Categorized | South Asian Politics

Indian PM ‘thrills’ with yoga event

Posted on 26 June 2015 by admin

Yoga DAY

The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s participation in the first ever International Yoga Day in the capital, Delhi, added the surprise element to what was expected to be like any other staid government function, writes the BBC’s Geeta Pandey in Delhi.

On the carefully compiled guest list were bureaucrats, diplomats, schoolchildren and soldiers; and on the agenda were speeches and a 35-minute “module of yoga poses”.

Officials and ministers had repeatedly told us that Mr Modi would attend the event and give a speech, but he would not take part in yoga because “he’s a very private person”.

But to everyone’s surprise, after a short speech, Mr Modi walked down from the stage to the Rajpath or the King’s Avenue – a wide boulevard in the centre of the city that had been turned into a massive exercise ground for the day – rolled out his aquamarine mat and joined the tens of thousands practising yoga.

He contorted his body into different poses, did stretches and bends and breathing exercises with the 35,000 participants. At one point, he wandered off into the crowd to inspect how others were doing, before returning to rejoin the session.

The live commentary informed the participants about the benefits of striking each pose – one, it said, helped with spondylitis, another eased back pain.

Mr Modi’s impromptu yoga session was applauded by the other participants.

Sonia Tomar, who is training to be a policewoman, said she was “stunned” and “thrilled” when the prime minister “sat down next to us to do yoga”.

Hours before the event began, the participants had taken their places on colourful mats on Rajpath.

A group of girls said they had been asked to report to school at 21:00 India time [15:30GMT] on Saturday night and had stayed there till morning.

Just after 4am, they were bussed to the sprawling lawns of India Gate for the event and not one of them said they were tired.

There were a lot of happy excited faces, some were laughing and chatting, some were practising their yoga moves.

“I have been doing yoga for the last six years,” said 14-year-old Nikita Thakur. “No-one had paid so much attention to yoga before. I am glad it’s getting global attention now,” she added.

“We enjoy yoga, it’s great fun,” said 12-year-old Anjali Arya.

The children said they had been training daily for a month and a half for the yoga day.

Mr Modi, a yoga enthusiast who says he practises the ancient Indian art daily for an hour, had lobbied the United Nations for the yoga day.

The government is hoping the event will set a new Guinness World Record for the largest yoga class at a single venue – the current record is held by 29,973 students who practised yoga in the central Indian city of Gwalior.

On Sunday morning, Mr Modi told the participants that yoga was “more than physical fitness” and “a way of training the human mind to begin a new era of peace and harmony”.

In the days before the yoga day celebrations, there had been murmurs of protest from some Muslim organisations that since yoga has its origins in Hinduism, practising it is against the monotheism preached by Islam and that Mr Modi’s government is trying to promote its Hindu agenda.

On Sunday, however, thousands of Muslims participated in the yoga day event.

Shabnam Saifi was within touching distance of Mr Modi as he rolled out his mat.

“I’m a Muslim woman but I do yoga every day. I don’t think it is against my religion. When I do Surya Namaskar [Sun Salutation], I feel really good,” she says.

“I think yoga is a great cultural practice and it’s good for the health and integrity of people around the world. Why fight over silly things?”

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