International Day of Yoga isn’t without its controversy — in India

As we get closer to June 21, the first International Day of Yoga, it seems like a chorus of concern is growing in India. I’ve seen bits and pieces here and there, but this two-fer Wall St. Journal combo brings it all into focus, with some familiar themes:

India unveiled ambitious plans to celebrate the world’s first day dedicated to yoga amid growing concerns that the government’s enthusiasm about the ancient discipline signals an attempt to shift the country away from its secular roots.

In one of his first diplomatic moves last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi requested that the United Nations declare a day for yoga. He got his way and June 21 became the International Day of Yoga.

“This is our heritage,” said  Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj at a news conference Tuesday to outline India’s big plans for the day. “This is for the benefit of all mankind; for the betterment of the entire world.”

Many Indians, however, are suspicious of the Modi government’s intentions. Yoga is closely associated with Hinduism. Mr. Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has Hindu-nationalist roots.


Since the BJP took power last year, some Muslims, Christians and other minority groups say Hindu-nationalist politicians and leaders have become emboldened to make comments and take actions against non-Hindus.

Just Monday a member of Parliament from Mr. Modi’s party and a Hindu priest, Yogi Adityanath, said anyone opposed to yoga should leave the country.

“They should drown in the sea. They should spend their lives in darkness, shut in a dark room,” he said in a televised speech. “They should leave India.”

As some states have started requiring yoga lessons in schools since the BJP took over, Muslim leaders have complained that the way yoga is practiced can be against Islamic beliefs.

Here’s a familiar idea for you:

Leaders say the practice of “surya namaskar” or sun salutation–a series of poses–goes against Shariah or Islamic law, which doesn’t allow Muslims to bend before anyone other than Allah, or God.

“We don’t believe in praying to the sun,” said Mohammad Abdul Rahim Quraishi, spokesman for Lucknow-based All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

Yet, Mr. Quraishi said that schools in the states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have made yoga sessions compulsory, and the lessons include “surya namaskar”. He said that the sessions also require chanting of the word “Om” or other Sanksrit verses or shlokas, which he believes are connected to Hindu religion.

“They are trying to impose Hindu religion. On that, we have objection,” Mr. Quraishi said.

It isn’t all just a simple day of yoga.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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