The Science of the Breath in Persianate India Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • DSilva, Patrick
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Religious Studies
  • This dissertation examines a series of Persian manuscripts containing Indian divination practices centered on knowledge of the breath. In Sanskrit, these breathing practices are known shiva-svarodaya (the texts are presented as a dialogue between Shiva and Parvati). Svara refers to “voiced breath,” thus the term roughly translates as “attainment of voiced breath.” In the 13th CE, these practices are translated from Sanskrit into Persian in a text titled the Kamarupanchashika (“the 50 verses of Kamaru”). This dissertation analyzes the different abridgments of the Kamarupanchashika that circulate from the 14th CE onwards throughout India and Iran. The authors of these texts use the phrase `ilm-i dam, “the science of the breath,” to describe this knowledge. This project examines the process through which these practices came to be integrated within Islamicate knowledge production in India and Iran, as well as how they factor in Euro-American analyses of Islam and Sufism during and after the European colonial period. Chapter One is an introduction to the project and to several of the key foundation texts that serve as necessary background knowledge upon which the remaining chapters build. Chapter Two locates this project within the Islamicate engagement with India (Arabic and Persian: al-Hind) by surveying key authors writing in Arabic and Persian about this region from the 9th-16th centuries CE, ending with an examination of Abu’l Fazl ibn Mubark, court historian to the Mughal emperor Akbar, and the way that `ilm-i dam appears in the A’in-i Akbari (“The Institutes of Akbar”). Chapter Three places `ilm-i dam in the broader context of other Indian practices such as yoga and Ayurveda, asking the question of how all of these ways of knowing understand the body and its relationship to the world around it. Chapters Four and Five analyze the way that `ilm-i dam has been received by scholars in Iran and Europe, respectively, comparing how these two interpretive communities categorize `ilm-i dam differently. While the former groups it with practical tools that are distinct from Sufism, the latter associates it with Sufism and Hinduism. Analyzing the motivations and outcomes of these categorizations is key for this project.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Styers, Randall
  • Ernst, Carl
  • Flatt, Emma
  • Safi, Omid
  • Hammer, Juliane
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2018

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