Prime Minister Narendra Modi (front) performs yoga along with thousands of others at a mass yoga session to mark the International Day of Yoga 2015 at Rajpath in New Delhi, June 21. (Manvender Vashist | PTI)
The Indian Consulate in San Francisco organized the first International Yoga Day, June 21, at the Marina Green Park in San Francisco. This was one of the many events organized worldwide to mark the significance of yoga and to make the world more aware of the benefits of practicing yoga. From San Francisco, to Washington D.C., to London, to India, the world got together and celebrated the International Day of Yoga. Priyanka Bhardwaj writes about the event from Rajpath, in New Delhi.
On “International Day of Yoga,” June 21, a confident India woke up early to savor and reclaim Yoga as a “holistic approach to health and well being” with their Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
This ancient discipline with a near universal appeal is one of the biggest exports and gifts from India to the world.
Celebrating and commemorating it in a mega way has been one of Modi’s key initiatives, for which he lobbied the United Nations to proclaim it as a World Day while on a visit to New York last year.
Hyped for many weeks, the day unfolded with masses thronging street alleys, community centers, parks, gardens and all sorts of public venues as well as at homes to collectively participate in bending and stretching on the “International Yoga Day.”
In front of the Presidential Palace in New Delhi, Modi briefly reiterated his message, “I believe that from the 21st of June, through the International Day of Yoga, it is not just the beginning of a day but the beginning of a new age through which we will achieve greater heights of peace, goodwill and train the human spirit.”
Then he quietly came on to the stage, took off his spectacles and shoes, and for a full thirty five minutes performed simple “aasanas” or exercises and deep breathing with more than thirty-five thousand school children and others, wearing similar white T-shirts like Modi.
State-run television channels broadcast this spectacle, perhaps the largest ever human demonstration of Yoga in a single venue and deserving an entry into the book of world records.
While the state machinery was pressed into canvassing the values and virtue enshrined in Yoga by coaxing bureaucrats, army, other officers, ministers and states also to follow suit, Bharatiya Janta Party, the ruling political party, tried best to counter objections from minorities and cynics that practice was being promoted to restore national pride and address the current health crises via an Indian spiritual tradition and not propagate Hinduism.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen termed the official sanction to hold these demonstrations as pushing Hinduism down everyone’s throat instead of choosing something “secular.”
To nullify such allegations performance of “surya namaskaar” or sun salutations and chanting of “Om,” a sound sacred in Hinduism, was excluded from Modi’s Sunday-showcase of striking poses.
Digging deep into Yoga which is derived from the word “yuj” meaning “to link,” the origins of this traditional discipline which has been a matter of debate is generally believed to have originated in the pre-philosophical ages or pre-Vedic India (around 6th and 5th centuries BC).
The word also finds mention as a form of union of knowledge, love, action, etc. and not as an aasana in the Gita.
In the 1st century BC Yoga was systematized on a foundational metaphysics and culminated in Patanjali Yogasutra.
Later on it was Patanjali’s writings that gave form to Ashtanga Yoga or “eight limbed” yoga.
These forms managed to impress an assortment of Yoga gurus to advocate widely these physical, mental, and spiritual practices and its many variants such as Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga that found adoption and assimilation in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
Swami Vivekananda became the first disseminator of the knowledge among Western intellectuals like GFW Hegel, RW Emerson and Max Müller.
Still a few generations back there was nothing fashionable about doing Yoga and lifestyle of the countrymen, including carrying out chores, resembled or imitated many aasanas.
But with changing times, Yoga became a catchy word but only after the consumer world of the West got attracted to mystical India like “bees to honey” and then transformed into some kind of pop culture.
In the 1980s when Yoga was connected with health of heart and vital organs of the body and aesthetic, it became a universal language of overall wellbeing, one which transcends into life.
Among the international aficionados are Sting, Madonna, Steve Jobs, Beatles, Yehudi Menuhin, Jennifer Aniston, Adam Levine, Russell Brand, Lady Gaga and Hillary Clinton and on our own shores Shilpa Shetty and Kareena Kapoor can be counted amongst those who swear by their Yoga affair to achieve balance in their high stress and anxious laden lives.
Today sitting on the Yoga mat one can get on plethora of Yoga packages that combines chanting of mantras or hymns, breathing aasanas, understanding of Hindu mythology, elementary teachings of Vedas, vegetarian lifestyle, Vedic rituals like havans (ritual burning of offerings of ghee, grains, sandalwood, etc.), and an amalgam of aasanas and concentration.
Thus sharing in this mystic euphoria were people from 192 nations, all members of the United Nations, including 44 Islamic countries except Yemen.
Post breaking all rigidities of mental and physical body, the next big idea of the ruling political dispensation seems to be celebration of Raksha Bandhan on August 29, a festival to reaffirm vows by brothers for their sisters.