Swetha Gowda reports on how Mysuru is gearing up to celebrate the International Yoga Day as one of four shortlisted cities -- Jaipur, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, and Mysuru -- for holding the main function of International Yoga Day this year.
With over a hundred different organizations teaching yoga across the city, Mysuru’s heritage as a city of palaces has become juxtaposed with its image as the yoga capital of the country. With a little over a month left for International Yoga Day Celebrations, residents of Mysuru are hopeful of bettering their Guinness world record of holding the largest yoga gathering at a single venue.
“Almost 55,000 people gathered at the Race Course Club last year. This year too there is a similar plan but the gathering is expected to be larger. Presently everyone is busy due to the elections. Once the elections are over, we will start preparations for Yoga Day,” said Dr BN Maruthi, a retired government employee from Mysuru who has been practicing yoga for the last 15 years.
Mysuru along with three other cities has been short-listed by the Ministry of AYUSH for holding the main function for International Yoga Day on June 21. With a final decision still awaited, yoga enthusiasts from all around the world have started thronging the streets of Mysuru.
“Yoga has been a part of Mysuru since the time of the Maharajas. It has been called Yoga Nagara for centuries,” said RaghavendraDharam, 39, a resident of Mysuru, who plans to organize free yoga lessons for residents from May 20 to June 20. “Like previous years, we hope to get full support from the government,” he added.
Since coming to power at the Centre, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA government has given special emphasis on popularizing the art of yoga across the country and around the world.
After the United Nations General Assembly unanimously declared June 21 as International Yoga Day in 2015, the Prime Minister, has been seen participating actively in Yoga Day celebrations, performing asanas with the rest of the country.
This year, as preparations were underway to decide on venues and events, the Prime Minister’s office released a series of animated videos showing Narendra Modi teaching various yoga asanas. Released in Hindi and English, the videos can be seen as a part of the Centre’s attempt to popularize yoga among youngsters in the country.
“Prime Minister Modi just ignited the spark for popularizing yoga. He didn’t start it. Yoga has existed in the world for centuries. Generations ago, people were of the view that yoga was only for the elite class, but that is not the case now,” said DrMaruthi, who teaches the art, free of cost. “When people saw the Prime Minister was practicing yoga himself, they would have thought that if he can do it why can’t we? The animated videos released by the Prime Minister’s office are a great initiative. It explains the benefits of yoga. I think people should take him as an inspiration,” he added.
While several critics associate the Centre’s eagerness to promote yoga with an RSS-backed Hindutva influence, for Mysuru residents, the ancient art comes without any religious tags and is a medium to have a healthy life.
Sri Hari, the founder of GSS, that teaches yoga to thousands, said the practice is a treatment for the body and soul. “Everybody who has a heart and a soul needs yoga. It’s pre and post treatment. When hospitals don’t have any religious tags then why should yoga, which helps cure a lot of diseases? In Saudi Arabia, a lot of people practice yoga and they are promoting it on a huge scale,” the 52-year-old added.
“Yoga is not a religious practice and is for everybody, irrespective of caste, sex, nation and culture. Yes, yoga is a contribution made by Hindus but it is definitely not a tool for promoting Hinduism,” said 71-year-old NarayanaSwamiji, founder of the GurukulYogashram in Mysuru. “When Modi declared (large scale celebrations) for International Yoga Day, he had two things in his mind. Firstly, in the next 20 years, every citizen of the country should practice yoga and stay healthy and secondly people visiting health check-up camps should reduce as the practice will make the nation healthier,” he added.
For residents of Mysuru, practicing yoga has become a part of their culture now. “I have been practicing yoga for five years now. Yoga is a healthy addiction for me. I can’t stay a day without practicing. I do not know why I started practicing yoga, but I plan to continue it forever as it helps me stay healthy and beautiful,” said PoojaUrs, a 21-year-old BBM graduate.
“People can stay fit with or without practicing yoga; but through yoga several people have experienced positive changes in their lives. Yoga should not be seen only as a way to stay physically fit as it is an essential part of bettering mental and social health,” Dr. Maruthi said, adding, “I have met a lot of people in various yoga centres and I’m glad that the practice helped me get a perfect balance on my physical, mental and social life.” NarayanaSwamiji said yoga was popularized in Mysuru by TT Krishnamarcharaya. “He was the first one to spread yoga culture in Mysuru. He spread the knowledge of yoga in the city and today we see so many yoga events coming up in Mysuru,” said the 71-year-old teacher who is credited for introducing Shiva Namaskara, DhurgaNamaskara, GayathriNamaskara among yoga practitioners in the city.
For this year’s celebration, the city hopes to gather around one lakh volunteers at the Race Course Club, near the Chamundi foothills. “We are planning to get around one lakh people this time for International Yoga Day and we want to set another world record. Several people have already registered themselves for the event,” said Pooja.
“Last year on June 21, we had a huge celebration. Almost 55,000 people had gathered to create a Guinness world record,” said NarayanaSwamiji, who believes that yoga should reach out internationally and benefit the world populace.
Dr. Maruthi gave major credit to the GSS foundation and former Deputy Commissioner (Mysuru) D Randeep for being able to achieve the feat. “We could create a Guinness record only because of MrRandeep who was the deputy commissioner of Mysuru and Mr Sri Hari from the GSS foundation. MrRandeep made all arrangements for the safety and transport of people and Sri Hari coordinated with 40 different yoga organizations, schools and colleges in the city. This year too, he has the same plan; but the gathering is expected to be bigger,” he said.
While the final venue for the celebrations are yet to be finalized, Mysuru residents are hopeful the Prime Minister will visit the city and bring out its historical connect with yoga. “We hope the Prime Minister visits (Mysuru). We are prepared technically from our side. The Ministry of AYUSH and the Prime Minister’s Office has done a feasibility study on Mysuru and based on that we hope that the Prime Minister visits here,” said Urs.
Recollecting the city’s history, Dr. Maruthi said, “Many of the past kings of Mysuru were yoga patrons. Since then, we’ve had yoga gurus like Krishnamacharaya. Mysuru is one of the first places that come to the mind when you talk about yoga.”
Dr. Maruthi added that the popularity of the city as a yoga hub is also bringing in a lot of foreign currencies. “People are coming from abroad to learn yoga spend a lot. When they do so, it helps our currency. People are charged in dollars, not rupees. This will definitely boost the city’s economy,” he said.
“Mysuru being a town of palaces has been a place for scholars from various fields. Yoga is part of that historical heritage. This great tradition and culture is being taken forward even today,” said Narayana Swamiji.
Dharam said that they had conducted a meeting with Randeep before the election process started and is hopeful that the new district commissioner will be as helpful as Ranadeep was in organizing the mega Yoga Day event.
United Nations proclaims June 21st as the International Day of Yoga
Ancient wealth that promotes health
Yoga is an ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in India. The word ‘yoga’ derives from Sanskrit and means to join or to unite, symbolizing the union of body and consciousness.
Today it is practiced in various forms around the world and continues to grow in popularity. Recognizing its universal appeal, on 11 December 2014, the United Nations proclaimed 21 June as the International Day of Yoga by resolution 69/131.
The International Day of Yoga aims to raise awareness worldwide of the many benefits of practicing yoga.
Yoga for Health
The theme for the 2017 celebration, organized by the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations, is ‘Yoga for Health.’ The theme highlights the fact that yoga can contribute in a holistic way to achieving an equilibrium between mind and body. The organizers believe that this approach to health and well-being can make a direct and useful contribution to humankind’s quest to achieve sustainable development and move towards lifestyles that are in harmony with nature.
The draft resolution establishing the International Day of Yoga was proposed by India and endorsed by a record 175 member states.
The proposal was first introduced by Prime Minister NarendraModi in his address during the opening of the 69th session of the General Assembly, in which he said: “Yoga is an invaluable gift from our ancient tradition. Yoga embodies unity of mind and body, thought and action ... a holistic approach [that] is valuable to our health and our well-being. Yoga is not just about exercise; it is a way to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature.”
The resolution notes “the importance of individuals and populations making healthier choices and following lifestyle patterns that foster good health.” In this regard, the World Health Organization has also urged its member states to help their citizens reduce physical inactivity, which is among the top ten leading causes of death worldwide, and a key risk factor for non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes.
But yoga is more than a physical activity. In the words of one of its most famous practitioners, the late B. K. S. Iyengar, “Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day-to-day life and endows skill in the performance of one’s actions.”
The author is a part of The NewsCart, a Bengaluru-based media startup.