middle Bengali and later nineteenth-century dialects of the language. While previous research has focused almost entirely on intersections between Sufism and yoga in the medieval period, this talk shows how theories of yogic embodiment in at least two Middle Bengali compositions, the Yoga Kalandar and Ādya Paricaẏ, are connected to the ideas of embodiment in songs presently circulating among Bāul Fakiri and Fakirāni artists and sadhus in Bangladesh and West Bengal, India. After introducing the topic, it will be shown how such theories of yogic embodiment and its cosmological foundations were from the start also intertwined with Vaiṣṇava, Śaiva, and Buddhist cosmologies, and how this medieval legacy also facilitated a blurring of religious and sectarian boundaries among humanist Bāul poets in the nineteenth century. The second part of the talk shows how doctrines of yogic embodiment were inscribed by practitioners in various ways through ritual practices (sādhanā), and how the presence of Sanskrit terminology to describe such practices often persisted alongside Persian and Arabic loanwords. The talk will conclude with some considerations on how Islamic esoteric appropriations of yogic embodiment compares and contrasts with the role of yogic embodiment in theosophy and other modern occult movements in the twentieth century. 

About the speaker

Dr. Keith E. Cantú is a postdoctoral scholar at FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg, where he conducts research on modern yoga and esotericism as part of the DFG-funded project "Alternative Rationalities and Esoteric Practices from a Global Perspective" (CAS-E website). He previously completed a postdoc at the Jagiellonian University after receiving his doctoral degree from UC Santa Barbara. His forthcoming monograph, Like a Tree Universally Spread: Sri Sabhapati Swami and Śivarājayoga, will be released by OUP later this year.


[Image credit courtesy of the speaker]