Thumbnail image of International Yoga Day observance in Maharashtra, India, via Wikicommons
Sunday, June 21, marked the arrival of the UN-declared "International Yoga Day" in India. With more than 35,000 participants, the world's largest congregation of schoolchildren, yogis, and uncomfortable-looking officeholders took place in New Delhi along the Rajpath. The gathering not only broke the record for the most people doing yoga at one venue, but also for the largest number of foreign nationals in a single yoga lesson, with 84 countries participating.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi took his place at the front of the crowd, much to the surprise of the public. Quite the yogi himself, the downward dogging 64-year-old has taken many measures to promote the practice of Yoga and reclaim its prominence from the West.
Popularizing the ancient Indian practice has been a prominent element of Modi's political agenda—the country even has a Minister of Yoga, Shripad Yesso Naik. The notorious spiritual leader Baba Ramdev, close supporter of the PM, has also been a big name in the popularization of Yoga. Though Yoga has many known health benefits, Ramdev goes to the point of endorsing the replacement of sex-education with Yoga education, claiming Yoga can cure AIDS, cancer, and even "cure" homosexuality.
The recent steps to expand the practice of Yoga have also caused some controversy within several groups representing India's Muslim population, who say that this movement is a threat to secularism. The groups say that they should not be pressured to chant "Om," which is a sacred word rooted in Hinduism, nor to practice the sun-salutation Yoga position, which would entail the demonstration of worship to something other than Allah—the sun.
In response, the pose was removed from the Yoga day's agenda, and, despite the controversy, many Muslims participated in yesterday's event, even though the month of Ramadan had begun and many were fasting. International Yoga Day was a success in India and around the world, with 192 countries participating and even a massive yoga demonstration in Times Square.