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SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies

Fabrizio Speziale – The Rāwal: a sect of Muslim yogis in Colonial India

About this Event

SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies was delighted to host Fabrizio Speziale, Professor at the School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) and a member of the Center for South Asian and Himalayan Studies (CESAH), Paris-Marseille, for a lecture entitled “The Rāwal: a sect of Muslim yogis in Colonial India.” This is a recording of the lecture that took place online on the 24th April 2024.

In early modern and colonial India, Muslims’ assimilation of knowledge and practices from the yogis was a layered phenomenon where different approaches, which reflected the needs of different groups of Muslim society, coexisted. This lecture looks at the emergence of Muslim branches of Nāth yogis and presents the first stage of an ongoing research on one of them, the Rāwal, which are referred to as a group of ascetics, astrologers and itinerant healers. Their members were renowned for treating cataracts, and according to colonial sources, some regularly visited Europe in the early 20th century to perform this operation. This lecture explores how Muslim yogis were perceived in the Indian society of the colonial period and the professional features of the Rāwal sect, where family played a key role, and women managed family properties when men travelled to perform their itinerant profession.

About the Speaker

Fabrizio Speziale is Professor at the School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) and a member of the Center for South Asian and Himalayan Studies, Paris-Marseille. His research interests focus on the history of sciences in Persianate South Asia and the interactions between Persian and Indic textual cultures. His last book, Culture persane et médecine ayurvédique en Asie du Sud (Leiden, 2018), presents a detailed study of the translation process of Ayurvedic sources into Persian, which took place in India between the 14th and the 19thcenturies. In one recent article, he examines the accounts of the alchemical techniques associated with yogis in Persian texts (“Beyond the “wonders of India” (‘ajā’ib al-hind): Yogis in Persian medico-alchemical writings in South Asia.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 85, 3, 2022). He is currently editing the proceedings of a conference on Yoga and Muslim societies, which was held in Marseille in 2023.

Yogi with eyes closed, leaning on one arm, and draped in a pink and blue shawl.
Courtesy British Library (J.6,13).
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