The Rājā Yogī through the ages: Ascetic Sovereignty in India

The two most powerful people in India today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, both embody a notion of ascetic sovereignty or rājayoga. In this talk I shall look at historical precedents of the ascetic sovereign, primarily in the period which is the main focus of my research, the 11th to 15th centuries, when several monastic institutions became independently powerful and their rulers functioned like kings. The Sanskrit texts that are the focus of my research, those on physical yoga techniques, were in part composed to justify the lives of these rājayogīs, granting them the ability to live as worldly rulers, and in some cases to indulge in worldly pleasures without breaking their ascetic vows. I will argue that this notion of the ascetic sovereign has remained central to Indian understandings of government, and underpins the authority of Modi and Adityanath today.