Home > Explore + Learn > Yoga: The Art of Transformation > Ocean of Life/Bahr al-hayat

The Ocean of Life


Bahr al-hayat (Ocean of Life)

India, Uttar Pradesh, Allahabad
The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

Because gurus traditionally taught yoga orally and directly to their disciples, Hindu treatises only tersely describe asanas. The earliest extant manuscript with illustrated asanas, the Ocean of Life (Bahr al-hayat), dates from the turn of the seventeenth century.

None of its asanas are taught in any earlier Sanskrit text, and their descriptions are more detailed than those in other Sanskrit treatises written over the next century. The illustrated treatise was produced in the context of an Indo-Islamic court. It is one of three yoga-related manuscripts commissioned by Prince Salim (the future Mughal Emperor Jahangir) in Allahabad between 1600 and 1604.

The Persian text of Ocean of Life was composed in Gujarat around 1550 by Muhammad Ghwath Gwaliori, a prominent Sufi spiritual master. Ghwath’s goal was to teach his disciples hatha practices compatible with Sufi goals of spiritual transformation. Based on both earlier Sanskrit treatises and conversations with living yogis, the text demonstrates how yoga was made familiar to Sufi ascetics.

Read the Translation »

Home | Introduction | Map | Resources

As renovation work continues in the Freer Gallery, the Sackler Gallery also will close on July 10, 2017. This museum-wide closure will allow us to completely reinstall our exhibitions and revitalize features to improve your visit. Both spaces will reopen on October 14, 2017, when we will welcome the public back to the Freer|Sackler: two galleries, one destination. For your safety, all visitors will have their bags checked. See the complete list of restricted items and bag sizes.