In­dia bends it like Modi on first World Yoga Day

The China Post - - LIFE - BY AN­NIE BAN­ERJI

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi Sun­day hailed the first In­ter­na­tional Yoga Day as a “new era of peace,” mo­ments be­fore he sur­prised thou­sands in New Delhi by tak­ing to a mat him­self to celebrate the an­cient In­dian prac­tice.

Yoga-lov­ing Modi led more than 35,000 peo­ple, in­clud­ing bu­reau­crats, stu­dents and sol­diers, per­form­ing poses such as the half camel and cobra in a 35-minute mass out­door yoga ses­sion be­gin­ning at 7:00 a.m. (0130 GMT) on a New Delhi boule­vard.

Or­ga­niz­ers are hop­ing the event qual­i­fies for the Guin­ness Book of World Records for the largest yoga class at a sin­gle venue.

The cur­rent ti­tle, ac­cord­ing to the Guin­ness web­site, was set by 29,973 stu­dents in Gwalior, In­dia, in 2005.

“Yoga is more than only phys­i­cal fit­ness. We are not only cel­e­brat­ing a day but we are train­ing the hu­man mind to be­gin a new era of peace,” Modi told the crowd at Ra­j­path av­enue.

He thanked the United Na­tions and the 177 co-spon­sor­ing coun­tries for adopt­ing his idea for a world Yoga Day.

“This is a pro­gram for hu­man wel­fare, a ten­sion-free world and a pro­gram to spread the mes­sage of love, peace and good­will,” said the premier, wear­ing a crisp white out­fit with a na­tional tri­color scarf.

Modi then sur­prised the crowds by leav­ing the stage, re­mov­ing his glasses, and se­cur­ing a spot at the front of the mas­sive ses­sion to mir­ror the stretches, breath­ing, and medita- tive moves beamed on gi­ant screens along the his­toric av­enue.

He took a brief break in the mid­dle of the ses­sion to walk around and in­spect stu­dents do­ing yoga around him be­fore re­join­ing the rou­tine of 15 dif­fer­ent poses, in­clud­ing the crocodile and “wind-re­leas­ing” pos­ture.

The prime min­is­ter, who cred­its yoga for his abil­ity to work long hours on lit­tle sleep, had been sched­uled only to make a speech at Ra­j­path, where col­or­ful mats were lined across the stretch that con­nects the pres­i­dent’s palace with the iconic In­dia Gate mon­u­ment.

Sea of White

Aerial im­ages taken near dawn showed Ra­j­path, or King’s Av­enue, as a sea of white with scores of peo­ple, clad in new Yoga Day T-shirts, bending and stretch­ing in sync with the English and Hindi in­struc­tions to a back­ground score of In­dian clas­si­cal mu­sic be­ing played over loud­speak­ers.

Cen­tral Delhi was sealed off and car­peted, with dozens of me­tal de­tec­tors and mul­ti­ple check­points erected for the big day that saw other VIPs in­clud­ing Delhi Chief Min­is­ter Arvind Ke­jri­wal par­tic­i­pate.

Peo­ple in 650 dis­tricts joined in, with pic­tures pour­ing in on Twit­ter from across the coun­try.

Some showed sol­diers per­form­ing var­i­ous yoga poses — or asanas — against a back­drop of soar­ing snow moun­tains at Si­achen glacier, the world’s high­est bat­tle­ground, in dis­puted In­dian Kash­mir while oth­ers showed res­i­dents stretch­ing it out in lo­cal parks.

In­dia will be joined by yoga en- thu­si­asts in 192 other coun­tries — in­clud­ing in Bri­tain, where mats will be rolled out along the banks of the River Thames.

In his maiden ad­dress to the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly, Modi pro­posed to ded­i­cate a day de­voted to the an­cient In­dian dis­ci­pline, prompt­ing the U.N. to pro­claim June 21 the In­ter­na­tional Day of Yoga.

In­dian scholars be­lieve yoga dates back 5,000 years, based on ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ev­i­dence of poses found in­scribed on stones and ref­er­ences to Yo­gic teach­ings in the an­cient Hindu scrip­tures of the Vedas.

And Modi, a veg­e­tar­ian who prac­tices the art daily, has made Yoga Day a key ini­tia­tive of his Hindu na­tion­al­ist gov­ern­ment since he took of­fice 13 months ago.

He wants to re­claim yoga as an his­tor­i­cal part of In­dian cul­ture which has been lost to the West, where it has be­come a multi-bil­lion-U.S.dol­lar in­dus­try.

Since storm­ing to power, the Hindu na­tion­al­ist premier has set up a min­istry ded­i­cated to pro­mot­ing yoga and other tra­di­tional In­dian treat­ments, and also started free yoga classes for his gov­ern­ment’s three mil­lion bu­reau­crats and their fam­i­lies.

“Yoga is the soft power of In­dia and through that soft power the whole world can be one global vil­lage ... (and) vi­o­lence can be re­moved with this kind of peace,” For­eign Min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj has told re­porters.

Swaraj is at the U.N.’s head­quar­ters in New York for Yoga Day, when scores are ex­pected to strike a pose in Times Square.

But the gov­ern­ment’s push for “yoga for har­mony and peace” met with crit­i­cism in the run-up to Sun­day, with some re­li­gious mi­nori­ties ac­cus­ing Modi of push­ing a proHindu agenda in of­fi­cially sec­u­lar In­dia.

A few Mus­lim groups have com­plained that chant­ing the sa­cred Hindu sound of “Om” dur­ing yoga and cer­tain poses, such as “surya na­maskar” or sun salu­ta­tion, have clear Hindu over­tones and were against Is­lam.

3. Peo­ple per­form yoga on Ra­j­path, in New Delhi, Sun­day.

1. Peo­ple per­form yoga at an event to celebrate In­ter­na­tional Yoga Day in Ban­ga­lore, In­dia, Sun­day, June 21. 2. A girl, left, dis­plays a pic­ture of In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi painted on her face as another sports the logo of In­ter­na­tional Yoga Day in Ban­ga­lore, Sun­day.

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