Prime Minister Narendra Modi's initiative, the International Yoga Day, which will be observed on June 21, will see events in India as well in 192 other countries, making it the biggest event ever for which the government has also applied to the Guinness World Records.
The Prime Minister, an avid practitioner himself, has unveiled a new microsite dedicated to the day which provides details about programmes to be conducted across the world on June 21 and later.
In the run-up to the event, Modi also promised to post several yoga postures on social media.
Plans overs postures
The ministry of Ayush (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) is attempting to set a world record for the event in the category of the "largest yoga class/demonstration at a single venue." About 35,000 people are expected to participate in the mass yoga demonstration at the Capital's Rajpath.
Apart from the mega event planned at the Rajpath, yoga will also be performed in 650 districts across the country.
Over 11 lakh NCC cadets and about 9 lakh members of the Armed Police Forces will also perform common protocol yoga in their respective field units. And to commemorate the day, two coins of Rs 10 and Rs 100 and a stamp will also be released.
The India army has thrown its full force behind the government's efforts to observe the day, with instructions being sent to the 7 commands to ensure that all personnel participate in the event.
The Indian government will also be organising events across 192 of the 193 UN member nations, with the exception of Yemen. External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will lead a delegation to the UN in New York.
A big programme, to be beamed live, is scheduled to be held in New York's Times Square, where thousands will be led through poses by yoga guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
Top bureaucrats and legislators, cutting across party lines, were also urged by parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu to celebrate the day with "zeal and enthusiasm" in their respective constituencies and states.
A knotty situation
However, the government's plan has also run into a storm of criticism over the inclusion of certain asanas and shlokas and has outraged minority communities in the country.
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 it goes against the tenets of Islamic law.
The All India Muslim Personal Board has said it will launch a nationwide campaign against making what it described as "Hindu religious practices" such as surya namaskar compulsory in educational institutions.
"This cannot be forced as Muslims only worship Allah," said Abdul Rahim Qureishi, spokesperson for Lucknow-based AIMPLB.
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.
The Darul Uloom Deoband, an influential seat of Sunni Islam in Uttar Pradesh, said that yoga could be accepted as an exercise to promote better health provided there was no political agenda behind it.
"We can accept yoga as an exercise but will not accept any politics behind it," said Ashraf Usmani, spokesperson of Darul Uloom's spokesperson, insisting that saffronisation of yoga was likely to distort the secular character of the country.
After several Muslim bodies, Catholic church in Kerala too expressed reservations over International Yoga Day saying to observe it on a Sunday was deplorable.
"It is sad all important functions are being scheduled on Sundays these days. We are not against yoga but all know it well that Sundays are sacred for believers. So it is natural it will clash with our customs and belief," Kerala Catholic Bishop Conference president Cardinal Mar Baselios Cleemis said in Kochi.
MPs from opposition parties also have accused the BJP-led NDA government of "politicising" yoga.
"MPs are aware of the benefits of yoga but it is an individual’s choice. Why is the parliamentary affairs minister writing to MPs urging
them to celebrate International Yoga Day? We are not against yoga but the way this government is politicising it," Congress MP Suresh Kodikunnil told HT.
Professor Sugata Bose of Trinamool Congress said, "I do believe yoga when practiced under proper guidance has health benefits. But it is a matter of individual choice. I think it should be left to the discretion of individual and there is no need for special directive to MPs to celebrate International Yoga Day."
Comments from leaders like Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath, and Madhya Pradesh BJP president Nandkumar Singh Chauhan also has not helped the government's cause.
Adityanath had said those opposing the spiritual and physical discipline and 'surya namaskar' should "leave Hindustan" and that "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".
Chauhan, on the hand, told reporters that people who are against yoga are against the country.
Senior BJP leaders like Union home minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister Swaraj have tried to quell controversies over the day on various occasions.
While Swaraj called Adityanath's reaction "unfortunate" and insisted that participation in the events to mark Yoga Day was not compulsory, Rajnath sought to soothe frayed nerves saying the practice of yoga should not be related to any caste, creed or religion.
Keen to avoid any communal crack in its yoga spectacle on June 21, the government has also tried to rally Muslim groups in support of its plans.
Ayush minister Shripad Yesso Naik, who met a delegation of minority leaders, tried to quell all controversies, saying, "Yoga is for the well-being of all and has nothing to do with any particular religion."
The government has now decided to drop surya namaskar from asanas to be performed across the country to commemorate International Yoga Day following the opposition it faced over them.