Surya Namaskar: A Walkover To Superstition
By Abdul Rashid Agwan
26 February, 2015
Firstly in Madhya Pradesh and now in Rajasthan, Surya Namaskar has been made obligatory in schools. While in the former state this peculiar form of Yoga has been prescribed only for government schools, in the latter the move has gone beyond by asking private schools as well to observe it. Accordingly, millions of children of 48,000 schools in Rajasthan including 20,000 private schools and a large number of institutions in MP are officially instructed to hold the so-called sun salutation at the beginning of school activities every day.
It is exceptionally queer and alarming that all brands of secular sections, socialists, communists, atheists and religious minorities, except Muslims and Christians, are reticent on the promulgation of a superstitious order in the age of science and enlightenment. From among Hindus only Arya Samajists have opposed the move. Even the resistance is confused and half-hearted. It seems that the vast majority of the country is either waiting, as a proverbial silent majority, for emergence of any critical situation or it has given an unthought-of walkover to a quasi-science measure.
The Rajasthan education minister has accepted that Surya Namaskar, yoga and meditation are made mandatory in all secondary and senior secondary schools and informed the media that no one has opposed the sanction in the state. Suwalal, director of Secondary Education in Rajasthan, said, "The order is aimed at improving the educational environment along with strengthening mental and physical fitness." However, facts are contrary to the claim. Some expert comments may be considered here.
According to the American Yoga Association, “Yoga exercises are not recommended for children under 16 because their bodies’ nervous and glandular systems are still growing, and the effect of Yoga exercises on these systems may interfere with natural growth.” Most students of secondary and senior secondary students fall in that age range.
A caution from one alternative medicine site warns that meditation instruction in tender ages can cause physiological or psychological harm - such as: mania, psychosis, hallucination, depression and suicidal tendency, nervous breakdown, sudden surge of heart rates, chronic pain, and split personalities.
Dr. James G. Garrick, an orthopedic surgeon and director of the Center for Sports Medicine at St. Francis Hospital in San Francisco, said that his clinic saw 39 patients with yoga injuries in 2002, up from 11 in 2001. Most of the injuries patients suffered were to the knee, followed by lower back and shoulder. The injuries result from people trying to stretch their bodies into difficult poses that are beyond their physical limitations. Experts are of the opinion that inverted Asanas including Padahastasana should be avoided in glaucoma, inflammatory diseases in the head region and severe hypertension.
Art of Living, the well-known champion of Yoga in the country, instructs, “If you are suffering from persistent back pain, any other pain in the body or some chronic physical problem, it is advisable to consult a doctor before beginning the practice.”
The common guess is that the governments of MP and Rajasthan have not conducted any medical checkup of the students for giving them clearance for yogic exercises nor they have followed age-specific advices of experts. It is not clear whether the policymakers have made provision for compensation if any wrong happens with any student during the celebrated exercise. It can be imagined that the concerning departments would not have developed any monitoring mechanism to watch health complications apprehended to occur as a consequence of human error and system failure. It is the responsibility of the government to fix compensation in case of any ravage.
It should be noted that the tradition of Surya Namaskar is embedded in age old superstitions around the sun worship. There was a time when mankind was not aware about stars larger than the sun. It was not known at that time that the sun is not a divinity but a large ball of hydrogen gas which burns, changes to helium and thus illuminates the world. Ancient people were unaware that many kinds of sunrays are, in fact, harmful for life on the earth. They were ignorant about the existence of UVA and UVB rays which originate from the sun and penetrate the atmosphere and play an important role in conditions such as premature skin aging, eye damage (including cataracts), and skin cancers and that they also suppress the immune system, reducing one’s ability to fight off these and other maladies. They did not know, it is the ozone layer which saves all kinds of life from harmful radiation of the sun in the absence of which life would not have been possible on the earth. So the ignorant man started worshipping the sun as a central power in the perceived universe. In fact, ozone layer deserves more of human reverence than the sun itself so long as sustenance of life is concerned.
Science has made it possible to grapple with truth and reality more intensely. Yet, there are people who appear uninterested to prefer science over quasi-science and fact over fiction and history over mythology. That too is happening now in the name of education!
The country has seen a few years back an orchestrated and wide spread drama of milk-drinking Ganesha by using the science of siphon. Thank God, the scientific community came forward to blew up the ‘divine miracle’ before the event could go into popular memory. The same forces are active in other guise but the present silence of the scientific community is really astonishing.
The conservative sections of the country have started imposing superstitious beliefs just after attaining power at the center. Gujarat’s BJP government made it mandatory to observe Saraswati Pujan on the day of Basant Panchami and other state governments of the party are playing with educational system at the cost of enlightenment through other gimmicks.
It is in record that Raja Bhavan Rao Srinivas of Aundh preached Surya Namaskar for the first time in the schools of his small state in Maratha region through his 1928 composition, "The Ten Point Way of Health". The earliest direct reference to Sun Salutation has been traced in “A Short History of Aryan Medical Science” published in 1896 by Simhaji, a lesser known Hindu writer. These two instances make it evident that Surya Namaskar has nothing to do with mainstream Hinduism or some ancient Hindu traditions but its comparatively recent inventors definitely have sun worship in mind as its objective. Simhaji wrote, “Some of the Hindus set aside a portion of their daily worship for making salutations to the Sun by prostrations.” The Art of Living suggests 12 mantras for each of a dozen exercises during Surya Namaskar, with the beginning of ‘Oam’ and the ending of ‘Namaha’ while the middle part comprising any synonym of the deity Sun. ‘Namah’ is equivalent of the Persian word ‘Namaz’.
The assertion of Surya Namaskar is neither a wholesome exercise, at least for children, nor it is prescribed in Hinduism as something essential even for Hindus, what to talk of others. Sun worship is its prime objective and it requires incantation of mantras of Hindu sacred books during performance. Thus, it encroaches upon religious liberty of non-Hindus and monotheists and appears to be a backdoor project for Ghar Wapsi. This practice is as ridiculous as nude sun bath prevalent among many people who also proffer many justifications for their superstitious belief.
We are not living in the age of Raja Srinivas nor are we subjects of any modern regency. We are living in the age of science and are citizens of a country where freedom reigns supreme. Imposition of an obsolete sectarian practice on all people of a state is nothing but a disrespect to and denial of that freedom.
Instead of inculcating superstitious worship in the educational systems of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the BJP governments should promote quality education there. Both these states have been traditionally placed among BIMRU states of the country, which are spotted for their rampant backwardness. MP stands 28th and Rajasthan 33rd among 35 states and union territories of the country in terms of literacy. Rajasthan now stands the lowest in female literacy according to 2011 census, showing a decline from 30th position of 2001 census to the abyss. The state is not progressing educationally; rather it is on the fall. It is advisable for Vasundhara Raje as a woman chief minister of educationally the most backward part of India to better work for elevating female literacy in the state to some respectable heights rather than playing with Hinduist hoaxes.
In a recent statement, the former central minister and ex-president of BJP Professor Murli Manohar Joshi has appreciated the Muslim form of prayer (Namaz) as a “good yoga”. There is a provision of Ashtang Yoga in ancient Hindu traditions which is identical to Namaz. Therefore, the governments inclined to introduce Surya Namaskar for the cross-sections of students should allow Namaz in schools for Muslim students and Ashtanga Yoga for Hindu students, as both are better than the Surya Namaskar invented by a Raja for his subjects.
The people who are agitating and resisting the superstitious move of the conservative governments of BJP need to plead their case in the name of science and rationality apart from the angle of religious liberty. Moreover, the matter should be undertaken from a human rights viewpoint in the wake of potential harms of yogic practices in tender ages and perhaps beyond.
[Contributor is an activist, writer on contemporary issues and author of many books including his recent thought-provoking work “Islam in 21st Century: The Dynamics of Change and Future-making”.]
Comments are moderated