New Delhi: It was an unprecedented demonstration of India’s soft power as a record-breaking 37,000 people, including senior officials and diplomats, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi performed yoga, as India marked the inaugural UN International Day of Yoga at a grand event in the national capital on Sunday.
The event at Rajpath, the ceremonial boulevard and the surrounding green expanse that connects Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace on Raisina Hill with the India Gate World War II memorial, was replicated across state capitals, cities, towns and rural areas in the country, which Modi in his speech described as the start of a new era for training the human mind for mind-body balance, peace and harmony.
Modi, who himself joined in doing the asanas among the crowd of yoga performers, said yoga is not only an exercise to make the body flexible but a path for inner development.
“It marks a new era of training of human mind for peace and harmony,” said Modi, attired in a while full-sleeve loose white shirt and white lowers, with a scarf in the saffron, green and white colours of the Indian flag thrown around his neck.
Over 200 million people across India marked the International Day of Yoga with official events. Events are also being held in 192 countries, being organized by the Indian missions and yoga centres, to mark the occasion.
India is seeking to notch a few records with the mammoth yoga event, which was being closely monitored by officials of the Guiness World Records present at Rajpath. A large media contingent, including the foreign press, were present to cover the international event.
Among the multitudes doing yoga on Rajpath were US Ambassador Richard Verma, in white T-shirt and black track pants, Nepal Amnbassador Deep Kumar Upadhyay, Afghanistan’s Shaida Mohammad Abdali and numerous members of the foreign diplomatic core as well as foreign students studying in India.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, Delhi Lt Governor Najeeb Jung, and Delhi former top cop Kiran Bedi were among the prominent personalities who joined in the yoga.
Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth were also present, but did not join in the yoga. Senior officials of joint secretary rank and above from the Prime Minister’s Office and other ministries also were present.
Remarking at the sea of people at Rajpath, Modi said: “Did anybody ever think that Rajpath can become Yogpath.”
Modi did all the 35 asanas listed in the Common Yoga Protocol that were performed on Sunday. A group of yoga experts performed the yoga exercises on a stage, which was beamed to the crowd via around 25 large screens, with instructions in Hindi and English.
Modi is a keen yoga enthusiast on whose proposal the UN announced holding of International Yoga Day on June 21.
The one and a half hour-long event, which began at 6.45 a.m. after the prime minister’s arrival, ended at 8 a.m., and just escaped the sharp pre-monsoon showers that drenched the national capital soon after.
As soon as the event got over, the sky became overcast as strong gusts of wind shook the tree branches along the Rajpath boulevard. As the crowds dispersed, droplets of rain began to fall, and in 20 minutes it poured.
A strong security arrangement was present around the Rajpath venue and only those with special invitee cards were allowed in.
Children from government schools, including young ones aged 10, had woken up at 3 a.m. to join their compatriots at Rajpath. Over 1,200 women training to join the police were also present, as were senior citizens and yoga enthusiasts.
Muslim participants, some of who came wearing the skull cap, joined in the yoga with enthusiasm. There was also 11-year-old Mohd Aseem from a government school in Vivek Vihar, who said he enjoyed doing yoga.
The US envoy said he found the yoga session “excellent” and was happy to be part of the occasion.
The envoy of Burkina Faso, Idriss Raoua Ouedraogo, a keen yoga enthusiast, who has been practicing yoga for over 27 years and is a teacher, said he was delighted to have been part of the occasion.