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Posture on Yoga

WORSHIP of the sun is an old Indian way of expressing gratitude and paying respect to the source of all forms of life on the planet. Even the ancient Greeks worshipped the sun. ‘Surya namaskar’ (Salutation to Sun) was adopted as a posture in yoga with the aim of relating to the Sun God. Yoga today has become identified with physical exercise: in reality, yoga is a school of philosophy, prescribing several ways of controlling the thoughts and redirecting them to the Ultimate Reality. Yoga has caught on the world over because of its benefits to the mind and body, not for its religious philosophy. If you take yoga postures merely as postures, ‘surya namaskar’ can be performed just as any other posture. However, people of minority faiths have issues with ‘surya namaskar’. The Muslims say, for instance, that ‘surya namaskar’ implies bowing to sun god and they do not bow but to Allah. They had similar issues with Vande Mataram. They said they cannot sing the national song as it requires them to bow to ‘Mother Goddess’, which as Muslims they can’t do.

The Muslims have no problem with yoga; they have no problem with Vande Mataram: except for the implication of bowing to a god other than Allah. The trouble in this country is that even such issues, which are essentially academic, remain unresolved. Surya namaskar and vande mataram are allowed to become sensitive issues, because neither the government nor the political parties or the universities,   the scholars and poets or the civil society organisations ever set up a debate on them. ‘Mataram’ in the national song does not represent any Hindu goddess. It represents the land, the part of earth that is occupied by India. Similarly, ‘surya namaskar’ in yoga regime does not mean worship of any Hindu god. It is just the nomenclature of a posture. The other postures in yoga too have names that echo with connotations of the philosophical concepts of yoga. But the postures practised for the benefit of mind and body are cleansed of the religious connotations today.

However, ours is just one viewpoint. The point being made here is that the pundits and scholars of all religious communities must have an open discussion on these issues and arrive at a mutually agreed viewpoint.  Until that happens, however, the people of minority faiths must not be compelled to do surya namaskar or sing vande mataram.  Loose cannons like BJP MP Yogi Adityanath, who says those opposing surya namaskar leave India or drown themselves in the ocean, must be quarantined. Article 25 of the Constitution says, “All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion.” Articles 26-28 go on to elaborate on this basic right with regard to the management of religious affairs and religious instruction or worship in educational institutions. The last of these clearly proclaims: “No person attending any educational institution recognised by the state or receiving aid out of state funds shall be required to take part in any religious instruction that may be imparted in such institution, or to attend any religious worship that may be conducted in such institution.”

It was Prime Minister Narendra Modi who during his first UN General Assembly speech proposed  International Day of Yoga in September last year, a proposal which was ratified in December. We are going to observe the first International Day for Yoga on June 21. However, the Modi government looked like having soured it with the inclusion of surya namaskar in the programmes scheduled that day. The Modi government had made similar mistakes earlier by converting public holidays to suit its agenda. It decided to observe ‘Good Governance Day’ on Christmas day and asked government employees to attend office on October 2 to launch the Swachh Bharat mission: on every occasion, the Modi government had to step backward on facing criticism. They stepped backward this time too by excluding surya namaskar from the yoga exercises on June 21.

The Goa government too should have announced the exclusion of surya namaskar from International Day of Yoga programmes for schoolchildren. An announcement would have soothed the sentiments of the minorities. As the education department and sports directorate are entrusted with the responsibilities of organizing the yoga exercises on June 21, they should have taken particular care that no feelings of ‘otherness’ are fostered among students of various communities with the introduction of surya namaskar. If surya namaskar is being performed and the children belonging to the minority communities do not participate in it while they do in other exercises, they could be seen as ‘people different from us’. That will spoil the whole purpose of uniting people of all communities through participation in lifting the body and mind through yoga. It would be much better if the participation on the International Day of Yoga is kept optional, so that only those who want to participate in the full programme join.

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