SPICE ROOT Friday Review

India’s newest ambassador

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As yoga comes into the spotlight, let’s ensure that it is utilised as a catalyst of change.

The journey of yoga in the last few decades is fascinating. It went in all directions but unlike other products and services, without the stamp of country of origin. This is unique for our times which are infamous for patenting every comma, semicolon and vowel. However, an exciting new chapter opened up on December 11, 2014 .The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution introduced by India, co-sponsored by a record 175 nations to make 21 June as the International Day of Yoga and that too by a consensus vote.

Everybody knows that yoga originated in India. Yet if you enter a yoga class in the U.S., the connection with India is not always visible. Over the last hundred years or so yoga has been preached, patented, interpreted and claimed differently by different people and countries. That yoga sprung from the philosophical fountains of India and then spread organically to the whole of east, central Asia, and Persia over a period of time is not widely known. In its global reach, India lost its ownership to some extent. That may be changing now.

PM Modi’s speech at the UN was a bold attempt in reclaiming this uniquely Indian heritage. He offered yoga as one of India’s contributions to global efforts. It is not just exercise, he said, “By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change.” The International Yoga Day is the final stamp on yoga as India’s Ambassador to the world.

Yogis started travelling abroad particularly to Europe and America in late nineteenth century. In 1893 Vivekananda made a huge impact at the World Religion Parliament at Chicago. Thereafter gurus like Shrila Prabhupada (ISKCON), Paramahansa Yogananda (Autobiography of a Yogi), Swami Rama Tirtha, Ramacharaka, Maharshi Mahesh Yogi and disciples of Swami Sivananda pioneered a Yoga movement in the west. Aurobindo, Sri Chinmoy, Ramana Maharshi, J. Krishnamurti and Osho captured Western imagination by their spiritual discourses.

The freedom to interpret yoga helped. From seekers of nirvana to those wanting to rid of their stress and remain fit, all came into its fold. Kundalini, Jnana, Mantra, Dhyana, Siddha , Transcendental, Tantric, Hath, Bikram, Ashtang, Vini, Swatha,Yogafit, Chair, Namaste, Anusara, Power and Hot Yoga are some of the numerous avatars of yoga that have flourished. Consequently, its blatant commercialisation has resulted in thousands of yoga ‘shops’ all over the world.

Celebrities like Demi Moore, Jessica Biel, Jennifer Aniston, Britney Spears, Mia Farrow, Russell Brand, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Adam Levine enjoy yoga. Yehudi Menuhin, the greatest violinist of 20th Century was a follower of yoga guru BKS Iyengar who passed away recently. Yoga inevitably found a prime place in the wellness business, a fashion for some and need for some others.

This profound impact has turned even President Obama into a prominent advocate of yoga. “Yoga has become a universal language of spiritual exercise in the United States, crossing many lines of religion and cultures. Every day, millions of people practice yoga to improve their health and overall well-being.,” he said some time back about yoga.

Bikram Choudhary, Lilias Folan, Beth Shaw, Lakshmi Voelker, Patricia Walden and Wai Lana have popularized it through classes CDs, shows, books and have made it part of mainstream culture. Purists in India sometimes feel West is taking undue advantage of our ancient wisdom. But in Indian tradition ‘wisdom brings freedom’ and our sharing of it helps the world become a more blissful place.

If India is keen to make its civilisational message heard it has to convince the world about relevance of yoga in solving problems of poverty ,climate change and numerous wars. The current brand of development based on consumerism is not sustainable. Can India articulate a clear alternative vision and get it accepted by the world? Can yoga be the panacea and can it go beyond individual nirvana and help us in Ukraine, West Asia and Africa? How India answers these challenges to our collective nirvana will determine the true impact of this resolution. If not, the resolution is unlikely to make a huge difference either to India or yoga!

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Printable version | May 26, 2019 5:17:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/indias-newest-ambassador/article6725102.ece

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