The revival of the discipline is an opportunity to inculcate civilisational values and knowledge systems among children that have everything to do with the philosophy of life
For the past few years, yoga has been given a big push by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and it is due to his sustained efforts that the Yoga Day on June 21 has become an international celebration and commemoration of India’s ancient wisdom of well-being. He has even said he wants to make it a part of the preventive healthcare routine in the country. Before him, the former Prime Minister, the late Morarji Desai, too, had set a template for a government push on the discipline by establishing the Yoga Institute in Delhi. Now the entire country is reverberating with the idea of yoga given the government patronage, participation by Ministers, ambassadors and celebrities. This year the Prime Minister and his colleagues, state Chief Ministers and their colleagues, Central and State Government officials participated in mass yoga sessions on June 21. As the Prime Minister said, Yoga is for all humans, irrespective of caste, creed and religion. It is an ancient science and to some extent the modern physiotherapy is a minor part of its syllabus. It is a way of life to ensure a fit body with a healthy mind and cope with the daily stresses of life. The West, especially the US, had always been drawn to the calming benefits of yoga and teaching centres, some of which have innovated or adapted it to suit local contexts and formats, have become good business ventures.
Yoga is an ancient science that dates back at least 5,000 years. It was formulated by ancient sages living in the high reaches of the Himalayas. They observed the workings of nature and their own physical, mental and internal processes in co-relation. Through their experimentation on themselves and inner vision, we have today, this gift, this legacy, this amazing science. Let us make no mistake here, Yoga is a science — of awareness, of healing, a step-by-step process that can change a human being.
In India, however, it is never seen as a culture marker so much but part of individual routine and preferences. In fact, swamped by material comforts, we hardly see the role of Yoga as a means of holistic development of the body, mind and soul that helps align our thoughts, words and actions. Many of our social conflicts and poor value systems in society are the result of a lack of proper education on Indian ethos and culture. Right from the primary to the university level, there is complete ignorance of our ancient wisdom, influence, values and heritage, often considered revisionist, not liberal, and out of sync with the modern world. The Indian renaissance has seldom been acknowledged the way the Western one has been. The revival of yoga must be used by the Central and State Education Departments as an opportunity to inculcate civilisational values and knowledge systems among our children that have everything to do with the philosophy of life and nothing to do with ritualism or religion. Besides this, we need to re-assess history and develop a more responsible and objective narration of our past, so as to develop pride in our achievements, lifestyle, social cohesiveness and influence over the world. We must tell our children how our ethos developed. We need to tell them at home about the virtues and great feats of India that existed more than 3,000 years ago and not to timeline history selectively. Most Indian cultural beliefs today are dominated by economics and we do not value aesthetics, beauty, intelligence, wisdom and spiritual attainment as we used to in the past.
How many of our children, except a few exceptions studying in primary and secondary schools, know that the Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat were built by Tamil kings? The world-famous Angkor Wat temple complex was built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II while Angkor Thom was built about 1200 by King Jayavarman VII. Today, however, politicians are dividing the people of Tamil Nadu by raising the limiting tag of protecting Dravidian culture. The fact is, even today, the same core values of Indian culture are reflected in the religious ceremonies and temples of Tamil Nadu.
The Lebanese children are taught in their schools about how Indian elephants and sculptors toiled to complete Phoenician temples between 150 to 250 AD. The testimony of Indian craftsmen lies in the well-preserved carvings of lions, bulls, eagles and the tell-tale lotus dropping down from the ceilings of massive structures. Indonesia, though a predominantly Muslim country, is proud of its civilisational culture and respects the Ramayana as part of its eclectic heritage.
Civilisational culture is an idea and unless the people born of it identify with it, they cannot experience either pride or confidence. However, in today’s world, there is convergence of civilisations and globalisation. Hence what is practised by the majority becomes the all-pervasive culture and Indians are not immune to it either. So much so that we look within only when the endorsement comes from without. Many of our present era great philosophers and saints were recognised first by the West. Swami Vivekananda became famous only after his epoch-making speech in Chicago on September 11, 1893. Similarly, Swami Yoganand became a known face in India after his book, An Autobiography of an Yogi, created a stir worldwide. In fact, Yoga was first introduced to the West by Swami Vivekanand and then Parmahansa Yoganand in the late 19th and 20th centuries. The global audience is rapt with attention, listening to Art of Living guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar or Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudeva.
If we want to make society cohesive and restore pride in our culture, we should be consciously exposing our children to our history and culture. It is therefore, incumbent upon social workers, educationists and policy makers to plan and convert the Yoga euphoria to rediscover pride in our own culture and values that bind all Indians to a common thread. Different languages and traditions enrich it profusely while retaining the core essence. However, in the modern world, there is no place for conceited self-belief and re-introducing our future generation to our past does not mean running down and forgetting what we assimilated from other cultures. People without the knowledge of their history and culture are like a tree without roots. The Human Resource Ministry must factor this consciousness in while announcing its new education policy.
(The write is a former civil servant)
Writer: DR V K BAHUGUNA
Courtesy: The Pioneer