Chapter 20 - Abstract and author bios

20. Who Owns Yoga?: Transforming Traditions as Cultural Property

Sita Reddy

Who owns contemporary yoga? The year 2015 saw an extraordinary range of propertizing claims over yoga – as national resource, as religious identity, even as trademark. Arguing that cultural property may be at the heart of yoga’s transformations in the twenty-first century, this chapter maps the changing landscape of cultural ownership debates around yoga as a form of intangible heritage. It ends by drawing on the visual historical record to show that yoga – far from being a timeless monolith - is no older than the early twentieth century, and has roots not in Hindu orthodoxy but in heterodox Saiva and Tantric traditions. 

Sita Reddy is a cultural sociologist, museum curator, and heritage policy worker, in no particular order but sometimes all at once. She writes on topics ranging from the history of Ayurveda, Yoga, and botanical art, to museum practices such as the decolonization of heritage archives and music repatriation. She has been Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress, and most recently was Visiting Professor at the University of Hyderabad. Her curatorial experience includes a variety of exhibitions at the Sackler Gallery (Yoga: The Art of Transformation), NLM (Visible Proofs), Provisions Library (The Innocents), and the Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad. She blogs occasionally at