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Yoga and Vedic Studies

Updated on June 29, 2020

Indian soft power has always been a force to reckon with in the global arena, what with the Indian art forms like dance and music, Meditation, Yoga etc having already gone global. Indian culture and traditions constitute a treasure trove for the ever-curious Western mind which is all the time on the look out for new findings and discoveries to whet its appetite.

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Yoga occupies the pride of place among the latest components of Indian soft power which have found their way to the Western shores in recent times. Introduced officially and formally to the international community at United Nations General Assembly in 2014 by no less a dignitary than the Prime Minister who is himself an avid practitioner of the discipline, Yoga captured the imagination of the world and took it by storm.

Yoga Goes Global

Unlike the previous Indian Prime Ministers(with the odd exception of Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee) who were given to waxing eloquent about contentious political issues such as non-alignment, nuclear proliferation, Panch Sheel etc which had failed to gain traction in a world of realpolitik, PM Modi was totally unapologetic about what India had to offer by way of soft power. He spoke rather enthusiastically thus: “Yoga embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and wellbeing.”

Such is the appeal of Yoga that the august world body declared, by the largest number of votes, 21 June(Summer Solstice in the northern hemisphere and the longest day of the year) as International Yoga Day. The day has been regularly observed all over the world since 2015, with special programs to mark the occasion.

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Yoga has been readily accepted as much more than a physical form of exercise where you contort your limbs to adopt different postures for the sake of a trim and well-toned body and practice breath control for a body condition free from respiratory ailments. The world community has accepted it as a complete package for the development of man's holistic wellbeing at different planes and levels.

Do you think Yoga is good only for the body or is a complete package for the development of man's holistic well being at different planes and levels?

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Today Yoga is a regular feature in the daily life of not only celebrities but also people from all walks of life. Educational institutions have introduced Yoga as part of their curriculum and corporate offices in many a country as an optional activity for the release of stress and tension by the employees. In fact, it would not be wrong to state that Yoga has been accepted by more and more people in India after its recognition at the international level, than ever before in the living memory.

It is as popular a form of physical exercise as the gym culture among today's young and the not-so-very-young people who believe in leading a healthy life, with a healthy body and mind.

In practical terms with a contemporary resonance, Yoga has gained wide currency as a channel for releasing pent up emotions and anxiety and nourishing positive thoughts and hope, especially during the times of lockdown and self-isolation in the wake of pandemics such as Covid-19.

NASA Recorded: Sun Chants Om

Practices such as saying a resonant "Ohm", and adopting the 'Surya Namaskar' posture and holding hands with palms pressed together in a 'namaste' posture used to be often looked at in askance for their religious connotations by some people from Islam and Christianity as dubious means for allegedly instigating their flock to go astray. This was on account of their being well aware that Yoga is a deeply ingrained part of Hinduism, while there is a complete lack of reference to it in their own religions. And yet, strangely, some Christian denominations in India have, of late, recognised the sweeping universal appeal of Yoga and started depicting images such as of Jesus in Padmāsana, meditating!

It is ironical that some sections of Islamic and Christian communities in India are still against Yoga on religious grounds while the US and several Arabic and European countries have readily accepted it in their fold without prejudice to their own religious belief or practices.

Do you think Yoga transcends religious beliefs?

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Lessons to be Learnt

Here lies a valuable lesson - Yoga transcends religious beliefs while it manages to permeate the spiritual aspect for a positive growth of mind and spiritual development by developing one's skills of concentration and focusing on an abstract energy at a higher realm.

Another lesson is that the Indian culture and age-old traditions are not to be blindly rubbished or derided as unsustainable beliefs and practices(read religious mumbo jumbo), dating back to ancient or medieval times, incapable of standing a scientific scrutiny. It has been long since the West became reconciled to the idea that there are grey areas in the pursuit of knowledge conceived and practised in India in the hoary past, with links gone missing, which could have enabled the beliefs and practices to neatly dovetail into the scientific discoveries of modern times. Hence the interest of the Western scholars and scientists in poring over Vedic studies and ancient literature in Sanskrit, Pali and other antequated Indian languages. Discovery of the missing links is what these scholars and scientists are hoping to make to get an insight into the realm of Science in the bygone era.

In India, scientists and scholars would do well to take a cue from their Western counterparts and delve deep into Vedic studies. Even if such an initiative has already been taken by some individuals or institutions, much more needs to be done. The State should consider extending such projects financial support.

More Disciplines for Study

There are other disciplines for exploration, like Ayurveda and vegetarian cooking. There have been ongoing experiments in the 'desi' branches of medicine like Ayurveda, Siddha, and Nature Cure, for the treatment of Covid 19. These experiments have the potential to succeed with government funding and administrative and bureaucratic support.

Simple vegetarian fares are strongly recommended by doctors not only in the West but in China too to boost one's immunity against the Corona virus and its ilk. Ayurvedic cooking needs to be studied for the positive results likely to entail especially for boosting one's immunity power and in the course of treatment of a patient afflicted with a deadly disease such as Covid-19.

Whether the spiritual practices of the people of India who lived in the Vedic times fell totally within the realm of incantations or spells of holy names and invocation of a higher power, is worth a study. Was there scope or room for Science in the religious maze of rites and rituals? When you worship God, not in a random or haphazard way, but in a systematic and organized way, with the use of mantras, shlokas, yantras, fire etc and offer oblation, what forces are really at work beside faith and devotion?

Why would succeeding generations of holy men - rishis, munis, seers and sages - voluntarily toe a life of self-imposed rigours, isolation, abstinence and negation of creature comforts except for mind boggling powers or astounding benefits in return? These questions need convincing replies both by men of knowledge and wisdom.

Taking Humanity to a Higher Level of Glory

Is it not too presumptuous on the part of the Indian scholars and scientists to leave all this to their Western counterparts, who are, in any case, doing their own studies and research into the matter, instead of taking on the task upon themselves to be able to take the humanity to a higher level of glory in the event of a sensational discovery? A war-weary humanity, valiantly trying to survive the deadly Corona virus, is thirsting for not merely a cure for the bodily affliction but also for a lasting solace to the mental and spiritual well being of man. It is high time man upgraded himself to evolve into a super human race and become free from petty squabbles and disputes such as border rows and religious fanaticism, having the potential of degenerating into a nuclear holocaust - an Armageddon.

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