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International Yoga Day- A Short Story from India

In the quest to shape our personal identity, it always becomes necessary to

define certain collective values. And our values are shaped by the circumstances
we live in and the experiences that influence us. Therefore, while we evolve as
human beings, not only do we constantly evolve our ideologies, but also, write
newer stories. From elderly dying person to a new born child, everyone has a
story to tell. Stories fascinate us. They make us, who we are.

Since, human beings are the primary elements of all nation states, countries, too,
therefore, share elements of our inherent human tendencies. From our foreign
policies to diplomatic legacies, we build an image of ourselves that we choose
to tell the world about. Therefore, every nation, too, has a story to tell. And
these human tales of shared culture, feelings and tender emotions, bring us
closer to each other beyond boundaries, nationalities and community

International Yoga Day

The 21 of June has been unanimously declared by the United Nations general
Assembly as the International Yoga Day on December 11, 2015. The date was
particularly suggested by the present Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra
Modi, while speaking of the significance of the date for being the longest day of
the year. While addressing the general assembly, he remembered yoga s an
invaluable tradition of the ancient lineage of India. He stressed upon the
philosophical influence of the practice that was much beyond a simple exercise
for physical fitness. The idea was stressed upon the achievement of mental
emancipation and seeking oneness of the body and the mind through the
spiritual inclinations of yoga.

The intention behind the very conception of the day, was not just to build a
network of solidarity amongst the idea of Indian Nationhood but also to
initiate a message to the world bringing attention towards the cultural identity
of India and her gift of rich history. As the government, seeks to create a Brand
India, for the world to reckon with, yoga, indeed, comes as a convenient choice.
For the world, India represents a few catch words- Mysticism, spiritualism, non
violence, tolerance, vegetarianism, Gandhi, yoga and backpackers1 and Beatles.2
Under the circumstances, as the country opens up to the world for trade and
relations, the market seems more attractive than ever before amidst the varying
demands of a multicultural society. Yoga stands, then, as that interesting brand
for the world that now views fitness as a trend to follow. Global celebrities,
leaders and common people internationally practice yoga and it is more popular
than we can think. Hence, choosing to reclaim the heritage of this brand of
yoga and marketing its reach to expand the influence of the Indian culture was a
crafty and well perceived idea for the propagation of the Indian story.

The Era of Soft Power

Professor Joseph Nye of Harvard University had brought forth the theory of
soft power to discuss the modern practice of diplomacy worldwide. He
stresses on the fact, that modern nations have overgrown the primitive forms of
warfare, loss of lives, and mindless killings, which, ultimately, happen to cause
much more harm than good. Instead, a psychological impact of a particular
countrys propaganda creates an impression that lasts much longer and impacts
human beings irrespective of boundaries and classes. For instance, the United
States of America lost the war in Vietnam. However, today, America has much
more impact upon Vietnamese minds through Hollywood films, Mc Donalds
burgers and the sheer glamour of the country. Likewise, in Afghanistan, at the
peak of Taliban occupation, families hid their television sets and watched
Titanic film and an entire city, came to be known as the Titanic City and
that is the kind of influence which English films had on people. Much like,
Tulsi (Smriti Irani), had become a household name amongst the afghan families
and they would not miss a single episode of her popular television serial.
Weddings would often be interrupted allow the guest watch the show that was
dubbed in Dari language, from Hindi. The crime rates particularly went up,
around the time when the show aired because no one would be paying attention
to anything beyond their television sets. And such is the outreach of soft power!
We do not realise and the culture of another identity invades our minds and we
get colonised.

Arundhati Roy, octor and the Saint,(Navyana,2014) 22
The means to World Politics, Joseph Nye,
<> ,
o4/05/20014, Accessed, 20/6/2017
Yoga is one such activity. From popular Bollywood actors, to International
celebrities, many influential personalities have associated their fitness to Yoga.
In fact, the book and later a movie Eat, Pray, Love, described India, in a way
that the entire world could resonate with. It was that same set of catchwords of
Mysticism, spiritualism, non violence, tolerance, vegetarianism, Gandhi, yoga
and backpackers. And even this image, was perhaps a reflection of how the
world could see us, post the devastating world wars.

The West needed hope and philosophy to rebuild and restore faith. And India,
also, with her diverse history of spiritualism, ethical discourse and religious
influence, brought forth attention towards herself. In this regard, writers,
particularly like Rabindra Nath Tagore mirrored that image of a sage that the
West was trying to imagine. He wore long robes, flowing beard and mystic
writings created a sense of mysticism around himself. He thoroughly despised
the horrors of war and sought to elevate to the highest pedestals of individual
freedom. As the west fought to break its ideals of war chivalry and colonial
fetishes, Tagore and his liberal writings, alongside an oriental literary genius
became an excellent package for the West. Even today, Tagore is not just
revered as one of the greatest writers and poets of all times, but also, he is
known as Gurudev. He is worshipped like a sage. His death was mourned by
his followers with more passion than, perhaps, even that of any religious
leaders. Thousands of people had flocked the roads to witness his cremation. In
the most barbaric of acts, they began pulling out his beard and searching his
pyre for leftover bones to keep as memoires. Not all writers and poets get such
madness. And the craze was not just in Bengal, his home state.3

Rabindra Nath Tagore, became the first Non European to receive the Nobel
Prize for poetry. And for those who non Bengali people, asked about the quality
of his works, there was really no answer. Tagores English translations barely
had the impact of his profound Bengali writings. Soft Power brought global
acclaim and attention.

India, particularly, has remained a mysterious lan of possibilities that have

intrigued the world. In terms of its culture, diversity, religions and multiple
discourses. And historically, we have continued to nurture this intrigue of the
world to draw attention towards us.

Rabindranath Tagore was a global phenomenon, so why is he neglected? , Ian Jack ,
7/5/2011, Accessed 20/6/2017
As we move towards accepting a position of importance and leadership at the
global stage, it becomes important, therefore, to understand that Indian
Identity, which we want adopt. In simpler terms, it is more about the kind of
stories that we wish to narrate to the world about India.

Now, the Indian story, that we have lived so far, is no simple story that can be
spoken with just one version. Rather, the story of India, much like her history,
folks, epics and religions have numerous different versions of single stories to
tell the world. The gift of the argumentative tradition, in India, has particularly
contributed in making her a nation that has survived, despite all contradictions
and has yet contained every sense of individuality and independent thought
process. This heritage of debate, intellectual discourse and constant inquisions
has built our nationhood.

Nationhood, Nationalism, identity and Internationalism

The debate about understanding our sense and perception of nationalism and
identity has not begun today. Rather, the conversation about the Indian identity
has remained in India throughout our history. It shall be superficial and
incomplete to believe any one process of contemporary thought to be the
defining aspect of the Indian image. As a race, we have repeated asked
ourselves about who we are, who we should be and who we want to be.

One of the defining understandings of the Indian National Movement and

struggle against colonialisation was not just the voice and protest against
inhuman colonial oppression, but also, the infinite deasbtes about the very
imagination of India. At a time, when India, fought against her oppressors
from Britain, India was also fighting herself, she was, undergoing a process of
self introspection. Our leaders displayed the courage to question. India, never
took any doctrine fr granted and remined agnosted about every idea. Hinduisim,
as a religion, too, developed historically, through her braches, of different
schools of though, where, the skeptics and athiests, too, found a place in the
Charvaka school of thought, which, again, questioned, the set patterns of
thought processes. The discourses, too could date back to millions of years,
swhen the mere idea of existance itself was a quesdtion of interpretation. For
instance, in the Mahabharata, Brigu tells Bharadvaja that caste divisions relate
to differences in physical attributes of different human beings, reflected in skin
colour. Bharadvaja responds not just by pointing to the considerable variations
in skin colour within every caste and asserting that if different colours indicate
different castes, then all castes are mixed castes too. He continues to intrigue
with the tougher argument, that we all, as human beings, are affected by the
same feelings of desire, anger, fear, sorrow, worry, hunger and labour and
therefore, what explanation, wpould a possible caste division and hierarchy
have upon people? Similarly, in the Bhavisya Purana, a similar arument
emerges, which questions, that when , every human being, is a child of God,
how, could four different castes separate the? They are all products of the same
source and hence members of one same caste. 4

At a later date, around the medieval mystic era of of poets in India, around the
fifteenth century, exponents, of the egalitarian Hindu Bhakti movemnt and the
Muslim Sufi movement, followed a similar tradition of rejecting societal
barriers and taboos that sought to diminish differences and create a society of
higher liberty. The distinctions of caste and class, began to saturate the society
and now, what human beings of India were searching for, were higher questions
of attaining oneness with a God beyond religion. The primary inspiration
behind the movement that spread globally was Love. Indians have
unapologetically always, been in love. And Love, alone is perhaps, one word to
define the entire value system of writers of any world.

Christain settlers, Mughal rulers, Hindu Pandits, Dalits and Adivasis, everyone,
co existed within the Indian society for a considerable period, with this mutual
relationships that continued to be built. And love, is an emotion that needs no
language and transcends borders. It would be unfair to comment that the
marginalised Dalit, Adivasis or women were always assimilated within the
society, though they could never be completely obliterated from the image of
India, perhaps, more because of our tradition and affection towards the
sentiments of love.

Love stories, amongst Lord Krishna and Radha, Lord Ayyappa and his Muslim
friend in Kerala5, and innumerable Englishmen, marrying Indian women stood
out as the Indian embodiment of love stories. More recently, Bollywood films
carried forward, that message of love, which India had. Globally, Indian
Bollywood films made themselves a brand proposition of love through the
misty eyed, fully spread arms and fancy dialogues of actors like Mr Shah Rukh
Khan. So much, was the impact of such films that after the film, Veer Zaara, of
Mr Khan, a bus service was initiated with Pakistan as audiences of both the
Amartya Sen , The Argumentative Indian ( Penguin 2005) 26
Sabarimala Sabarimala-Pilgrimage <> accessed 20/06/2017
sides across the border, felt that shared bond of love which Khan, in his film
found in Zaara, a woman from Pakistan. Bollywood films, are heavy of female
objectification, misogyny and even violence. Yet, they are sensations globally
and a market beyond doubt. For instance, another film of Mr Shah Ruklh Khan,
titled Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, had a similar plot of love story amongst
the Indian diaspora in the United Kingdom, which continues to be the longest
running film in India and a global sensation. Though the film was layered with
the actual problem of inherent patriarchy in India, it was still an all time
favourite of the world in terms of Love. The whole idea was to package
misogyny in a manner that it seemed attractive enough to even women to
embrace the idea of male domination.

Soft power does not always mean to carry the depth or inner messages that it
holds. As Rajnikanth is a global phenomenon with an unprecedented fan
following outside India. However, the Rajnikanth soft power does not identify
with his tremendous acting skills as seen in films like Aval Appadithan and
many others. He is just an object of mindless fantasy that appeals to people and
this fantasy is a tool of reaching just the brand name of India globally.

Soft power, primarily deals in creating these brands of absolute local identity
with a vision to create an international characteristic. It seldom matters about
what lies beneath the layers or even what the product is. As the masses connect,
more deeply with the understanding of that created brand, and keep in their back
of mind recall, the identity of a particular nation, India, being in this context,
perception becomes the reality and the country profile automatically spreads in
terms of reach out to the globe.

Nationhood is therefore, that understanding, of a nation, that transcends

boundaries. For instance, despite being an Indian, I am writing this piece in
English and not in my native language. This is the impact of Britain of my
culture and society and our historical intercourse. I am projecting a certain kind
of British Nationhood. Likewise, while, I cook pasta for my breakfast for my
meal, I am following an Italian Nationhood. It is rare that we realise that we
begin to assimilate with other identities and we carry with us, various different
cultural associations. Usually, soft power is a voluntary adoption and cannot be
imposed by force. Soft power infuses into our system, rather subconsciously
even without us, noticing. And the greater the hype, the more, we are likely to
join the trend. The formation of an attractive Indian identity, becomes, thus,
very pertinent to be glamorous and have mass connect. People must find
themselves, their identities in these propositions. Unless, soft power
propositions, speak the stories of people across the world, it is hard to create a
soft power impact.

Now, the discourse on Nationalism and the national identity, as discussed,

remained forever in India and had perhaps, reached its peak, during the freedom
struggle. As we spoke of Tagore, previously, his thoughts on Nationalism and
the Indian Identity in the global are particularly relevant here.

In his books like Gora, Ghawre Baire, Chokher Bali and alike, Tagore,
presented an idea of nationalism that emerged higher than the nation and
manmade borders. Like in Ghawre Baire, he presents a well balanced
argumentative perspective through a debate between a member of the freedom
movement and another man who is rather sceptical about the outcome of it.

In fact, in his book, Gora, he tears through the superficial understanding of

nationalism and brings an orthodox Brahmin boy to ground of Indian soil,
amongst Muslims, Christians, Dalits and every other communities and social
groups. Through Gora, Tagore expresses, his understanding of a nation, that
encompasses nothing but human beings and nationalism, therefore, means
nothing without citizens and human beings. Gora holds himself back from
loving a woman who belongs to another faith and through him Tagore,
elaborates upon the contradictions and struggles of a mind that is not flexible.
While Gora protests against British oppression, he also drinks water from
untouchables and other communities. Gora finds the exposure that Tagore
believes to be necessary in order to understand human beings. He perceives that
we tend to grow apart from each other, not because of differences, but because,
we fail to recognize our similarities. It is from being that prisoners of birth that
we captivate our thinking to suit the social conditioning that entraps us. It is
rare that we find ourselves or know who we are and what our actual potential
can be. Instead, no matter how important we become, we are still slaves,
predominantly to the roles that were decided by our birth.

On these lines, Tagore, continued to debate with thinkers of the time, till his last
day. In fact, when Tagore and Gandhi met, they had more to disagree upon and
to agree. These disagreements and constant arguments happened to form the
foundation of the Indian psyche that was constantly looking for answers to
every question asking about the meaning of our very existence in society, in
politics, in the International arena and everywhere else. Whereas Gandhi was
believer in the preservation of traditionalism and customs, Tagore broke taboos
on societal perception, sexuality and national identity.

Another, very active thinker of the period was V.D Savarkar, who was of the
opinion of a shared cultural nationalism and the absolute inclusion of every
person into the umbrella of Hinduism. In this regard, Savarkar was rather a
contrary argument to that of Tagore, where he found the identity of every
Indian through the prism of Hinduism. He was of the opinion bringing the
subcontinent closer into one nation and finding one identity of Hindutva,
through which, even those, not born as Hindus could identify. Savarkar believed
that Hinduism was the dominant and essential culture of India and even dalits or
the underprivileged caste groups had to be assimilated by bringing access to the
Hindu texts and scriptures for them. To this, Dr B.R Ambedkar, was in
complete disagreement, as he believed that liberation of the depressed classes
was possible, only through complete denial of all Hindu texts and scriptures.
Later, Ambedkar had also, converted to Buddhism.

Savarkar welcomed Non Hindus to live in India, however, he propounded the

theory of Hindutva, through which he sought that even those not born as
Hindus, would revere, honour and practice Hindu activities. A Muslim man
could wear his skullcap and remain Muslim though he would be a good Indian
only if he honoured and understood Hindu scriptures and texts. Hindutva was
basically the extension of Hindu culture beyond those born as Hindus.

Tagore was not in agreement with Savarkar either. In fact, he expressed his
discontent over the very system of education that that was being imparted into
the children of India. He envisaged a global system of shared education that
endeavoured to create thinking amongst the generations to come, rather than
impose ideas. His Shantiketan, in Bengal, imparted similar kind of educate
through debate and engagement which continues to date, as thinkers and
opinions creators like Professor Amartya emerge from such background.
While observing the education system of India, Tagore writes:

In a letter, Famous poet and Nobel Laureate from India, writes:

The history of India that we read in schools and memorize to pass

examinations is the account of a horrible dream-a nightmare through
which India has passed. It tells of unknown people from no one knows
where, entering India; bloody wars breaking out; father killing son and
brother killing brother to snatch at the throne; one set of marauders
passing away with another coming in to take its place; Pathan and
Mughal, Portuguese, French and French all helping to add nightmarish

Similarly, as Dr Ambedkar continued to oppose the acceptance of dogma, he

even went on to declare that he would not hesitate to burn the very constitution
that he had himself written, if it was found to not liberate humankind. Tagore,
ended, Gora, on note of his understand of nationality as a brittle and immature
concept. Gora discovers that he is not even an Indian. He was, in fact a lost Irish
Child, brought up in a Hindu orthodox family. Tagore demonstrates the hollow
of national identity that can change in an instant and has little to do with
humans. Despite knowing that Gora is not an Indian, his emotions of the
country does not alter. His exposure brings him closer to his people and he
opens up to a sky of possibilities and human relationships. As the burden of
Caste or nation is taken away, Gora feels liberated to follow his conscience and
live with the ambition of being in love. It was that hope for a brighter future
and more love that kept human beings alive. And with each loss of hope, hope
grows stronger. That was the motivation behind our freedom struggle. It was not
just another struggle seeking political autonomy, rather, we were a group of
people, trying to emerge from our darkness and leave behind dogma and
stereotypes, in order to write our own destinies. More women participated in the
movement that the Chinese and Russian Revolution put together and, again the
kind of feminism put forth by Tagore in his book Chokher Bali, was unheard of,
even in the west till then. Periyar in the South and the valour of Rani
Chinamma, Vanchinathan and the Phules in Maharshtra, Rukma Bai and so
many others, created a dimension for world to notice. The Indian Renaissance,
itself was a continuation of the Bhakti movement and the Sangam era that
opened up the intellectual legacy of India. The Bouls, a sect formed of the
Vaishnava singers and Sufi singers defined a new form of society, sexuality and

Amartya Sen , The Argumentative Indian ( Penguin 2005) 59
nation. Tagore, himself was a product of these artists. Similarly, Thiruvalluvar
and his Sangam Poetry had a deep impact upon the foundation of Eco Feminism
in India and literary philosophy and conception of human nature and tendencies
of tolerance, vegetarianism and most pertinently, debate.

Indian Soft Power and the International Yoga Day

The resolution to celebrate International Day for Yoga was unanimously passed
in the United Nations general assembly that won the support of about 177
members states. In his message for the day, the Secretary General of the United
Nations Organisation, spoke about the importance of promoting healthier
lifestyles amongst people and the need for Yoga and he declared fitness as a
part of the United Nations Sustainable Developmental Goals, that were adopted
by all members in the year 2015. These are the goals that particularly aim at
creating a world that is more liveable for all human beings. It has the agenda of
moving towards a world free of poverty, discrimination and transformation in
terms of human development and welfare. 7

Yoga, is, in fact a very cheap form of exercise and healthcare activity as it
requires minimum spending and is known for having very good results. In terms
of medical risks, yoga is completely safe and can be done by everyone of every
age group. Yoga day soon became a hash tag and a well discussed festival
where thousands gathered in India Gate, at New Delhi and practiced Yoga,
along with the Prime Minister himself. Yoga, which is, already a trend amongst,
people of the world, found its re assertion as an Indian identity. Diplomats from
other nations and even common people of other nations celebrate yoga day each
year. Indian Godmen, are also found in the public celebrations. Rest of the year
too, celebrities, particularly actors practice yoga and declare it to be their fitness
statement. The brand of International Yoga Day, simply marketed the product
of Yoga as an Indian brand. The External Affairs Minister of India, Mrs Sushma
Swaraj, declared that yoga was the Indian message of peace and human
solidarity, when there were numerous forces globally, trying to destabilise our

Despite costing over 4.7 million Dollars, the International Yoga Day, as soft
power can influence global citizens in a much more cost effective manner than

Indian Soft Power at work : International Yoga Day captures Global Attention, Padmapriya Govindarajan, <
attention/ > 23/07/2016, Accessed 20/06/2017
any kind of hard power exercise. Yoga, as an identity and brand proposition is
being packaged to reach the world through glamorous Bollywood actresses as
well as Hollywood actors. As discussed previously, indeed, yoga or its inherent
history does not hold much good to the world. It is more about the fashion fad
that encapsulates our attention. However, critics say that Yoga, as an Indian
identity, may, after all, do more harm than good. Like, the west often confuses,
Hindi with Hindu and the South feels offended because of Hindi finding
itself in elm of affairs in terms of associating itself with the Indian identity.
They regret that sense that India, at large, is unknown to their culture, traditions,
language and history. It is more of a Hindi dominated version of the over two
hundred languages, and over two thousand different social groups in India that
the world is made to look at. Similarly, Yoga is particularly a form of activity
practiced by the Hindu God, Lord Shiva. It is rather, a Hindu way of fitness that
yoga embodies. Though, little obvious religious tags are attached to the modern
form of the practice, critics have found a majoritarian imposition in the event.
However, the counter argument also stands that even if the practice Hindu in
nature would it be wrong to have a festival to celebrate an ancient heritage of
the Hindus. In participatory democracy, it would only be fair to have more
events of cultural exchange than create an atmosphere of indifference.

The present ruling party of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has been born out
of an organisation, called the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) which largely,
bases its principles on the ideology of V.D Savarkar. As ever, these steps of
the government and its motive and vision behind the celebrations continue to
polarise India. On one hand, some feel it to be a well strategized view of the
government to promote the Indian fitness story and on the other hand, few
others, debate this to be a cultural invasion and desperate attempt at saffronising
India. Saffron is the colour of Hinduism. And perhaps, as Savarkar would have
imagined, a Muslim man shall fall under this brand of Hindutva, by wearing his
skull cap and practicing yoga in India. However, that, in the view of observers,
the threat in that, would be the miniaturization of India, with an improper
representation of the Indian diversity. And beautifully, once again, the country
is awake in the age old discourses that have shaped our identity. We are once
again debating Tagore, Ambedkar, Savarkar, Gandhi and developing on these
principles and questioning like ever before. Somewhere, that is the real soft

Indias soft power? Cultural Nationalism? Or Hindutva Push? The many views on Yoga Day, Hindustan Times,
views-on-yoga-day/story-eqtlR1hJT6mLKJBFrtIZhM.html, 22/06/2015, Accessed, 20/06/2017
power of India-Intellect. Even a common Indian citizen loves to argue and has
an opinion on every ongoing issue. Therefore, obviously, the imagination of
India is a continuous process and the debate about national identity,
internationalism, and human rights, human relations are never ending.

We have the maximum underweight and malnourished people of the world and
yet are also the fifth top country in obesity. We are a land of diverse issues to be
addressed. Yoga can certainly help the 0.4 million obese men of the country
slim down and the government too, must initiate programmes to look after the
malnourished and underprivileged of the country.


Every era is a new kind of debate in India. Our seasons usher arguments and
relations are built on intellect and discourse. From the public debates of the
Vedic era to the modern defenders of human rights, Indian is the mirror of an
evolving human mind. Tagore was not happy with the conclusion of his story of
Choker Bali. Yet, he never changed it. He had expressed that the ending had to
be decided with human discourse and sensibilities. We too, are writing the story
of India, through human discourses and dialogues. Therefore, what defines, the
Indian identity most, is the togetherness of the variety of ideas. Often, our
principles are in conflict and yet, we live on. Nothing of the Indian Nationhood
or national identity is brittle enough to be altered by any kind of political

The modern circumstances that we are living in, have, like always, beautifully
ignited the fire of debate amongst us. We are debating caste identities, the
definitions of national identity, meaning of nationalism, ideologies of
governance, meaning of human rights and searching for our heroes. The
struggle for Independence might have been concluded, though, the quest for
freedom and its meaning continues to keep us awake every night. As we pride
ourselves in having one of the fastest growing economies of the globe, we still
are behind much smaller economies, in terms of human development index.
Women empowerment, minority rights, inclusive development and education
remain as the concerns that need our attention. And hence, such debates are
extremely necessary for the success of our democracy.
The International Yoga day may bring notice to India and create a sense of
curiosity amongst the globe about us. However, if we do not develop our own
character as a country and emerge with higher levels of honesty, it would only
remain as a hollow effort.

Every human being is a story and since human beings make countries, each
country, too, has a story to tell. Sometimes, we tell it with Yoga, sometimes,
with Bollywood films, sometimes with the heroism of Rajnikant, sometimes
with the art of Kamal Haasan and Ilaiyaraja and sometimes through the voice of
AR Rahman. Every citizen of every country is a potential soft power and we are
the messengers of the stories of our conscience.

Written by

Ujjaini Chatterji
Student, Symbiosis Law School, Noida
Chair, Editorial Committee, Indian National Bar Association