Yoga may have become achingly fashionable and a multi-billion dollar business in the West but in India the ancient Hindu tradition enjoys a status akin to everyone’s favourite uncle – much-loved but severely neglected, always in the background rarely acknowledged.
It’s a status that the India’s newly-appointed yoga minister Shripad Yesso Naik has been charged with changing.
Mr Naik, the former Tourism minister, was appointed by yoga-loving Prime Minister Narendra Modi to head the newly designated ‘Aayush’ ministry which will be responsible for promoting traditional medicines and practices such as Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy.
In his first big interview, Mr Naik said he was determined to reclaim Yoga from the West and criticized his countrymen for ignoring their heritage.
“There is little doubt about yoga being an Indian art form,” said Mr Naik, a former tourism minister. “We’re trying to establish to the world that it’s ours”, Mr Naik said.
“After the British came to India, they suppressed Indian medicine and tried to foist Western medicine on us – that’s why traditional medicine could not be promoted”, he added.
Mr Naik’s appointment is the latest effort by Mr Modi, a vegetarian who wakes up at 5 am to meditate and practice yoga, to promote a healthier lifestyle.
Among other plans is one to introduce yoga into all parts of public life, including hundreds of thousands of schools, hospitals and police academies.
The Indian government is also planning to propose to give yoga a “geographical indication” at the United Nations – a move that will give yoga the same status as bubbly from the French region of Champagne and Parmesan cheese from Parma, Italy.
The UN will consider the proposal on Dec 10.