Monday, September 25, 2017

Second to none, says India

The 1st International Day of Yoga was marked in Yangon’s Thuwunna Indoor Stadium by a mass demonstration of yoga postures and protocol by 500 yogis drawn from across Myanmar.

Crowds watched a display of yoga skills at the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium, Yangon. Photo: Thiri Lu / The Myanmar TimesCrowds watched a display of yoga skills at the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium, Yangon. Photo: Thiri Lu / The Myanmar Times

Spectators were treated to commentary on the performance of postures and the benefits of yoga, a practice that the BBC noted was being promoted by official publicity for the day as India’s second–greatest gift to the world after the number zero.

Organised in partnership between the Embassy of India and Myanmar’s Ministry of Sports, the demonstration was held to coincide with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leading of 35,000 people in a 35-minute mass outdoor yoga session on a New Delhi boulevard.

Modi hailed June 21’s 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.

Modi led the performance of poses such as the half camel and cobra in what organisers are hoping will qualify for entry into the Guinness World Records as 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.

It was not only yoga enthusiasts in Myanmar who joined India in celebration. Another 191 other countries planned events including in Britain, where mats were rolled out along the banks of the River Thames.

India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj was at the UN’s headquarters in New York for Yoga Day, when scores struck a pose in Times Square.

“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,” Swaraj told


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

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 before yesterday’s event, wearing a crisp white outfit with a national tricolour scarf.

“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.

Indian scholars believe yoga dates back 5000 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 claims to practice 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-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 3 million bureaucrats and their families.

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 colourful mats were lined across the stretch that connects the president’s palace with the iconic India Gate monument. But he 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 meditative moves beamed on giant screens along the historic avenue.

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.

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.

But the government’s push for “yoga for harmony and peace” met with criticism in the run-up to yesterday, with some religious minorities accusing Modi of pushing a pro-Hindu 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.

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