Join renowned scholar of Sanskrit narrative, Dr. Raj Balkaran, and a global cohort of students, for this exciting opportunity to study and explore the fascinating world of Hindu mythology—and its relationship to Yoga.
This online course explores the role of Hindu Mythology in perpetuating yogic themes. Students will receive a thorough grounding in Hindu mythological traditions and an appreciation for the pivotal place of Hindu myths in encoding and preserving the Hindu social imaginary, and yogic values in particular.
Specifically, we will examine myths of Gaṇeśa, the elephant-headed wisdom god; Śiva, Lord of Yogis; the very sages after whom many yoga postures are named; and, finally, we examine the rich myth of the churning of the cosmic ocean, itself a metaphor for the yogic quest.
Drawing on primary source Sanskrit texts—the Mahābhārata, the Rāmāyaṇa, and the Purāṇas—Dr. Raj Balkaran expertly decodes key Hindu myths. Rather than emphasizing the ‘world behind the text’ (the historical horizon authoring it, about which we know next to nothing), this course privileges the ‘world within the text’ (the Sanskrit storyworlds constituting Hindu myth) as a rich repository of yogic themes very much alive today.
Each Module also includes: recommended weekly readings, a PDF handout, and optional quiz.
The first module discusses the nature and function of mythology cross-culturally, before discussing the nature of Hindu myth. We specifically explore the mythology of Gaṇeśa, the elephant-headed lord of wisdom and auspicious beginnings. We will decode the myth of how Gaṇeśa got his elephant’s head, and also the myth explaining why he is worshipped first among the host of Hindu gods. Specific yoga postures discussed in this module include: Sukhāsana, Bālāsana, Tāḍāsana, Padmāsana, and Vīrabhadrāsana.
This module turns to the paradoxical mythology of the erotic ascetic Śiva, Lord of Yogis himself. We unpack his role in the mythic descent of the celestial Ganges river from heaven to earth. We also explore Śiva’s blissful dance of cosmic destruction at the end of the Kali Yuga. Additionally, we look to two manifestations of Śiva: Hanumān and Bhairava. Specific yoga postures discussed in this module include: Hanumānāsana, Bhairavāsana, Bhujaṅgāsana, Nāṭarājāsana, and Śavāsana.
The third module unpacks the stories of eminent Hindu sages such as Mārīci, Bharadvāja, and the irascible Durvāsa, ever throwing curses. We explore in detail the rivalry between the sages Vasiṣṭha and Viśvāmitra and their cosmic feud over a wish-fulfilling cow. Specific yoga postures discussed in this module include: Vasiṣṭāsana, Durvāsāsana, Viśvāmitrāsana, Mārīcyāsana, and Bharadvājāsana.
The final module of our mythic odyssey plumbs the depths of one of the richest myths of Hinduism: the primordial collaboration between the demons and the gods who churn the cosmic oceans in search for the elixir of immortality (amṛta). This wellspring of wisdom includes vignettes about how Śiva got his blue throat, the birth of the goddess Lakṣmī, and how Viṣṇu—donning feminine form—seduced the demons away from the elixir. Specific yoga postures discussed in this module include: Yoganidrāsana, Anantāsana, Matsyendrāsana, Garuḍāsana and Siddhāsana.
Dr. Raj Balkaran is a scholar of Hindu mythology and author of The Goddess and the King in Indian Myth (2018) and The Goddess and the Sun in Indian Myth (2020), both published as part of Routledge’s Hindu Studies Series. He holds advanced degrees in Hinduism from the University of Toronto and University of Calgary.
Alongside his academic training, Dr. Balkaran apprenticed with an Indian master for twelve years as part of a living oral tradition dedicated to the preservation and application of Hindu philosophy. He therefore brings hundreds of hours of traditional transmissions of yoga philosophy to the table, which he dovetails with academic rigour and captivating storytelling.
A seasoned online educator, Dr. Balkaran also teaches online courses privately and at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. Beyond teaching and research, he enjoys a thriving life consulting practice and hosts the New Books in Hindu Studies Podcast. See rajbalkaran.com for more information.
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