Yoga: The Art of Transformation
Battle at Thaneshwar
On auspicious days, yogis secure prime bathing spots at Hindu holy sites to increase the fruits of their practice and garner the lion’s share of alms. These paintings from an imperial Mughal chronicle represent two armed bands of yogis at the sacred site of Thaneshwar (not far from Delhi) during a solar eclipse in 1567. With swords, spears, bows, sharp iron discs, axes, clubs, and daggers, they battle for the choicest location—the diamond-shaped tank in which lay pilgrims offer gifts with outstretched arms.
Armed ascetics, who provided protection for their orders or served as mercenaries, were a phenomenon from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. They are commonly assumed to be followers of Shiva. However, most of the yogis in the painting wear the V-shaped forehead marks of Vishnu’s devotees. The folios add to a growing body of textual evidence that at least some militant ascetics were Vaishnava.