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Aum in or out for International Yoga Day ?

Dr Koenraad Elst May 15, 2015 Analysis/Insights, Archives Comments Off on Aum in or out for International Yoga Day ?
Aum in or out for International Yoga Day ?
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As a member of the Dutch-speaking Belgian Yoga Federation, I received a copy of the booklet the Government of India issued for the United Nations’ first-ever Yoga Day. It falls on 21 June, Summer Solstice, a day of mixed feelings: it is the longest day, alright, but it is also the start of the sun’s decline — the converse of the beginning of the sun’s rise on Winter Solstice day, considered a reason for celebration.

Now, the booklet. It has a non-traditional drawing on the front page, and as was widely expected, no Aum sign is included anywhere in the logo. Not too important in itself, but significant for the mindset of the dominant faction within the ruling BJP: sucking up to the secularists as if these were still in power. In the secular worldview, India is a neutral entity, and its Government has no business promoting Hindu traditions such as Aum, the first word of the Rg-Veda. As we know, the Veda mentions neither Christ nor Mohammed, let alone Macaulay or Marx, so it was a communalist book denying the minorities a place in the sun. There, a secular taboo rests on the Aum sign.

I noted this in a message on social media, and prompt came the reply from the Indian Embassy in Belgium: please look at the prayer on p.9, it has the Aum sign at the beginning of the Devanagari text. Even people who can’t read Devanagari, like most Western practitioners of yoga, will recognize the Aum sign.

Indeed, Western yogis are very used to the Aum sign and adorn their halls and clothes and front pages with it. They don’t know any better than that this is the sign of yoga and have no suspicion about the sinister communal reputation it has acquired among the various anti-Hindu lobbies in India. And though they would have expected an Aum sign on this brochure (of all places), they won’t suspect that the brochure writers have omitted it out of ideological compulsions.

So, they had not entirely omitted it: it appears in a prayer which they had copy-pasted into the brochure. Alright, that is something: they didn’t censor the prayer. Just imagine Christians printing the Lord’s Prayer without any mention of the Lord. Good about it is that at least the brochure contains a prayer, a sign of yoga’s embeddedness in a not-to-be-named culture. So, for Hndus there is a consolation prize: the link with Hinduism (of which the Aum sign serves as a token) is in the brochure, though tucked away in the small print on an inside page.

For the secularists, this would still make the brochure into a no-no. Hindus try hard to be secular and efface their own culture, but they should try harder.

So, what has the BIP achieved by engineering the brochure the way it did? For the secularists and minorities, it remains Government promotion for a Hindu practice, ill-concealed by a non-Hindu logo. For the Hindus, it turns out to de a disappointment: the first Yoga Day, moreover under the first unrestrained Hindu Nationalist Government, should have been an occasion for showing the world just what Hindu civilization has contributed. Instead, Hindu civilization is pushed out of the picture and falsely delinked from yoga.

And all for nothing: there is nothing threatening about the Aum sign for the minorities, no genuinely secular purpose is achieved by this manipulation, except for the further deconstruction of Hinduism.

This is the real goal of the lobbies that swear by “secularism”: the annihilation of Hinduism. Those who thought the BJP was aggressively pro-Hindu will be surprised to learn that the BJP is supporting this project. The result is that the BJP is having the worst of both worlds: it surely manages to displease its Hindu constituents, and it still fails to please its secularist masters.

I am aware of the laws of diplomacy, which are different from the laws of logic. Sometimes it is necessary to make a compromise; to concede something in order to acquire something else. In that case, it would have been defensible if yoga had been promoted at the cost of a mere sign, not even present for yoga masters living in Himalayan caves or for Vedic seers practising an oral culture and doing without the stylized alphabet signs that have made up the classical Aum sign.

But that is not the case here: the present brochure is still too Hindu for the secularists, is Hindu in spite of itself, and is at the same time uninspiring for Hindus, desirous of a proud self-assertion. Like so much in Hindu Nationalist discourse, it is neither here nor there.

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About The Author

Dr. Koenraad Elst : Belgian Author and Orientalist :A Graduate in Philosophy, Chinese Studies and Indo-Iranian Studies at the Catholic University of Leuven. He frequently returns to India to study various aspects of its ethno-religio-political configuration and interview Hindu and other leaders and thinkers. His research on the ideological development of Hindu revivalism earned him his Ph.D. in Leuven in 1998. He has also published about multiculturalism, language policy issues, ancient Chinese history and philosophy, comparative religion, and the Aryan invasion debate.

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