Surya Namaskar is Good Morning Sun or Suraj Aadab
International Day of Yoga
Please remember, Surya namaskar is not sun worship.
Addressing the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on September 24, 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi mooted the idea of International Day of Yoga (IYD). He said:
“The Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help in well being. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day.”
The formal resolution moved by India was co-sponsored by 177 nations on December 11, 2014. It was decided to observe June 21 every year as IYD.
‘Secularists’ oppose International Yoga Day
Despite the fact that he highest number of nations co-sponsored India’s UNGA resolution and in 2015 more than 190 countries including 40 Muslim countries decided to observe the first IYD, in our own country self-styled ‘secularists’ like Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as well as Muslim religious leaders opposed it on the ground that yoga, being associated with Hindu religion, was a serious threat to the country’s secular character. The Muslim religious leaders had particular objection to ‘OM’ and ‘Surya Namaskar’. They interpreted the latter as Sun Worship. To avoid any controversy the government excluded these two from the official programme. (Please read my earlier article “Religious Neutral Yoga is a World Heritage” on www.devendranarain.com.)
As Modi had told the UN Gen assembly, ‘Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition.’ Unfortunately, ‘politically-wise men’ are not interested in understanding the difference between ‘religion’ and ‘heritage’. During the heat of controversy in 2015, Baba Ramdev who has single-handedly made yoga so popular tried his best to convince Muslims that neither Surya Namaskar nor chanting of ‘OM’ makes one less Muslim.
The IYD will be celebrated again on June 21 and it is quite likely that those who thrive on communal difference and controversies will again make noise. This year debate has already started because of the UP Chief Minister Yogi Aditya Nath’s endeavor to give the message of commonality between Hindus and Muslim through yoga. In 2015, as BJP MP Aditya Nath had asked the opponents of ‘surya namaskar’ to “drown in the sea.” Fortunately, in 2017, as Chief Minister under the guidance of Prime Minister Modi, Yogi Aditya Nath is a sober and practical politician. At the Central government-sponsored ‘Yog Mahotsav’ on March 29 this year, he said, “All postures during surya namaskar, if observed closely, make it clear that these are very similar to the namaz offered by Muslim brothers. They are such wonderful similarities between the two, but never had any effort been made to bring them together, as some people see benefit” and not yoga. Those who have broken society into caste, creed and religion cannot believe in yoga.”
Later, on that very day, participating in a debate on a TV channel, Baba Ramdev explained that many people might be chanting mantras while doing surya namaskar, doing so was not part of the exercise. He said that he himself never chanted any mantra while doing surya namaskar. To prove the point made earlier by Yogi Aditya Nath and to remove the doubts of a Muslim religious leader who was participating in the debate, Ramdev gave a live performance to show that in both – surya namaskar and namaz – one bends his body in different directions which is scientifically proven to be good for health.
I could not hear Baba Ramdev giving a straight answer to a question – ‘if the two are similar, will you offer namaz ?’ – posed by the Muslim religious leader but I think I can give an answer.
Difference between Suryna Namaskar and Namaz
Unlike Surya Namaskar, Namaz is a religious ritual, though it is offered with several postures which are beneficial to health. The word ‘namaz’ in Persian or ‘salah’ in Arabic means “bowing, homage, worship, prayer”. One of the Five Pillars of the Islamic faith, it is a physical, mental, and spiritual act of worship to be observed five times every day at prescribed times. It consists of several postures: standing (to start with), bowing, prostrating and (finally) sitting on the floor. During each posture of Namaz, the worship recites certain verses.
On the other hand, neither yoga nor surya namaskar is a religious word. The literal meaning of yoga is “to join” or “to yoke”. Contrary to what may people, including supporters of yoga in media, believe or claim, surya namaskar is not sun worship. It is a physical exercise to harmonise development of body, mind, and spirit. The Sanskrit or Hindi word for sun worship is ‘suryopasana’. If somebody chants any mantra during surya namaskar, it is his or her personal choice. That does not change the character or colour of the exercise. The term ‘surya namaskar’ is used because it is started with folded hands before the morning sun. Again, contrary to what many people claim, all those who do surya namaskar do not do just when the sun is rising.
Many Hindus offer prayer before starting lunch or dinner. Does it mean that offering prayer makes lunch or dinner a religious task and there is a “Hindu lunch or dinner” and a “Islamic lunch or dinner”? Many Hindus recite Gayatri mantra before going to bed. Does it make going to bed a religious ritual and that there is “Hindu sleeping” which is different from “Islamic sleeping”?
If our Muslim brothers and sisters have objection to the term, they can use the term ‘Suraj Aadab’ or ‘Good Morning Sun’. It will make no difference. The advantage of using the English term is that it is not associated with any religion, though the language is a gift of the Christian West. If they do not want to do anything like surya namaskar or suraj aadab, it is in their own interest to do other yogic exercises. Surya Namaskar is only one of the exercises. Many postures covered by surya namaskar are included in others doing exercises. I hope, there will be no objection if a few or all postures of surya namaskar are covered by other yogic exercises.
The sole purpose of Yogi Aditya Nath was to give the message of harmony. Unfortunately, it has not gone down well with Asaduddin Owaisi, Azam Khan, Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid and others whose political career depends on keeping the Hindu-Muslim divide a burning issue. Some Muslim religious leaders have asserted that there is absolutely no similarity between surya namaskar and namaz.
broad mind-set is essential
Whether there is similarity or not, depends on how one wants to look at it. If one believes in using every opportunity to promote communal harmony, he or she will find similarity or some commonality. If one thinks that his or her interest would be adversely affected by communal harmony, he or she will shout from the rooftops that there is absolutely nothing common between the two.
Incidentally, any comparison of the Surya Namaskar postures with postures of the namaz will show that the former has many more postures to give complete exercise. I am not saying that namaz is less important than Surya Namaskar. Namaz being an integral part of the Islam, it has its own importance which cannot be replaced by Surya Namaskar. What I am suggesting is that the Muslims who want to do Surya Namaskar will not find any clash with their religion.
It is quite possible that the so-called ‘secularists’ and Muslim religious leaders will attack me for what I have said on the ground that I am a Hindu. Let me clarify that I am known as Hindu because I was born in a Hindu family. I am not a religious person. I do not observe or perform any religious ritual. I have my own doubts about the very existence of God. I have tried to give an objective view. Being a project appraisal man by training and temperament, I never allow subjective considerations to influence my analysis.
Hinduism is very flexible
The advantage of being called a ‘Hindu’ is that it gives total flexibility in belief and action. A ‘Hindu’ can be a believer in God or an atheist; he can believe in one God or in 1000 Gods; he can perform religious rituals daily or occasionally or never; he can believe that God has a form and can worship idol or idols or he can believe that God has no form (as the followers of Aria Samaj sect believe).
In my personal opinion, there will be peace in India and in the world only when religion, whether Hinduism or Islam or Christianity or any other religion, is considered purely a matter of personal faith. I have close relations and family friends in all religions. We never feel uncomfortable on any social or religious occasion.
Unfortunately, there are powerful persons who has career depends on cocktail of religion and politics. The intellectuals have yet to come forward and raise there was against this dangerous practice.
March 30, 2017