LUCKNOW, India: Yoga has connected the world with India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Wednesday, as he rolled out his mat along with millions of others across the globe to celebrate the ancient practice.
Enthusiasts across India rose at the crack of dawn, many braving monsoon showers, to mark the third International Yoga Day.
In the western city of Ahmedabad, 125,000 led by celebrity yoga guru Baba Ramdev gathered at an open-air ground to try to set a new Guinness World record for the largest session.
Police in New Delhi closed roads to make room for a mass yoga session held amid tight security in the heart of the capital.
“When all of us, at the same time, do the same movements, it feels special. The energy is different,” said 24-year-old Abhi Aggarwal as he waited with his parents for the session to start.
India’s prime minister, a teetotal vegetarian who practices yoga daily, led some 50,000 people in an early-morning session in Lucknow, the capital of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
“Many countries which do not know our language, tradition, or culture are now connecting to India through yoga,” Modi said in an address to the crowd.
“Yoga connects body, mind and soul. It is playing a big role in bringing the world together too,” he said after performing various poses.
Modi, who credits his strict yoga regime for his ability to work long hours on little sleep, has been spearheading an initiative to reclaim the practice as an historic part of Indian culture since his Hindu nationalist government came to power in 2014.
He has set up a ministry dedicated to promoting yoga and other traditional practices and persuaded the United Nations to create a dedicated International Yoga Day, a move seen as a triumph of soft power.
Indian scholars believe yoga dates back 5,000 years, based on archaeological evidence of poses found inscribed on stones and references to Yogic teachings in the ancient Hindu scriptures of the Vedas.
On Wednesday the UN headquarters in New York lit up with images of poses, among the events being held across more than 100 countries to mark the third International Yoga Day.
From China’s Great Wall to the London Eye, yoga enthusiasts performed ‘asanas’, or poses, at major landmarks.
Across India, schoolchildren, soldiers, politicians and bureaucrats bent and twisted their bodies on colorful mats at mass outdoor sessions.
Television footage showed Indian soldiers performing yoga in their military overalls in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, at a height of 18,000 feet (5,500 meters).
Vishnudeo Vishwakarma,a retired former Air India employee, said he began every day with a 5am yoga session.
“If you buy a machine and don’t operate it… after one year, the machine will not run. Your body is like that,” the 66-year-old told Agence France-Presse in Delhi. “Your joints and muscles will be stuck up.”