HAF Writes to NY Times on Yoga Exhibition at Smithsonian

Philadelphia, PA (01/05/2014) - HAF submitted the following Letter to the Editor to the New York Times. The letter was not published.
Dear Editor,
Re: ‘Yoga the Art of Transformation’ at the Sackler Gallery” (Art Review, Jan. 2):
Holland Cotter rightly celebrates the beautiful art survey of yoga now at the Smithsonian (Disclosure: I was a consultant to Debra Diamond, Curator). Mr. Cotter conveys the ephemeral goal of yoga depicted in the art--transcend suffering by liberation from birth and death through cultivation of body and mind--and highlights the exoticiziation of yoga by British colonialists peripheralizing a practice they did not want to comprehend.
But Mr. Cotter errs in an ahistorical and interpretive misstep. Lord Bhairava or the Goddess holding a skull are not worshipped as the refuge of the outré as Mr. Cotter implies, but the fangs, skull and dance upon a vanquished demon symbolize Divine destruction of ignorance and materialism that veil one’s true Self.
And the first reference to Yoga are in the Rig Veda, Hinduism’s holiest scriptures, and not Jain scripture that came much later. The placard on the “Origins of Yoga” at the exhibition accurately articulates the Vedic reference and that the Hindu Kathaka Upanishad gave the “first systematic account of yoga.”
Suhag Shukla
Executive Director, HAF