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Monday 16 December 2019
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Everybody’s Yoga

[dropcaps round=”no”]21[/dropcaps] June, the International Yoga Day, has passed and it is time to introspect — particularly for those who tried to oppose this as an affront to Muslims. Various arguments such as questioning the motive behind such a grand occasion and terming some of the asanas as an attack on Islamic beliefs now need to be reconsidered dispassionately. They all ring hollow.

The United Nations gave recognition to the Indian art of healthy living when it declared 21 June as the International Yoga Day. It was a moment of pride as majority of countries, including Islamic countries, who are members of the UN, sponsored the resolution for such a declaration. While there was no problem with a majority of Muslims in India, some who claim to represent them tried to create animosities. Their clear anti-Modi thrust was visible. The Congress was miscued when it sounded a discordant note trying to oppose it on one ground or the other.

Will they ask Indian Muslims to denounce yoga when they go abroad and are being seen as representatives of a culture that gave yoga to the world? Will they say they are Muslims and Islamic and, hence, do not associate with yoga? In an alien land, you are identified by the best or worst in you. Till sometime ago, India was associated with snake charmers and poverty. Now India is being identified with information technology and yoga. What do Hindus do when India is identified with the Taj Mahal? Do the Hindus distance themselves from the monument saying it was built by a Muslim and that they do not identify with this magnificent building? They take pride in it like other Indians.

Yoga has a definite Hindu origin as the art was perfected by Hindu sages and passed on after experimentation to generations as the key to healthy living. But there is nothing religious in it. You may chant a mantra or may not — depending on your choice — but you cannot have problems with the rhythmic exercises meant to tone the body and mind and achieve their perfect balance. Some raised objections to Surya Namaskar since Muslims should bow only before Allah — the almighty. Don’t take this for bowing. Take this asana as an exercise regime.

Indian Muslims must learn from Indonesia which is an Islamic country with the largest Islamic population in the world. Ballets from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata form an integral part of Indonesian culture. There is a popular saying in Indonesia that Islam is their religion but Ramayana is their culture. The national emblem of Indonesia is an adaptation of the Garuda image from Hindu mythological tradition. The official mascot of military intelligence in Indonesia is Hanuman and an image of Lord Ganesha is inscribed on the Indonesian Rupee 20,000 note.

One should not be surprised to hear that the Ramayana culture in the Philippines, a predominant Christian country, is preserved by Muslims who stay in Mindanao group of Islands in Southern Philippines. The Singkil dance of Maranaos and the Maguindanaos, majority of whom are Muslims, has interpretations of the heroic epic. Local adoptions of stories are found in cartoons as well. What is then the fuss about here in India when yoga is given international recognition as a part of Indian culture and tradition?

When I asked a Muslim why there were objections to chanting Vandemataram (do Muslims not bow before their mothers), he gave an interesting reply and I quote: “Sir, when we offer namaz, our heads touch the earth. This is nothing but bowing to the Mother Earth. Do we not then say Vandemataram during every namaz? What we oppose is imposition.”  This logic impressed me and I completely agree that nothing should be imposed.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined commoners in practising yogic exercises today on Rajpath, New delhi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined commoners in practising yogic exercises today on Rajpath, New Delhi

But in the case of yoga, where is the imposition? It is befitting that India that got International Yoga Day declared by the UN should lead the world in showcasing the ancient art of well being. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has achieved two things with one stroke. He has brought India on the world map for one more reason — it is like registering a copyright before the world with their full acknowledgment that yoga is India’s biggest gift to mankind. The second reason is more practical. He has been talking of the need to focus on health of every Indian. Popularising yoga would help achieve healthy India, efficient India and save a lot of money that should be otherwise spent on health.

Those who are trying to present Islam as non-compromising are determined to polarise the Indian society, hardly realising that it is difficult to preach radicalism to a community that has traditionally thrived on being non-violent and peace-loving. These leaders fear that the people would recall their roots beyond a point; they may realise that, beneath the artificial veil of faith and current traditions, all Indians have the same origin. Sufis realised this and they preached a benevolent version of the faith, leading to their sect’s wider acceptance in the subcontinent. Look at the Muslim demography: Barelvis far outnumber Deobandis, though the latter, hardliners within Islam, never accepted these Sufis.

The self-styled representatives of religions know that they thrive because of differences and hatred between communities. They talk of group entitlements rather than of individuals for a larger bargaining power. If people behave like citizens and not as a member of a group, religion will become a personal affair confined to the four walls. How will then there be naked display of strength and differences? The political masters of faith need Muslims to be ghettoised and behave like a herd. So, the fear of Hindus must be presented as real and these leaders as their real saviours!

As demonstrated in the International Yoga Day, the prime minister has definitely changed the game. He has forced people to debate on issues and exposed the self-serving leaders. He has tried to inculcate among Indians pride in being Indian. He has made these leaders look like clowns when various television channels showed a Muslim lady emerging as an ardent spokesperson of yoga philosophy. Modi sent across a defining message when he felicitated a 12-year-old Muslim girl, Maryam Asif Siddiqui from Mumbai, who beat 3,000 competitors to win the Bhagavat Geeta Champions League organised by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

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Sudesh Verma
Sudesh Verma
Member of the BJP's national media team, senior journalist and founder of Debating India Foundation

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