INTERNATIONAL YOGA DAY: CLAIMING THE LEGACY

It’s a new beginning for India – in its new pursuit of promoting a confident identity – using its age-old culture that has assimilated different incoming shades and has survived for centuries and is still going strong.

Yoga is a gift from India to the world. It is an art, a science, and a transcendental philosophy to realize our spiritual quotient. And in India, if we leave politics aside, its acceptability goes beyond religions.

And the annual International Day of Yoga (IDY), beginning this year today, on June 21, the Summer Solstice day that brings to us the longest day of the year (Summer Solstice day can fall on any day between June 20 to 22 but June 21 is common), should be seen in this context. There will be debates on why ‘Narendra Modi’ proposed June 21. Reasons range from scientific like the Summer Solstice to sociological like celebrations associated with the day to mythological like Lord Shiva taking note of the seven people in meditation for 84 years to seek him as their ‘Yoga Guru’ (as Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev writes) to political like June 21 being the birth anniversary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) founder Keshav Baliram Hedgewar but let’s not go into that.

Yes, Yoga is a healing and wellness gift to the world from India – from ancient times. And it has continued to be so, spreading throughout the world, through travelers coming to India, through Indian texts and religions in other civilizations, like Buddhism spreading in many parts of the world, through cultural exports like art, sculpture and tradition and through linguistic influences, like influence of Sanskrit can be found in languages and scriptures of countries which shared historical trade routes with India, like Swami Vivekananda found during his voyage to the United States of America in the last decade of the 19th Century. It was Swami Vivekananda who introduced Yoga to the Western world in an organized way. He gave shape to an un-thought process that had started with European colonization of India.

Yoga has been there since ages. And its spread throughout the world has taken place gradually, in every age, based on its merits, more so in 19th and 20th Centuries. And it is continued even today with India being the leading light for gurus and teachers of Yoga worldwide.

Sages and ascetics developed the art in India and so naturally, the spiritual elements of Yoga have religious texts of Hinduism of the day or whatever we want to call (the religion). It was natural when the ascetics meditated enchanting names of deities (we follow them; we find in our religious texts) and taught their followers to do so. Doing so was practical and not religious. If religion had anything to do with it, it was about the God, the common link between ascetics, sages and other people. God was the central and common point of concentration of all. And it has remained so.

And that pragmatism is applicable across religions – in India, and outside India.

Yoga is an art that scientifically improves the mind-body balance of a person and, if willing, takes him to the higher realms of spirituality. Practicing it is not a must but a lifestyle with Yoga as its inseparable element brings qualitative changes in practitioners. And a large-scale adoption has potential to create healthier societies. Obviously, thinking that Yoga alone can do it will be daydreaming and more so in a society like India where multiple problems like poverty, quality illiteracy and poor civic amenities still beset societies across the country. To address the issue here, we need a political willpower to work on all these issues holistically.

But it doesn’t belittle on the factual benefits of Yoga – physical, meditational and spiritual – something that has taken it to beyond India – in every part of the world.

What Narendra Modi did should have been done by the political dispensation of India much earlier. It had to claim to be the origin-place of a legacy that was already global in appeal and outreach. But every political dispensation in India had failed to do so, so far. We cannot say if they even thought about it.

And Narendra Modi did it. He realized the potential of projecting soft power globally by claiming this legacy.

We may debate the quality and outcome of the governance so far by the government of Narendra Modi but we need to give him the credit for IDY.

India is the world’s largest democracy. It is the fastest growing economy of the world. It is the third biggest economy of the world in terms ‘purchasing power parity (PPP)’. Harvard University study report says India’s middle class will be the largest one in the world by 2030. The country is among the top military powers of the world with many firsts to its space programme.

If politically handled well, the country is slated to go up in the world order on human parameters as well. That requires efficient governance not just on core issue but on other important issues as well – like projecting cultural strength of India and using soft power as a policy tool to further the nation’s interests.

An international day for Yoga established by the United Nations and endorsed by its member countries including the Muslim ones on a proposal moved by Narendra Modi is a positive step towards that. Narendra Modi proposed IDY in September 2014. The United National General Assembly declared it in December 2014. And we are celebrating the first IDY today – all in a span of nine months.

The US has been using ‘soft power’ projections for decades and is quite successful there. If America is seen the world over as the right place for democratic values in a free and just society, we need to give due credit to its soft power projections as well. We all see that theme in Hollywood films – an industry with global export scale – even to the countries where dictators run amok. Russia was a natural villain in many big productions during the Cold-War years. In recent times, North Korea and China (though to a lesser extent) have also taken that place.

And China is trying its hands on projecting its soft power too though it has not much to talk about as the country is one of most repressive societies where one is free as long as one toes the government line there. That leaves China to promote its culture as the selling point, sans any political element. Projections of Chinese martial art, Chinese culture in ancient, medieval and modern times and China’s resilience during its occupation by Japan have been the main elements of this soft power projection.

India fares much better than China in having acceptable elements of soft power and the country should use such elements as a policy tools to enhance its global image like it has done with IDY. Yes, there will be controversies and criticisms and some loopholes in the execution of the developments associated with the projections, but sending the larger message will subside all that.

The world celebrated this global day today – from India to America – from many European countries to Latin American countries – from Asia to Africa – from predominantly Muslim countries to the democracies having predominantly Christian population.

And India led the show, led the way. The day was celebrated on a wide scale in India and abroad. Government wings including its forces and foreign missions were preparing for the day. Ministers and teachers were sent in many countries to organize events there. Spiritual and religious guru Sri Sri Ravishankar and Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj led the event at the United Nations in Washington. And in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi culminated his ‘daily Yoga tutorial through videos’ with a grand event at Rajpath in Delhi where more that 35000 people participated. Guinness says two world records were made today – 35,985 people made the world’s largest Yoga class in Delhi – and they were of record 84 nationalities.

And the right images from India met with the right images from the world over. Many in the global media covered IDY naming India as the country behind the move.

June 21 is also the birth anniversary of Jean-Paul Sartre, the French philosopher Existentialism is synonymous with. Individual existence is central to Existentialism and social developments are seen from the perspectives of human subjects. Hope policymakers in India also work on the core issues related to the human subjects – alleviating poverty, improving education and healthcare, ensuring Constitutional rights and removing corruption – in addition to the successful public relations exercises like the International Yoga Day.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

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