Yoga Day: Test of body or faith

A version of this article first appeared in The Dawnlit Post on 21 June 2015.

Rajaque Rahman has been a yoga practitioner with The Art of Living centre here in the Arunachal Pradesh capital since 2008. He is also a Muslim.

While some Christian groups in Mizoram and Nagaland oppose the idea of International Yoga Day, the mood here in Itanagar, and indeed in most parts of the state, seems to be positively gung-ho.

The Art of Living, along with six other organisations will be hosting a yoga camp here at the Indira Gandhi Park beginning 7 AM on Sunday, apart from various other smaller camps all over the state in conjunction with the state Ayush department. Rahman says he expects around 2000 people to participate in the main camp alone which will be attended by governor JP Rajkhowa. The state governor today issued a press statement saying that “Yoga is the only ray of hope when stress and health related problems are increasing”.

Aside from his enthusiasm, Rahman also sees no irony in him being a Muslim who practices yoga.

Rahman calls criticism by some groups “a clear case of prejudice”. He says that yoga is a “life skill that has no conflicts but compliments all religions”.

The former journalist who turned to yoga after battling migraine for several years says that there has been a shift in the demographic of yoga practitioners since the organisation first began operating here.

“Back then”, he says “90 percent of attendees were people from outside the state living here and now it is the reverse”.

Gichik Taaza, vice-president of the Indigenous Faith and Cultural Society of Arunachal Pradesh which is one of the seven organisations hosting tomorrow’s event, though is unsure about Rahman’s claim.

“Participation of tribal people is limited to students and those who have learnt of the benefits of yoga by attending Art of Living courses here”, he says.

Whether the event will witness the participation of a large number of indigenous tribal people will only become clear tomorrow but for now, even Taaza says that yoga is “not part of any religion”.

Birendra Dubey of the Arunachal Vikas Parishad, another one of the organisers, says that yoga has “gained popularity in the state due to Baba Ramdev’s televised sessions and the Art of Living’s regular courses”.

Dubey says that it is “wrong to make a connection with religion alone”. He also adds that “there is no compulsion on anyone to be part of it”. However, he is critical of calls for modified yoga asanas stating that “doing the Surya namaskar facing west may not be beneficial”.

Unlike in Mizoram and Nagaland, the biggest Christian organisation here, the Arunachal Christian Forum, has not voiced its opinion on the matter yet.

Toko Teki, the ACF secretary-general informed that no meetings were held to discuss the matter and that he does not expect Christians to partake in it either. He is, however, critical of what he calls the “control of yoga by religious groups”.

“Yoga should be maintained as a form of physical exercise and be universal like kung-fu or taekwondo”, he dryly adds.

Rahaman tries to douse doubts by quoting the Art of Living’s founder Ravi Shankar: By eating pizza one does not become Italian, neither does eating chow mien make one Chinese. So how can yoga change someone’s religion?

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