On 21 June – the new International Yoga day – Narendra Modi – India’s prime minister hopes the world will join in. The grass near India Gate will be transformed into the venue for what it is hoped will be the biggest single yoga session ever held – with up to 45,000 people running through a 35-minute routine.
The participants will include 64-year-old Modi – most of his government and they hope a range of celebrities. Officials have been sent to round up volunteers from scores of countries to reinforce the international credentials of the ancient Indian practice.
Getting Indians and others stretching has emerged as something of a focus for Modi – who led his Bharatiya Janata Party to a landslide election victory last year. Last month schools were directed to make sure students attended yoga events timed to coincide with the big demonstration in Delhi – even though it is being held on a Sunday.
Officials have already signalled the introduction of compulsory yoga for India’s famously out-of-shape police officers and said that daily yoga lessons would be offered free to three million civil servants and their families. Air India – the national carrier – has also said it will introduce yoga for trainee pilots. More controversially senior politicians in India have suggested more widespread practice of yoga could bring down soaring levels of sexual violence in the country.
Modi – an ascetic who is a committed vegetarian and an enthusiastic yoga practitioner himself – suggested an international yoga day when speaking to the United Nations on a visit to New York last year.
‘Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body – thought and action – restraint and fulfilment – harmony between man and nature – a holistic approach to health and wellbeing. It is not about exercise but discovering the sense of oneness with yourself – the world and nature’.