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A Publication
on The Status of
Adivasi Populations
of India




International Yoga Day: Yoga Must Reach To Gandhi's 'Last Person'

By Ravi Nitesh

20 June, 2015

There is an ongoing debate over Yoga. Unfortunately this debate is not concerned with objective of yoga, rather only on its socio-political aspect that took religious turn by questioning if all religions should do yoga.

It seems unfortunate for many reasons and most important of these is that yoga is an exercise and must not be divided on religious ground. How can an exercise be Hindu or Muslim or others? Or how a type of exercise can even belong to only one religion?

It is required to understand that yoga is not a form of worship, instead just an exercise, a simple to do exercise that involves stretching of body, fitness and promotes to the activeness of organs.

As now it is adopted by United Nations and on June 21, International Yoga Day has been declared, it is again very clear that such a worldwide observation or declaration to observe and making it an international day by an international organization cannot be a religious decision. If UNO accepted it, there are sufficient reasons to ‘believe’ that this observation does not disturb anyone’s ‘belief’ system. Also, as United Nations is a primary organization that can not be expected to work in favor of any religion, such a dispute seems unfit. Now, all those who are demanding to ban it are those who are trying to say that UNO did wrong. International Yoga Day was declared by UN General Assembly on Dec 11, 2014 by resolution 69/131. It is also to note that on Dec 11, 2014, 193 member UN General Assembly approved it by resolution where 177 countries voted for it as co sponsors. UN Secretary General Ban ki Moon said 'By proclaiming 21 June as International Yoga Day, the General Assembly has recognised the holistic benefits of this timeless practice and its inherent compatibility with the principles and values of United Nations.'

In the long time of human history, it is a truth that humans came on this earth without a religion or any other such identity. With time, it was human society that created religions, as first set of principles, for living on the earth. By the time, as human society developed itself and travelled till present era of modernity, it carried legacy of its history and knowledge and traditions got transferred from one generation to other through various available resources.

Now, in present time, humans did not stop only on different religious identities on one community with other, instead it went ahead, it also included plants and animals in its own definition of following religious guidelines. Now, we see that how Cow, Pig, Buffalo, Cats, Dogs, Owl, Goat etc have different treatment in different religions. For one, it may be acceptable at an extent of respect or protection, for other it may be an object to hatred or to sacrifice. Moreover, even plants were divided between communities, where dates (khajoor) are seen as muslims, peepal tree seen as of hindus.

It is true that there can be different sets of belief systems that may exist at the same time period but ultimately it should be towards a vision of unity, of friendship, of humanity. We cannot change much in whatever happened till now, but now, when the world is developed and we think that we must see the greater cause of humanity, there must be efforts to stop divisions further.

As Yoga is in debate now, it is painful to see that we are still unable to stop such divide. These debate only increase friction between the harmony, rather than shaping it in fruitful ways. There are numerous examples of Yoga that it is allowed and even practiced by muslims. Unfortunate is that, Yoga is being seen as ‘Hindu’ exercises. If we remember lessons from ancient history’s Indus valley civilization, we will recall that it was not proved ever that people who were living in Indus Valley civilization were hindus. However, despite this, it is evidential that coins received from Indus valley have pictures and marks of human shapes, sitting in various asan mudras. It mean that there might be something like Yoga in that civilization.

By declaring Yoga for Hindus, or in other word, as Hindu exercise, we are just creating a rift in life style patterns. We forget that it is the same air where we all take and leave our breathandtherefore all our environment of inner and outer is same. At the time when we are dividing such exercise, we should not forget that there are ancient ways of therapy like Ayurveda and Yunanai that is also divided in medical studies and spread among common people as study branches for Hindus and Muslims, however, with time and need, it can be seen that students of both communities are opting both types of courses for their study. It will be more important to know that now when it comes to use, you will find that a patient is a patient and uses any type of therapy that may help in being well.

When department of AYUSH was formed in India, it was to include Ayurveda, Yoga, and Naturopathy , Unani, Sidha and Homeopathy, it was to include traditional forms of therapies and other alternative medicine systems and one can see that Yoga was already included in this. Earlier, it was formed as Department of Indian systems of medicine and homeopathy (1995) but later its name was changed to AYUSH (2003).

Now, when people like Toagadia are saying that Yoga is only for Hindus and saying the name of Allah during yoga is insult to Shiva, then it is only to malign the status of this traditional systems and to capture it by right wing elements and to use it as a tool of disturbing harmony or spreading misunderstanding among communities. Similarly, when Muslim clerics asking not to do Yoga because it includes Surya namaskar and though government has already circulated information that Surya Namaskar will not be included, then also, there is a need to understand that Surya Namaskar must not be understood as a form of worship. If it included the word ‘namaskar’,the meaning is not of ‘worship’, else it would be ‘Surya poojan’. Moreover, such symbolization of names cannot be a cause of believing something. By time, some chants (mantras) have been included along with few yoga styles, but neither it is popular nor compulsory.

It is more about controlling your breath and thoughts. It is more about natural ways of being well, however politics upon this is in fact, unwell and unhealthy and needs to be challenged by people together.

I also see that in Indian context, majority of people who live here belong to farmers, street vendors, labours and other kind of workers. These people are involved in struggling for their life for a greater yoga, that includes arrangements for bread, roof, clothes. They do not have access to basic facilities and even of food. Yoga seems to be more of middle class, urban mass or elite class activity. I think that a farmer who wakes up at 5 in the morning and goes to field to sow seeds is doing bigger and greater yoga than us. If yoga is all about well being, we must also think that well being of minds is more important. In this sense, Yoga falls short, as it probably does not represent everyone when it comes to actual practice. However, on theory and objective, it is definitely an activity that can address your lifestyle and thought style in better way than you are addressing it at present. Despite such various contrasts, it seems that such events must happen completely on voluntary basis without making it expensive or without making it political.

An apolitical Yoga day for all can have better impact and it must reach towards the 'Last Person' Gandhi told about.

Ravi Nitesh is Founder-Mission Bhartiyam, Freelance Writer, Convener- Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign
Twitter @ravinitesh | Blog ravinitesh.blogspot.in

(Views expressed are personal)








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