Getting into knots over asanas: Who said what on Yoga Day row

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 11, 2015 19:04 IST

The first International Yoga Day, set to be marked by an event at Delhi's ceremonial Rajpath with an estimated participation of more than 35,000 people on June 21, is mired in controversy.

Some Muslim groups have opposed the move to include 'surya namaskar', a set of 12 yoga 'asanas' or postures in a salutation to the sun, saying performing yoga is not permitted in Islam.

"Yoga is an invaluable gift of our ancient tradition. It is not about exercise but to discover oneness within yourself, the world and nature," Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said at the United Nations while proposing the International Yoga Day, which was eventually supported by 177 countries.

While Modi won't be performing yoga at the Rajpath celebrations, top bureaucrats are expected to be at their "flexible best", The Indian Express reported.

"All government officials above the rank of undersecretary have been issued circulars by their respective ministries, asking them to attend yoga classes in the run-up to the event," said the report.

The political tug-of-war over yoga in the last few days has elicited a number of reactions from leaders across political parties.

Here's a look at some of them:

Divided Muslim voices

One section of Muslim leaders says the practice of 'surya namaskar' goes against the tenets of Islamic law which does not allow Muslims to bend before anyone other than Allah.

"We do not believe in praying to the sun," Mohammad Abdul Rahim Quraishi, spokesperson for Lucknow-based All India Muslim Personal Law Board, was quoted as saying in media reports.

On the other hand, in a video interview with Hindustan Times, Umer Ahmed Ilyasi , chief imam of the All India Imam Organisation, said he had urged PM Modi to not associate yoga with a particular religion, but with the entire country.

He was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying that practicing Muslims would not do 'surya namaskar,' so if it is made compulsory, many Muslims will not be able to practice.

Yogi Adityanath

Speaking about the importance and history of yoga, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath, said those opposing the spiritual and physical discipline and 'surya namaskar' should "leave Hindustan".

According to media reports, he said 'surya namaskar' is part of yoga, which purifies the mind, and "those who abstain from the Sun God should drown themselves in the ocean or live in a darkened room for the rest of their lives".

Referring to opposition by Muslims to 'surya namaskar', Adityanath said more than 100 countries, including over 40 Muslim nations, are backing the International Yoga Day.

Sushma Swaraj

After Adityanath's comments, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said his reaction was "unfortunate" and participation in the events to mark Yoga Day was not compulsory.

"I differ with his (Yogi Adityanath's) comments. His comments were unfortunate," Swaraj was quoted by media as saying.

Rajnath Singh

Union home minister Rajnath Singh said there is "no compulsion" in this regard and that the practice of yoga should not be related to any caste, creed or religion.

"On International Yoga Day on June 21, there is no compulsion for doing yoga. Those who want can do it and those who do not want may not... But we appeal that maximum people should participate on Yoga Day. A booklet has been released on what to do on that day," Singh told reporters.

'Surya namaskar, namaaz have similar postures'

The Indian Express reported that Rajasthan education minister Vasudev Devnani said the surya namaskar, which Muslim groups have opposed, "is not a religious activity but a yogic exercise for the entire body".

He reportedly added that some postures of the namaaz were similar to those followed in surya namaskar.

Indian Army's opinion

The Indian Army has thrown its full force behind the government's efforts to observe International Yoga Day, with instructions being sent to the 7 commands to ensure that all personnel participate in the event.

The army is exercising caution while preparing for the day keeping in mind the opposition from the Muslim minority to certain aspects of yoga,

Sources told Hindustan Times that the soldiers will practice some easy asanas and 'pranayam' and there will not be an emphasis on 'surya namaskar'.


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