Like in the West, yoga is becoming increasingly secularized but less for reasons of personal health and wellness than to promote national greatness and unity, according to the New York Times (June 20). The newspaper reports that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has inaugurated an International Day of Yoga in late June to be celebrated by 175 countries. In India, the celebration will organize thousands of people performing yoga moves. Muslim leaders and preachers have protested the observance, accusing Modi of using the day to foist Hinduism on religious minorities under the guise of yoga, writes Manil Suri. But the use of yoga by Modi is less Hindu or even Indian-centric and more about promoting the yoga “brand” worldwide.
With the yoga business estimated at $10 billion just in the U.S., Modi is interested not only in drawing tourists, but also in asserting India’s intellectual rights over the practice. According to the article, “The country has been fighting attempts by Western gurus to patent yoga poses, assembling a repository of over 1,500 asanas to keep them free. But within India, the celebration of the secular version of yoga has become the “perfect vehicle to create a shared national consciousness. The physical engagement, mental discipline, and sublimation of desire enshrined in yoga meld seamlessly, yet discreetly, with the more militaristic tenets of [Hindu right] organizations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh,” Suri concludes.