As the first rays of a nascent Sunday sun pierced the darkness, all roads led to Rajpath, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi led a gathering of 37,000 people in the first International Yoga Day celebrations.
Modi, who swapped his trademark kurta-pyjama for a white tracksuit and a scarf with the colours of the national flag, went through several ‘asanas’ (postures) of the ancient Indian practice.
The Prime Minister asked yoga proponents to refrain from making the ancient art a commodity or a brand that can be sold.
“If we make yoga a commodity, then maximum damage to it will be done by us. Yoga is not a commodity, yoga is not a brand which has to be sold,” he said, while inaugurating the first international conference on yoga for holistic health at Rajpath in the national capital.
Modi said yoga is a medium to check greed, violence, cost of health care and conflicts, and also a means to enhance effective team work and maintaining ecological balance.
Drawing attention to boards of ‘pure desi ghee’ in the market, Modi said these were never seen 50 years ago but they are there today because of money.
"This should never happen to yoga. Never should a time come when we hear that 'only my yoga is true and all the rest are uselessly holding their nose and spending dollars'. This is not a trade or organisation but a state of mind (vyapaar ya vyavastha nahin avastha hai), he said
How the world celebrated Yoga Day
“This is a programme for 'manav kalyan’ (welfare of humans), a tension-free world and a programme to spread the message of ‘sadbhavana’ (goodwill)...Yoga is more than only physical fitness. We are not only celebrating a day but we are training the human mind to begin a new era of peace," the Prime Minister added.
Modi also thanked the UN and the nations that sponsored the resolution to mark the International Day of Yoga.
Many big names of Indian politics, top bureaucrats, students and security personnel sat on mats to perform asanas at the event that was closely followed by officials of the Guinness Book of World Records.
Most of senior PMO officials sat on the sprawling lawns of Rajpath, the capital’s iconic vista. One of them told Hindustan Times that Modi’s move to join the gathering in performing asanas was “clearly an impromptu decision”.
The official added: “Till yesterday, it was very clear that he would just sit and watch the performance.”
"Did anybody ever think that this Rajpath will become a yogpath?" Modi asked the participants. As he came down from the dais after a brief speech, he took off his slippers and then handed over his glasses to a SPG officer.
Video: PM Modi joins 37,000 people at Rajpath
Delhi Police had insured itself against any last-moment surprises from the Prime Minister: it deployed several women constables in track suits in the first two rows, ahead of school children to ensure that no one could get close to Modi.
The Prime Minister started off with ‘sadilaja’ or preliminary exercises to loosen muscles and joints. And when the asana session started with ‘tadasana’ (the palm tree posture), Modi walked around among the children, teaching them a few techniques and correcting their movements.
Barring the first two postures, Modi performed the remaining 13 asanas. He even touched his feet with his hands – a key indicator of fitness and flexibility – when he did the ‘padahastasana’.
Four eminent yoga gurus on the dais – Ramdev, HR Nagendra, Hansaji Jayadeva Yogendra and Swami Atmapriyananda – took a backseat as Modi, a fitness freak who has done yoga daily since his youth, led the crowd in the various asanas.
Ramdev, at the fag end of the session, could be seen doing ‘pranayam’ or the breathing exercise sitting in his chair on the dais.
In the crowd were Delhi’s lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung and chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who studiously avoided each other. Kejriwal said: "Yoga is very essential, but it isn't something to do politics with."
'I'm excited': What UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon told Sushma Swaraj about Yoga Day
The Yoga Day initiative will see events in India and in 192 other countries. The UN declared June 21 as the Yoga Day after Modi's strong pitch for it at the UN General Assembly last September.
The event at Rajpath ended at 7:40am and Modi soon left the venue.
Not only Rajpath, the festival of yoga was observed elsewhere in India as well.
In Rajasthan, chief minister Vasundhara Raje, embroiled in a controversy for allegedly helping controversial former IPL chief Lalit Modi, performed asanas in Jaipur.
Senior BJP leader LK Advani and Union minister Smriti Irani participated in yoga camps held in Himachal Pradesh.
In Patna, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah said: "I am sure that yoga, which brings mind, body and soul in sync, will also unite the entire world.”
There was support from across the world. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said his country was delighted to be part of the celebrations.
These two Muslim girls from Bihar want to teach yoga to PM Modi
"For thousands of years, yoga has provided its followers with a guide to bringing their mind, body and spirit into balance. The International Day of Yoga is an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the benefits of yoga," Abbott said in a message.
In New York, during a meeting with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Saturday evening, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said he was excited about the first Yoga Day.
"Yoga is a state of mind. It brings harmony," spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravishankar told NDTV.
Commenting on opposition to the event, he said, "Criticism is part of life. Please keep yoga above politics. It is one thing that can bring peace. I honour critics, but keep yoga in its pristine state."
Modi's push for an International Yoga Day had triggered its share of controversy after several Muslim groups opposed the idea – ‘surya namaskar' had to be dropped from the plans altogether – and a section of Christian religious leaders protested at the event being held on a Sunday.