plans for Yoga Day taking a stressful turn
Shashank Bengali, for Los
Shivaji Terminus, the Victorian-era headquarters of one of
India's largest rail networks through which more than 600,000
passengers travel every day, is not known as a place of calm.
in a chandeliered, colonnaded executive dining hall, a few
dozen railway employees have been attending voluntary yoga
classes every afternoon as part of a government-sponsored
campaign to promote the ancient Indian discipline nationwide.
very peaceful," R. Rajeshwari, a 26-year veteran of the
commercial inspections department, said after an hourlong
session Wednesday. "My job is mostly sitting at my desk
or running around to stations. I've never had such a chance
organized breathing, chanting and stretching culminates Sunday
in the first International Day of Yoga, an idea proposed at
the United Nations General Assembly last fall by Prime Minister
Narendra Modi, a yoga devotee, and endorsed by 175 countries.
leadership of the event, however, has been rather less serene
than some yoga teachers might like.
ensure a good turnout, students in Mumbai have been told to
come to school early Sunday morning for yoga demonstrations.
Army personnel are expected to take part at bases and aboard
aircraft carriers. Paunchy civil servants have huffed and
grimaced through official practice sessions.
Foreign Ministry has flown instructors around the world and
is sponsoring yoga events in 191 countries through its diplomatic
missions, officials said. Thousands are expected in New York's
Times Square, where yoga guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar will take
the crowd through poses that will be broadcast via satellite.
Events are also planned in Los Angeles, San Francisco and
biggest event will take place in New Delhi, the Indian capital,
where about 35,000 people will participate in a 35-minute
program at Rajpath, the ceremonial boulevard that more often
hosts military parades and funeral processions. Modi will
attend, although officials say he will not be practicing yoga.
have applied for consideration in the Guinness Book of World
Records for the largest yoga demonstration and have recruited
athletes, film stars and government officials to beef up the
number. Senior bureaucrats were sent letters last week admonishing
them to study the prescribed poses closely because if "their
performance is not up to the mark, we run the risk of the
record claim ? being affected."
announcing the unusually thorough preparations, Foreign Minister
Sushma Swaraj described yoga as "the best soft power
aim is to bring the world on the path of peace," Swaraj
said. "It is needed as we have been witnessing violence
in a country increasingly polarized along religious lines,
some see the promotion of yoga as part of a broader pro-Hindu
agenda by Modi's conservative government, which has ties to
right-wing Hindu nationalist groups that are often hostile
to religious minorities, particularly Muslims.
the last year, Modi allies have falsely accused Muslims of
forcibly converting Hindus to Islam, attempted to make Hindu
religious texts required reading in schools and banned the
possession of beef in the western state of Maharashtra on
grounds that the cow is sacred in Hinduism.
was perhaps not surprising, then, that some prominent Muslim
groups refused to participate in yoga demonstrations because
of the discipline's Hindu roots. They argued that the surya
namaskar pose, or sun salute, violates the Islamic belief
that only God can be worshiped, while some yogic chants are
part of Hinduism.
'Om, hari om' these are the words of Hinduism. Muslims cannot
say these words," said Abdul Rahim Qureshi, general secretary
of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. The group has
filed a case against the government of the northern state
of Rajasthan for reportedly requiring students to attend the
government is trying to impose Hindu culture and Hindu forms
of worship on non-Hindus," Qureshi said. "This is
not allowed by the constitution."
pointed out that the sun salute was not part of the official
list of poses for Yoga Day. Some states said the demonstrations
were not compulsory. It all amounted to a great deal of friction
for an event that was supposed to promote harmony.
has no religious connotation. People like to make political
statements that are not based on facts," said Subodh
Tiwari, joint director of the Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute,
the main organizer of events in Mumbai.
Tiwari acknowledged that Modi's embrace of yoga had undoubtedly
led to a reawakening of the discipline in India. With the
support of state officials, his institute will be holding
events Sunday for employees of the railways, postal service,
utility companies, police and other agencies, as well as prisoners
and the general public.
officials in Mumbai first thought of offering yoga to their
employees several years ago and described the voluntary classes
that started last month as "in line with the government's
has always been there in India, but it was taken for granted,"
Tiwari said. "You have to be proud of something to promote
it. [Modi] has taken something that was there in our heritage
and strengthened it."
correspondent Parth M.N. contributed to this report.