Yoga Ceremony in Indian Schools Protested by Christians and Muslims

Regional government promoting Swami Ramdev

Catholic news service AsiaNews reports from India:

The proposal by the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh to have schools salute the Sun in a modern form of Sun worship is “disturbing to non Hindu communities, because ‘worship’ is a loaded term and [therefore] inappropriate, especially because the government has other more pressing issues to deal with,” Mgr Pascal Topno, archbishop of Bhopal, told AsiaNews. He was referring to Surya Namaskar or ‘Salute to the Sun,’ a ceremony the state government wants performed in all state school this coming January 25, ostensibly to promote the practice of yoga among the population.

Muslims are also unhappy; the IANS reports:

Last week a Muslim delegation met Governor Balram Jakhar to seek his intervention to block the move.

The delegation, led by Jamia Islamia’s Nazim Maulana Mohammad Ahmed, National Minority Front president Sahabzada Abdur Rashid Khan and others, argued that the plan would have an adverse effect on Muslim students.

“It is yet another attempt by the government to hurt our religious sentiments. We are not going to abide by it under any circumstances,” said Mufti Shahar Syed Babar Hussain of Darul Ifta, a Muslim religious body.


The government has now clarified that participation in “surya namaskar” was not compulsory.

School Education Minister Narottan Mishra said that the hue and cry was meaningless as the programme was aimed to inspire the youth to know about yoga and its benefits.

Those who do not wish to participate can stay off school, but Muslims complain that this is divisive.

The actual procedure of the surya namskar can be seen here; I would probably do myself a serious injury, and the website asks readers to “Please Do not Practice Without Expert Guidance”.

AsiaNews adds:

…The government wants the ceremony to be followed by a yoga programme and has called on all students to follow the teachings of guru Baba Ramdev. Audio and video links will thus be set up to connect all educational institutions.

Ramdev is seen as a “living symbol of Hindutva” by the BJP government, and he believes that yoga will bring particular glory to the region of Bharat:

Renowned Yoga Guru Swami Ramdev has declared that Bharat will become a super power by the year 2011. He was speaking at a function held at Har Ki Pauri in Haridwar to welcome him after his return from the UNO. He said poverty could be removed from the entire world through yoga and Ayurveda. Swami Ramdev was brought at the Har ki Pauri through a grand procession where he also performed the Ganga aarti organised by the Ganga Sabha.

Swami Ramdev said the Hindu culture is unique and the whole world would accept its greatness. “Bharat will be recognised in the entire world in the fields of yoga and Ayurveda and the world will start acclaiming the greatness of Hindu culture. No force can prevent Bharat from shining in the world for its message of Sarve bhavantu sukhinaha, sarve santu niramaya.

A couple of weeks ago, Ramdev was the subject of a BBC profile:

…for millions across the country, there can be no bigger trendsetter in recent years than Swami Ramdev, also known as Baba Ramdev.

…In a country full of religious gurus and saints, Swami Ramdev does not even claim to be God’s messenger or a God man.

If anything, he condemns all superstition and retrogressive beliefs.

“I don’t believe in destiny. Palmistry and all this talk about the lines on your hands deciding your future is nothing but nonsense. So is this talk of sun signs and auspicious and inauspicious time and place,” he says.

This is because God “is everywhere and all the time”.

…Baba Ramdev offers you something more immediate – you do not have to die to benefit from him.

That is why he is modern India’s material guru.

Last summer, he spent a month spreading his message of yoga in the UK; his itinerary included a Buckingham Palace garden party. He has also received a Mahaveer Award for “contribution towards promotion of Indian culture and values”.

Ramdev was the subject of controversy last month, when he declared that yoga could be used to treat AIDS:

New Delhi: Baba Ramdev has stated  that yoga can increase the immunity power of an AIDS patient. He says he has evidence to prove his claim.

Just a week back the Union Health Ministry served him a notice and an NGO, called People’s Health Organisation, threatened to take him to the court over “claimed that he could cure AIDS”, the yoga guru claimed in Bhubaneswar on Monday that he has evidence to prove his claim.

Ramdev, who is currently in Bhubaneswar to conduct the weeklong Yoga Science Camp, told journalists that he has “sufficient evidence” to show that yoga can increase CD-4 count in blood of an AIDS patient.

He has also claimed that yoga can treat other diseases.

One prominent critic of Ramdev is communist MP Brinda Karat, who a year ago claimed that Ramdev’s Ayurvedic medicines contain human body parts, and that conditions in his medicine factory break labour laws. Ramdev denied the allegations, and Karat’s effigy was burnt by offended VHP nationalists.

Meanwhile, the Science & Rationalists’ Association of India casts a sceptical eye over Ramdev’s claims here.