Hinduism Yoga in the Sanskrit Epics and Purāṇas
Sucharita Adluri
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 June 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0292


Teachings of yoga in the Sanskrit epics include elements later incorporated into the systematic philosophy of the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali (see also Oxford Bibliographies in Hinduism articles “Yoga” and “Sāṃkhya and Philosophical Yoga”). Ensconced in narratives that navigate the opposing lifestyles of engagement with the world (pravṛtti) and withdrawal from the world (nivṛtti), these iterations overlap with renouncer ideologies both vedic and non-vedic. Yoga teachings in purāṇic literature include modified versions of Patañjali’s system and its integration with theistic and tantric traditions.

General Overviews

Charting the development of yoga, Eliade 1990 and Sarbacker 2021 address its epic and purāṇic phases. Mallinson and Singleton 2017 collates and translates key passages from a wide range of texts that address yoga, including epic and purāṇic sources. Speculations on yoga from select purāṇas are also included in Dasgupta 1988–1991. Samuel 2008 situates ascetic practices such as yoga within specific sociohistorical contexts. Bronkhorst 1986 and Bronkhorst 1993 chart the development of ascetic and meditation practices in vedic and non-vedic texts. Samuel’s and Bronkhorst’s texts are important for understanding the controversies regarding the various influences on early forms of yoga.

  • Bronkhorst, Johannes. The Two Traditions of Meditation in Ancient India. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden GmbH, 1986.

    Maps the evolution of meditation practices in vedic and non-vedic sources.

  • Bronkhorst, Johannes. The Two Sources of Indian Asceticism. Berlin: Peter Lang, 1993.

    Provides an account of the development of ascetic practices through an assessment of vedic and non-vedic sources.

  • Dasgupta, Surendranath. A History of Indian Philosophy. 5 vols. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1988–1991.

    Originally published in 1922–1955, this compendium of the principal schools of Indian philosophy includes sections on yoga in the Bhagavadgītā. An additional section addresses purāṇic yoga from select texts. On yoga in the Bhagavadgītā, see Volume 2, pp. 437–461. On yoga in the purāṇas, see Volume 3, pp. 496–511.

  • Eliade, Mircea. Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. Translated by Willard R. Trask. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.

    Originally published in 1958, it maps the textual development of yoga ideology and techniques. The chapter discussing the Mahābhārata and Bhagavadgītā is helpful.

  • Mallinson, James, and Mark Singleton, trans. and eds. Roots of Yoga. London: Penguin, 2017.

    Translations of excerpts from a wide variety of primary texts on the topic of yoga. Contextualizes epic and purāṇic yoga within the broader history of yoga traditions on the subcontinent. The introduction provides an excellent overview.

  • Samuel, Geoffrey. The Origins of Yoga and Tantra: Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511818820

    Develops a narrative on the evolution of yoga in terms of the sociohistorical contexts of South Asia.

  • Sarbacker, Stuart R. Tracing the Path of Yoga: The History and Philosophy of Indian Mind-Body Discipline. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2021.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781438481234

    Accessible and well-documented survey of the range of ideas and practices that are identified as yoga. The chapter on Hindu epics and purāṇas situates this material within the broader discussion of yoga in South Asia.

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