The Yogārṇava (‘the ocean of yoga’) is a compendium with an interesting combination of yogic theory and praxis. It contains extensive discourse on the yogic body, including the vital winds (vāyu), points (marman) and five sheaths (pañcakośa), and more general topics, such as nasal dominance and the astrological signs in the body, prognostication and cheating of death, and the importance of retaining the body to know Brahman. The author combines these topics with a yoga of eight auxiliaries (aṣṭāṅgayoga), the particulars of which are very similar to those of two related texts: the Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā and Yogayājñavalkya. A close comparative analysis of these texts is presented in this article to reveal that the author of the Yogārṇava borrowed from both works. We combine this analysis with other evidence to propose a tentative date for the Yogārṇava’s composition. This article will also provide a brief overview of the text’s available manuscripts, catalogue references and content that may assist further research, and perhaps lay the foundations for a critical edition and translation of the Yogārṇava. We conclude that the Yogārṇava is an early example of a yogic compendium that anticipates larger compilatory works that foreground yoga within a vedāntic framework, such as Śivānanda’s Yogacintāmaṇi and Bhavadevamiśra’s Yuktabhavadeva.


The research for this article is based on two transcripts of manuscripts of the Yogārṇava. The first is a Devanagari transcript at the Government Oriental Manuscript Library, Chennai (GOML),Footnote 1 and the second is a Malayalam transcript at the Oriental Research Institute, Trivandrum (ORI).Footnote 2 Only the latter has been reported in the New Catalogus Catalogorum of Madras (NCC).Footnote 3

There is also a Jyotiṣa work by the name Yogārṇava, of which the NCC (vol. 22: 146) lists many manuscripts. It is likely that this work is mistaken for the ‘yogic’ Yogārṇava in some catalogues. There is at least one instance of this. In volume ten of the Mysore Oriental Research Institute’s catalogue of Sanskrit works, a Jyotiṣa Yogārṇava has been included in the section on yoga texts.Footnote 4 The editors appear to have made this mistake because of the title ‘Rājayoga’ at the beginning of the text. However, the opening verses make it clear that this Rājayoga is not the type of yoga concerned with samādhi, but with the constellations relevant to kings.

In The Descriptive Catalogue of Yoga Manuscripts compiled by Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute (2005: 386–387), only three manuscripts of the Yogārṇava are reported. Two of these are held at the Sanskrit University (Sampurnananda) Library, Varanasi.Footnote 5 Both are in Bengali script. The third is at the Palace Granthappura Library, Trivandrum.Footnote 6 This manuscript is in Malayalam script, and we are yet to determine whether it was the exemplar of the Malayalam transcript at the ORI.

The transcript from the GOML is in Devanagari script and on paper. It was created in the early twentieth century and is probably a copy of a south-Indian manuscript. It is complete but some lines of the text are missing. The transcript from the ORI is in Malayalam script and also on paper. It is complete and contains all the verses. We have been able to reconstruct much of the text with these witnesses because the verses which were missing in the GOML transcript can be found in the one from the ORI. Also, the ORI transcript has fewer scribal errors than the GOML one. The quotations in this paper are based on this reconstruction.

Possible Source Texts of the Yogārṇava

There is a complex relationship between the Yogārṇava, Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā (12th c.) and Yogayājñavalkya (13th–14th c.).Footnote 7 The editors of the Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute’s critical edition of the Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā (2005: 31–32) argue that the Yogayājñavalkya borrowed much material from it. This hypothesis is supported by a comparison of parallel passages in both works that was published in Birch (2018, pp. 21–22), which demonstrated that the redactor of the Yogayājñavalkya borrowed a lengthy discussion on the yogic body from the Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā and supplemented it with material from elsewhere. Therefore, the Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā is probably the earlier work, which the editors of the Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute’s edition date to the twelfth century.

As seen in Table 1 of the Appendix, approximately two hundred and thirty-three verses of the Yogārṇava are found in the Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā, and one hundred and seventy-eight in the Yogayājñavalkya. Some of these verses occur in both the Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā and Yogayājñavalkya, whereas others are peculiar to only one. Therefore, it appears that the author of the Yogārṇava used both the Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā and Yogayājñavalkya to compile sections on the yogic body and aṣṭāṅgayoga, which is the main topic of chapters four to eight in the Yogārṇava. As Mallinson (2014, pp. 227–228) has observed, this type of aṣṭāṅgayoga can be found in the early Vaiṣṇava samḥitās, including the Vimānārcanākalpa, Sūtasaṃhitā and Ahirbudhnyasaṃhitā. In fact, some of the verses that the Yogārṇava shares with the Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā and Yogayājñavalkya are also in the Ahirbudhnyasaṃhitā and Sūtasaṃhitā (see Table 1).Footnote 8 The Yogārṇava does not add much new material to the discussion of the first five auxiliaries of aṣṭāṅgayoga found in these sources. However, it contains more extensive and detailed sections on the last three.Footnote 9

The Yogārṇava is a larger compilation than either the Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā or Yogayājñavalkya. It covers topics that are not found in these earlier works, such as the five sheaths (pañcakośa), the development of a foetus (garbha), gross elements (mahābhūta) and bodily constituents (dhātu), regions of the body (maṇḍala), aspected (sakala) and aspectless (niṣkala) meditation (dhyāna), meditation on the sun (sauradhyāna), the four states of consciousness (avasthā), four levels of speech (vāṇī), visualising the alphabet in the navel and a ritual for oneself (ātmayāga). Furthermore, there are more elaborate discussions of the eight letters (aṣṭavarga) of the central channel (suṣumnā), and the bodily channels (nāḍī) and winds (vāyu), as well as dreams (svapna), stages of life (āśramakrama), length of life (āyuḥpramāṇa), conquering death (mṛtyuñjaya), immortality (amaratva), the self (ātman), om (praṇava) and meditative absorption (samādhi).Footnote 10

Citations and Provenance of the Yogārṇava

The name of the author and the region in which the Yogārṇava was composed remain unknown to us. The work is not mentioned at all, let alone discussed, in secondary sources on yoga. Also, the exact date of the text is unknown. We are yet to find a dated manuscript of the Yogārṇava and, as far as we are aware, no such manuscript has been reported in a published catalogue. However, as mentioned above, the Yogārṇava’s terminus a quo is the Yogayājñavalkya, which means it was composed sometime after the thirteenth or fourteenth century.

There are citations of the Yogārṇava in various texts that date from the fifteenth century or later. The most important of these for establishing a terminus ad quem is Rāghavabhaṭṭa’s commentary on the Śāradātilakatantra called the Padārthādarśa. According to Sanderson (2007, p. 230), Rāghavabhaṭṭa was a Maharashtrian scholar who completed this commentary in Varanasi in 1494 CE. Rāghavabhaṭṭa cites the Yogārṇava by name five times on the topics of the formation of the foetus, the nāḍīs and the ten vāyus.Footnote 11 Rāghavabhaṭṭa also cites a passage on the process of digestion and attributes it to the Yogārṇava,Footnote 12 but this passage is not in the transcripts of the Yogārṇava that we have consulted, which suggests that he was using a slightly different, perhaps longer, version than is currently available. Owing to the content shared between the Yogārṇava and Yogayājñavalkya and the relevant citations in Rāghavabhaṭṭa’s commentary, we can conclude that the Yogārṇava was probably composed in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century.

The Yogārṇava is also cited by name in the Upāsanāsārasaṅgraha and Yogasārasaṅgraha. Both of these works are compilations on yoga that cite other texts profusely. The Upāsanāsārasaṅgraha was composed in South India, possibly before the seventeenth century (Bouy, 1994, pp. 89–92). It contains citations of three passages in the Yogārṇava’s sections on meditation (dhyāna) and absorption (samādhi).Footnote 13 The Yogasārasaṅgraha may post-date the seventeenth-century Haṭharatnāvalī (Birch, 2020, p. 464 n. 43). It cites a verse from the Yogārṇava’s section on dhyāna.Footnote 14

Verses of the Yogārṇava in Other Works

As seen in Table 1 of the Appendix, the Yogārṇava has verses in common with some earlier śruti and smṛti texts, such as the Bhagavadgītā and various Upaniṣads. We have also found verses of the Yogārṇava in works that probably post-date it, including yoga compendiums, like the Yogasārasaṅgraha and Yogacintāmaṇi; a commentary called the Haṭhapradīpikājyotsnā; and various yoga Upaniṣads, such as the Śāṇḍilyopaniṣad, Dhyānabindūpaniṣad, Vārāhopaniṣad, Yogacūḍāmaṇyopaniṣad, Yogatattvopaniṣad and so on. Much of this borrowed material probably derives from the Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā and Yogayājñavalkya, which (as noted above) were sources for the Yogārṇava and, more importantly in this regard, for the Haṭhapradīpikā and many other subsequent works.Footnote 15 However, the encyclopaedic compendium called the Prāṇatoṣinī cites the Yogārṇava by name. Also, other so-called Yoga Upaniṣads, such as the Varāhopaniṣad, Amṛtanādopaniṣad and Dhyānabindūpaniṣad, contain verses in the Yogārṇava that are not in the Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā and Yogayājñavalkya.Footnote 16 The Prāṇatoṣinī was composed in Bengal and completed in 1820 (Goudriaan and Gupta 1981: 147) and the so-called Yoga Upaniṣads were created in South India for a corpus of one hundred and eight Upaniṣads in the mid-eighteenth century (Bouy, 1994). Therefore, the Yogārṇava appears to have remained a valued source of material on yoga until the nineteenth century.

Interestingly, verses in the Yogārṇava are cited in the Yogasārasaṅgraha with attribution to the Śivayoga, Praṇavacintāmaṇi, Yogasāramañjarī and Kāśīkhaṇḍa, as well as Ādinātha, which suggests a strong association with Śaiva works. At the very least, it is clear that many teachings of the Yogārṇava were reproduced in compilations on yoga composed after the sixteenth century, particularly those that were orientated towards Advaitavedānta.

The Yogārṇava’s Content

As seen in Table 2 of the Appendix, the first three chapters of the Yogārṇava discuss the yogic body; prognostication by observing the breath and seeing the signs of death; the paths of rebirth and liberation; caste, stages of life and duty (varṇāśramadharma); and the importance of cheating death (kālavañcana) in order to live long enough to know Brahman. Much of this content derives from the Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā and Yogayājñavalkya, the main exceptions being discussions of the five sheaths (pañcakośa), the development of a foetus and the eight letters of the central channel (suṣumṇā).Footnote 17 Most of the additional content was probably inspired by, or perhaps even borrowed from, vedāntic and tantric works.Footnote 18

The last five chapters discuss aṣṭāṅgayoga and each of its auxiliaries. The first five auxiliaries are dealt with in the last one hundred and four verses of chapter four and the first six verses of chapter five. Most of these verses derive from the Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā and Yogayājñavalkya. However, the discussion of the last three auxiliaries (i.e., dhāraṇā, dhyāna and samādhi) comprises the last three chapters of the work (5–8), which amount to three hundred and sixteen verses. Much of the content of the last three chapters goes beyond that of the Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā and Yogayājñavalkya, and we are yet to trace it to earlier sources.Footnote 19 The discussion of dhāraṇā has additional material on concentration methods that cure great diseases (mahārogahara), cheat (vañcana) and conquer death (mṛtyuñjaya), and bring about immortality (amaratva).

The section on dhyāna begins with an overview of various twofold schemes of meditation, such as aspected (sakala) and aspectless (niṣkala), internal (ābhyantara) and external (bāhya), all-pervading (sarvaga) and on a particular place (pradeśaviśiṣṭa), or on what is differentiated (bhinna) and undifferentiated (abhinna) from oneself.Footnote 20 The syncretic nature of this introductory passage reveals the author’s familiarity with different systems of meditation in earlier traditions and his intention to integrate them. The discussion of meditation on bodily supports (ādhāra) which follows it continues in the same vein. The author first notes that some yogins meditate on eighty-one supports whereas others know sixty-four, thirty-six, thirty-two and so on. He concludes this discussion with those who meditate on only one support and states they are the foremost (pradhāna).Footnote 21 The rest of the chapter contains passages on different visualisations ranging from the sun to the goddess and various worlds (loka).

The topic of dhyāna appears to continue into the seventh chapter, which weaves together various meditations and theoretical discussions on praṇava, the Self and the supreme deity, known as Īśvara or Brahman. A significant portion of the chapter is devoted to explaining four levels of speech (sūkṣmā, paśyantī, madhyamā and vaikharī) and their relation to the yogic body and the Self. The content of this chapter largely derives from vedāntic and tantric sources, and the author seems to have taken advantage of differences in terminology, expression and metaphors to augment the compilation. The section on samādhi, the eighth auxiliary, begins with the twelfth verse of the eighth chapter. In the same style as earlier chapters, the author compiles various meditations that result in samādhi, ranging from the contemplation of the letters of praṇava to realize that ‘I am only Brahman’ (brahmaivāham) to meditations on the Self, the void, the three phases of the breath, raising Kuṇḍalinī and so on. The discussions of dhyāna and samādhi are similar in style and content but are somewhat distinguished by the fact that the section on dhyāna has greater emphasis on visualizations of things with attributes, whereas the section on samādhi emphasizes meditations on what is free of attributes.

Historical Significance of the Yogārṇava

Although the Yogārṇava’s content derives largely from earlier traditions of Vedānta and Tantra, its style of composition anticipates several compilations on yoga that were composed in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Examples include the Yogacintāmaṇi of Godāvaramiśra, Yogacintāmaṇi of Śivānandasarasvatī, Yuktabhavadeva of Bhavadevamiśra, Upāsanāsārasaṅgraha and Yogasārasaṅgraha.Footnote 22 Like the Yogārṇava, these compilations foreground yoga in a vedāntic framework. They present yoga with eight auxiliaries (i.e., yama, niyama, āsana, prāṇāyāma, pratyāhāra, dhāraṇā, dhyāna and samādhi) as the means to attaining gnosis of Brahman, the supreme Self. In particular, the structure of the Yogārṇava is similar to the Yogacintāmaṇi of Śivānandasarasvatī, the first half of which consists of general topics on yoga whereas the second half is structured on the eight auxiliaries of yoga. Both compilations integrate doctrine and theory from vedāntic and tantric traditions, while emphasizing gnosis of the Self as the goal of yoga. Likewise, the first three chapters of the Yuktabhavadeva address diverse topics, some of which are integral to yoga, such as the obstacles to achieving yoga and the yogic body, and others more tangential, such as elixirs (kalpa). The remaining seven chapters of the Yuktabhavadeva (i.e., 4–11) are structured on the eight auxiliaries of yoga.

A significant difference between the Yogārṇava and the afore-mentioned compilations is that the author of the former did not reveal the textual sources from which verses were borrowed whereas the authors of the latter do. In this regard, the Yogārṇava’s style of composition is closer to the Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā and Yogayājñavalkya, both of which can also be seen as syncretic works structured on the eight auxiliaries of yoga. However, the scope of topics outside aṣṭāṅgayoga and the extent of vedāntic and tantric doctrine is far greater in the Yogārṇava than the Vasiṣṭhasaṃhitā and Yogayājñavalkya, which seem almost rudimentary by comparison. The Yogārṇava’s broader range of content and diversity of sources is a salient feature of the yogic compilations that followed it, yet the authors of the subsequent works accentuated this syncretic style by explicitly citing their source material.

The vedāntic orientation of the Yogārṇava is most clearly seen in the work’s emphasis on the realization of the Self and Brahman, as well as the incorporation of the upaniṣadic sheaths (kośa). In fact, as far as we are aware, the Yogārṇava and Yuktabhavadeva are the only premodern yogic works that incorporate the five sheaths.Footnote 23 As Bouy (1994) and Birch (2020) have noted, the foregrounding of yoga in vedāntic compendiums and Upaniṣads represents a burgeoning interest in yoga within vedāntic milieus that flourished in the early modern period. However, the Yogārṇava pushes the epoch for such yogic compilations back to the fifteenth century, and one wonders whether the success of the Yogārṇava, as evinced by the citations in Rāghavabhaṭṭa’s commentary, the Upāsanāsārasaṅgraha and Yogasārasaṅgraha, inspired subsequent authors to write more comprehensive compilations on yoga for a learned audience who were primarily interested in the role of yoga within vedāntic soteriology.

Finally, it should also be noted that, unlike subsequent compilations, the Yogārṇava does not mention Haṭhayoga or any of its distinct techniques, such as the mudrās and bandhas that feature in the third chapter of the Haṭhapradīpikā. This somewhat supports our hypothesis that the Yogārṇava was composed before the late fifteenth century, for this relatively early dating of such a compendium suggests that it arose before Haṭhayoga become too significant for Vedāntins to ignore.Footnote 24


The Yogārṇava appears to have been an important work in the history of yoga because it was cited in several prominent works, such as Rāghavabhaṭṭa’s Padārthādarśa and the Upāsanāsārasaṅgraha, and was a likely source of many yoga compendiums and Upaniṣads that were written after the sixteenth century. If we are correct in dating the Yogārṇava to the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century, then it is an early and sophisticated attempt to weave yogic, vedāntic and tantric teachings into a wide-ranging compendium that posits the eight generic auxiliaries of yoga as the chief means to realizing gnosis of Brahman.