Diverse crowd practices the ancient Indian discipline against scenic backdrop of Washington Monument
By Geeta Goindi
Washington, DC, June 17, 2017 – Ahead of the International Day of Yoga, Indian Ambassador Navtej Sarna led hundreds of yoga enthusiasts in a guided routine on the National Mall.
It was a heart-warming sight: a diverse crowd assembling on a Saturday morning to practice an ancient Indian art which, while synonymous with health and fitness, promotes world peace and harmony!
Based on a proposal by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the United Nations declared June 21 as the International Day of Yoga in 2014. This was the third edition of the annual event held in the nation’s capital, in a picture-perfect setting against the backdrop of the iconic Washington Monument.
“What has happened in the last three years is quite phenomenal”, Ambassador Sarna told the gathering. “This recognition of the International Day of Yoga has brought this ancient discipline, philosophy and practice from India into the hearts and lives of people in every corner of the globe. What you will see during this week is this day being celebrated in similar gatherings in every country in the world”, he said, to applause.
“What is nice about it is that this is not a political movement. This is not even an economic movement. This is only something which is for the benefit of all of humanity at both an individual level and a macro level because ultimately all societies in all countries are made up of human beings. If each human being has a balanced way of life, who has achieved an equilibrium inside and outside, I think that will ultimately affect how nations govern and are governed and how they relate to each other”, he said.
It was heartening to watch the envoy perform yoga together with Deputy Chief of Mission Reenat Sandhu, Minister of Community Affairs Mr. N.K. Mishra, and several other Indian Embassy officials. They were joined by: Sri Lankan Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam; Myanmar Ambassador U Aung Lynn; representatives from the embassies of Belgium and Singapore; officials of the State Department, DC government, World Bank; and a multitude of yogis.
Looking at the sizeable crowd spread out on colorful yoga mats, Ambassador Sarna noted, “It’s a very moving sight to see so many hundreds of people in the heart of Washington, DC early on a Saturday morning coming here to celebrate yoga, ready to perform this wonderful session of joy, happiness and peace. I know many of you have been doing yoga in your home all your life. Many of us hadn’t been doing yoga all our lives and now wish we had”, he said, evoking laughter from the crowd.
In a special video message released on the third annual yoga day, Prime Minister Modi implored viewers to make yoga a mass movement. Speaking in Hindi, he noted, “Everyone wants a stress-free, pain-free, disease-free existence, a happy life. That can only be achieved by practicing yoga”, he emphasized.
Referring to the immense impact of this ancient practice, the prime minister affirmed, “In this century we are witnessing that Yoga has joined the whole world together. We will succeed in achieving peace”, he declared.
Influential US elected officials issued Citations commemorating the third International Day of Yoga.
“This event provides an opportunity to celebrate one of the many important traditions of the Indian culture, yoga”, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia noted. The appeal of this ancient, holistic tradition crosses cultural boundaries and increases international understanding and friendship”, he said.
The powerful lawmaker, Democratic co-chair of the Senate India Caucus, was “very optimistic” about the India-US relationship. “As two of the world’s largest democracies, and with the incredible Indian-American population that contributes so much to our culture, commerce, and community in this country, it is critical for us to continue to deepen and broaden the existing framework of partnership and friendship”, he stated.
Senator Warner recalled, “In the last Congress, we were able to expand the United States-India relationship on several fronts including hosting Prime Minister Modi for a joint session” of the US Congress during which he “described the many ties that bind India and the United States together, as well as the significant contributions the Indian-American community has made to this country. The overwhelmingly positive response to his visit demonstrates the strength of the relationship between the United States and India”, he said.
The citation by Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland was issued in recognition of: “The spiritual value that yoga and meditation offer, and with appreciation and gratitude for the organizing committee’s outstanding efforts to encourage peace, harmony and consciousness”.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (Republican) said he was pleased to confer a citation “in recognition of the successful celebration of the Third International Day of Yoga organized by the Embassy of India in association with the Friends of Yoga, with great respect in honor of Yoga throughout the world; and as our citizens join in expressing our appreciation, support and sincere best wishes for a joyous observance”.
The program on the Washington Monument grounds concluded with a Shanti Paath (prayer for peace) — a compilation of Sanskrit ‘slokas’ (verses) elucidating health and wellness.