Keep yoga off religion, politics

Yoga, as a form of exercise, has existed in this part of the world for the last several centuries. It has survived with elan under various rulers, with never a known threat to its practice. For something as hoary as yoga asanas (exercises), including the suryanamaskar (obeisance to the Sun), to be thrust into a controversy is doing a great disservice to this ancient art of keeping fit – physically and mentally. That it is Indian in origin has never been in doubt, none has challenged its history and scores of people around the world have taken to it enthusiastically. In fact, the open nature of the exercise regimen has made it exceedingly adaptable so much so there are today modern and even bizarre versions of these asanas around the world.

This being the case, to be formally thrust onto the world by the BJP-led Central government as an Indian contribution and organising a spectacle to ram home the point is a case of overkill. The government is reinventing something that has already been reinvented innumerable times and on various occasions by multi-faceted practitioners across many nationalities.  Alongside this, the manner in which the BJP governments, both at the Centre and in various states, are attempting to force yoga in school curriculums has turned this innately secular form of holistic exercise into one laced with a Hindutva connotation. To top it, statements of hardline BJP members like Lok Sabha MP Yogi Adityanath that those who are opposed to yoga should leave the country or jump into the sea, are rather unfortunate as they tend to equate the practice of the asanas with religious praxis.

As a result, where June 21 as the International Day of Yoga could have been a day of dignified celebration in keeping with its rich history, has now turned into a shallow spectacle, tainted by Hindutva politics. If the Narendra Modi government had played its cards right and was restrained in its attempts to promote yoga as a form of exercise, there would have been no need for it to have gone on the back foot and dropped the ‘suryanamaskar’ from the list of asanas to be displayed at the grand event planned on that day. There would have been no need to go to absurd lengths to dilute the Hindutva infusion like, for instance, Union Minister Shripad Naik asking naysayers among the Muslims to chant “Allah” instead, when doing the asanas.  Finally, where was the need for the practice of yoga, with its huge following, to be promoted by the government unless the official think-tank was desperate to show some sort of “achievement” under Modi?

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