At a time when Yoga practitioners in India are exercised at the “cultural appropriation” of Yoga by the West, the Narendra Modi government has launched extensive preparations to mark the third International Day of Yoga (IDY) at a much grander scale than its previous two editions, particularly in major North American, European and Chinese cities.
The objective isn’t just to spread awareness about India’s civilizational ethos and strengthen the country’s soft diplomacy. A key element of this year’s celebrations is to put a check to the cultural appropriation of the ancient Indian practice by what is termed ‘western Yoga’.
The ‘western Yoga’, which is gaining popularity in the West, doesn’t acknowledge the umbilical cord that Yoga has with ancient Indian culture. It is also criticized by purists, especially outfits like Yoga Bharati, for its focus on mere physical exercises that are bereft of yoga’s mediational and spiritual essence. Yoga Bharati, affiliated to Bengaluru based Vivekananda Yoga Research Foundation, runs Yoga centres in American cities and says it teaches Yoga “in its most authentic form”.
At Prime Minister Modi’s initiative and a resolution that India moved in December 2014, the United Nations General Assembly designated 21 June as the International Day of Yoga, or IDY.
But in a departure from the first two editions of IDY, India’s embassies and consulates in North and South America, Europe, Australia and China are leading the way to hold month long Yoga related events that have already started and will culminate in the third week of June. In 2015 and 2016, the IDY was marked as a daylong event.
In another first, India’s Embassy and consulates in the US have officially partnered with Indian cultural organisations to make the event a success.
The Embassy of India in Washington DC has partnered with the ‘Friends of Yoga’. The ‘Friends of Yoga’ is a group of organisations that include the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, the overseas arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s Isha Foundation, Art of Living Foundation of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Brahma Kumaris, Swami Ramdev’s Patanjali Yogpeeth, Hindu American Foundation, Association of United Hindu and Jain Temples, Gayatri Pariwar and other Indian community organisations.
The HSS and some of these other organisations had supported the holding of IDY in 2015 and 2016 as well in the US, but this is a rare occasion where the Indian Embassy has brought HSS, Patanjali and others on board as “official partners” on its dedicated website for the event dcyogaday.org.
An RSS spokesperson in Delhi, however, maintained that Indian embassies routinely invite Indian cultural outfits to help hold events and celebrate Indian festivals. On Yoga, the HSS has been making its presence felt in the US. In January end, the US House of Representatives took note of the HSS’ annual ‘Surya Namaskar Yajna’ or ‘Health for Humanity Yogathon’, which the HSS holds as part of its annual Makar Sankranti celebrations.
Across the world, Indian embassies and consulates have also collaborated with city authorities to hold Yoga day celebrations. In Washington DC, the event will be held on 21 June at the Sylvan Theater in National Mall. In Chicago, a preparatory event was held at the Indian consulate premises on 17 May. The consulate will hold the main event in association with the city of Napierville on 24 June.
The main event in Madrid will be held on 18 June, in Paris on 17 June, while in Berlin on 21 June. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is slated to mark the event with 55,000 people at a stadium in Lucknow on 21 June. The Bharatiya Janata Party is busy making detailed plans to have senior ministers and party leaders perform Yoga in key state capitals.
In China, over a thousand people took part in a curtain raiser Yoga event in the city of Wuyi in Zhejiang province on Saturday. According to the Indian consulate officials, the event was organized along with the People’s Government of Wuyi County.
The mayor of Wuyi said at the event that just as Buddhism had bound two great Indian and Chinese civilisations together, Yoga also has the potential to promote values of harmony and peace between the two neighbours. The Indian embassy in Beijing plans to organize several yoga events across Chinese cities over the next one month.
In the US, HSS Sanghchalak, or chief, Ved Nanda has sent out an appeal to followers to make the Yoga Day a success. He said the International Day of Yoga is an opportunity where “we can give back to our karmabhoomi (the US) the best part of our collective inheritance – Yoga.”
Nanda, international law professor at the University of Denver for the last 50-years, also stressed on the spiritual aspects of Yoga. “As you know, Yoga is not a mere tool for physical fitness but more importantly is a beacon for individual’s upliftment,” he said. He said the Yoga Day events will involve all regardless of their race, faith, gender, nationality or any other similar barrier.
In India, the Press Information Bureau has invited applications from young people for month-long internship programme for media and publicity related work for the Yoga Day.