Whose yoga is it anyway?

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Yoga has become the international logo of fitness and mythology in India and across the world after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called upon the global community to declare 21 June as International Yoga Day while addressing the UN General Assembly on 27 September 2014.

The Government of India and Yoga lovers recently marked Yoga Day in Chandigarh. But are the origins of yoga known?

The government of India itself seems clueless about how yoga ­originated. In response to an RTI seeking information about the ­inception of Yoga, the government cited a ­mythological definition of yoga instead of giving a historical account. “According to Shastras, Lord Shiva is the real god of Yoga, he created Yoga. Different Granths give different versions about how yoga originated,” reads the written reply of RTI as possessed by TEHELKA.

Condemning the government’s mythical explanation, well-known historian DN Jha says, “This is all wrong. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his latest address to the US Congress Joint Session, joked that as per Siri there are over 30 million practitioners of Yoga in the US yet India has not claimed intellectual property right for its ancient heritage.”

Jha adds, “He and his advisors have been guided by the popular misconceptions about modern yoga which is not entirely Indian certainly not all Hindu. In his 1931 publication of the Mohenjo-Daro excavation reports John Marshall identified a figure depicted on a seal as a prototype of Shiva in seemingly yogic posture and since then it has been a hobby-horse of some scholars to assert again and again that yoga was practiced in the Indus valley in the third millennium BC. But Marshall’s identification is wrong according to many scholars and even if it is correct there is no evidence for Yogic postures over the two subsequent millennia. And yet the Hindutva ideologues have gone to the extent of claiming that yoga is eternal and timeless.”

He further added that “The earliest account of yoga cannot be pushed back further than Upanishads which mention it as a technique to purify the self. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra (150 BC) refers to physical postures for a prolonged sitting in a meditative position. This is similar to Taoist practices but has nothing in common with the modern-day postural yoga being marketed in India and abroad along with teachings on the healing of various diseases including fatal ones.”

“The practice of the modern postural yoga began in India around 11th and 12th century with the emergence of the cult of Gorakhnath, its first codification being available in the fifteenth-century text called Hathayogapradipika (also known as the Hathapradipika) of Svatmaraman. In modern times, it was popularized by theosophists like Madame Balvatsky, and more important by Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Maharaja of Mysore Krishnaraj Wodeyar IV. The Maharaja Appointed a yoga master Krishnamacharya who taught yoga to members of the royal household and traveled to different parts of India to propagate yoga. It was he who incorporated western gymnastics into his style of yoga which is popular nowadays.”

Shukl Pulakranjan, better known as Shukl’acharya – with 40 years of Yogic pursuits – has been a guide to many westerners in ancient yoga and Vedic philosophy. Countering Jha’s statement on Yoga, he says, “There are two authoritative definitions of yoga in the public domain – one from Maharishi’s Paatanjali Yoga sutra and another from Shree Krishna in Bhagwad Geeta. The ­philosophically rich one from ­Maharishi Paatanjali defines yoga as that state where the consciousness overcomes its inherent tendency to project manifestations. When consciousness stops its tendency to ‘play’ the world, then being one with itself and un-deluded, it achieves yoga.”

Quoting a verse from Bhagwad Geeta, Shukl’acharya says, “The ­matter of factly definition of yoga from Shree Krishna states that the state of equanimity, unperturbed in success and failure and opposites is called yoga. By this definition, a yogi is one who remains even-minded in the various swings of life and is equally at peace in a busy market as in a ­solitary place.”

“Shree Krishna mentions in the Bhagwad Geeta that he had himself given this knowledge to the sun god and when the chain of knowledge got disturbed over time, he conveyed the same to Arjuna during the course of Bhagwad Geeta. As far as tracing the origin of the now hugely popular yoga asanas is concerned, then it is traced to Lord Shiva. Once finding Shiva alone on a deserted island, his wife Parvati asked him that as the material influences increase and people find it difficult to concentrate, wouldn’t yoga through meditation disappear? Lord Shiva then replied that the knowledge of hatha yoga would aid those who otherwise would find it difficult to meditate. A fish near the shore heard this dialogue and by its power transformed instantly to a yogi called Matsyendranath by Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva himself materialized as the disciple of Matsyendranath.”

However, Jha says, “Yoga being peddled nowadays by the gurus and godmen is neither ‘eternal’ nor entirely Hindu or India yet the PM talks of copyright over it. It is saddening to see how the government has merged it with the mythical concept and PM is leading the yoga drill at the huge cost of public money. What should be primarily an individual’s private concern has been turned into a government undertaking. Isn’t it because we have become the citizens of a benighted nation?”

Clear stats suggest 26.30 crores was spent by Government of India on International Yoga Day. The AYUSH Ministry, in its written reply to an RTI, has mentioned that a total amount of 17.70 crores was spent on the event at Rajpath, New Delhi and in International conference on Yoga held in Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi on 21 and 22 June 2015.

According to Ministry of External Affairs, 8 crores was invested at international yoga centers. Central Council for Research in Yoga & Naturopathy has also spent 26.14 lakh on projects.

Investments were made in several ways including 7.38 lakh was spent on the arrangement for yoga rehearsal. For printing and publicity, 2.90 lakh was invested. 3.76 lakh was invested on the procurement of yoga mats and other materials, and on the purchase of souvenirs, 2.50 lakh was invested. For airfare, boarding and lodging of participants, 3.69 lakh was invested. On debriefing conference of MOS (I/C), AYUSH Rs 5.82 lakh was invested.

According to Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga, the details of expenditure made in the preparation of film on Yoga International Day included dubbing in Hindi and preparation of 17,500 DVDs by MDNIY was 33.25 lakh. 11 lakh was invested on preparing the master copy of the film.

The investment made on dubbing in Hindi was 66,668. On preparation of 17,500 DVDs, 17.50 lakh was spent. Service tax was 14 percent which accounted for 4.08 lakh. Preparation of booklet ‘Common Yoga Protocol and Photographs’ cost 29,097. On refreshment to Yoga aspirants and volunteers, 1.10 lakh was spent. Further, 15,000 was invested in transportation. A total sum of Rs 34.80 lakh was invested.

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