IT was a successful International Yoga Day in India. Among the 35,000 people of all ages twisting, bending and stretching and inhaling and exhaling on the Rajpath in New Delhi was Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Day saw massive zeal among BJP supporters as Modi had got the UN to declare it a global day. Yoga as a philosophy is very old. It was practised for detachment from the worldly concerns for a total union with God. It started catching up among foreigners during the colonial times. In the 1960s, the hippies were drawn to it after their disillusionment with the western ultra-materialist culture. In the past six decades, yoga has become a roaring business in the West, thanks to growing consciousness for wellness among people.
So, it would be wrong to think that it is Modi who has created the awareness of the benefits of yoga among westerners using his famed magic wand. He is a leading member of the RSS, which believes ancient India was the inventor of everything and originator of all thoughts. No wonder Modi supporters are presenting the declaration of International Yoga Day as the achievement of the ‘Hindu nationalists’ who are in power now. No one has missed that June 21 is also the death anniversary of RSS founder Hegdewar. But to be fair to Modi, he is not projecting it as an RSS achievement. He is projecting yoga as one of the monumental achievements of Indian thought: and a master of propaganda that he is he has tremendously increased the awareness of benefits of yoga among people of this country and abroad by promoting it as a brand and participating in it. He took care not to get his promotion constrained by sensitivities of the religious minorities. He took out the asanas from the yoga programme which were objected to the religious minorities.
Yoga is $10-billion business in the US. It is high time India capitalises on it and attracts tourists for it by asserting its intellectual rights. The country has been fighting attempts by western gurus to patent yoga poses. Yoga was developed by Indian ascetics for meditation. Other religions accept yoga as India’s gift. Medieval Muslim travellers in India, fascinated by yoga, translated works on it for the Islamic world. Mughal emperor Jahangir commissioned a Persian text, Bahr al-Hayat, which depicted 21 asanas. Swami Vivekananda became a sensation after he presented yoga to the West as a scientifically based philosophy at the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Since then, interpretations of yoga have multiplied. A number of practitioners, both in India and abroad, view it purely as a set of exercises.
Let India exploit yoga to its full economic potential, apart from its spiritual and philosophical reservoirs. That can happen only if yoga is not politicized. Let us try and get it accepted by the world as something unique Made in India!