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Yoga: The Art of Transformation

"Bhairava Raga," from the Chunar Ragamala
India; Chunar, Uttar Pradesh state
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper

Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, IS 40–1981

At the heart of this painting is the seemingly impossible union of desire and nonattachment. The Hindu god Shiva, ash white, sits with a yoga strap around his bent legs, a stringed instrument (vina) in his hands, and a garland of severed heads around his neck. As the divine yogi reaches out to clasp the fingers of a woman, he appears to succumb to her amorous enticements—or, perhaps, he draws her into yoga’s principles of renunciation and release from attachment.