Keith Edward Cantú: Sri Sabhapati Swami and Yoga in Modern Occultism
Zeit & Ort
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The Tamil Śaiva yogi Sri Sabhapati Swami (b. 1840 C.E., also spelled Sabhapaty Swamy / Svāmī or transliterated Capapati Cuvamikal) remains largely a hidden source for South Asian, North American, European, and to some extent even Australian esoteric and occult conceptions of the body. In addition to English, Sabhapati’s writings and/or hagiographical accounts survive in Tamil, Sanskrit, Bengali, Hindustani, Marathi, German, and French (with a record of Telugu), and his work is distinguished by its rich visual depictions of yogic physiology.
In this talk I will present a brief sketch of Sabhapati’s life and works and then talk about the way he was engaged by the founders of the Theosophical Society, Henry Olcott and H.P. Blavatsky, how his works were later translated into German by Franz Hartmann, and how Aleister Crowley integrated his teachings into certain instructions published as part of the curriculum of A⸫A⸫, the teaching order he co-founded.
I will then explain how the techniques of Sabhapati’s yoga as interpreted by occultists, such as his instructions on canceling (note: not “balancing” or “aligning”!) the cakras partake in a divergent but parallel history to the globalized yoga of the yoga studio, sometimes termed “Modern Postural Yoga,” with its primary emphasis on exercise and fitness.
Finally, I will show how my forthcoming translations of Sabhapati’s vernacular works, such as those written in a specific form of “Sanskritized” Tamil and Hindustani, provide many additional ritual instructions of practical relevance to modern occultism, such as mantras and rites for invoking various gods and goddesses, the nine deities of the planets and lunar nodes (navagraha), and many other rites that fit well within the kind of “eclectic syncretic” method that Crowley and other occultists promoted as a viable alternative to — but not necessarily a replacement for — traditional cultural forms of religious practice.
Keith Edward Cantú is a PhD Candidate in Religious Studies (South Asian religions) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. From 2014 to 2017 he co-edited City of Mirrors: Songs of Lālan Sā̃i, a volume of nineteenth-century Bengali songs that were translated by Carol Salomon. His dissertation, entitled “Sri Sabhapati Swami and the ‘Translocalization’ of Śiva’s Rājayoga,” examines the Tamil, pan-Indian, and international reception of Sabhapati’s system of yoga, which spans multiple linguistic and cultural worlds, including Theosophy and later Thelema via the literature of Aleister Crowley. He is also the author of several articles and chapters, including “Islamic Esotericism in the Bengali Bāul Songs of Lālan Fakir,” a translation of the “Eighth Instruction” of a Sanskrit alchemical text called the Rasāyanakhaṇḍa about the alchemical wonders of Śrīśailam, and “Sri Sabhapati Swami: Forgotten Yogi of Western Esotericism.”
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