Autobiography of a Bhogi: Part 6: Pledging Support for International Day of Yoga
It seems quite banal to pledge to make yoga an integral part of one’s daily life. But, what does it mean, exactly?
Let’s begin with Swami Chidananda, who in 2017, in front of a crowd of people that reportedly numbered a couple of thousand, appealed to have a real, instead of virtual, Modiji, attend the next International Yoga Festival at Parmarth Niketan in Rishikesh, India. Swami Chidananda introduces India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, as the “divine Prime Minister”, to which the enthralled crowd of international yoga pilgrims are whipped into an ecstatic, collective effervescent frenzy; which culminates with the audience rising to their feet, chanting repeatedly in unison, “Modi, Modi, Modi, Modi”.
This is, perhaps, one of the more poignant examples of how the politics of imagination and the economics of desire seamlessly merge to allow the neoliberal consumer of yoga and the neoliberal ideology of the Hindutva-inspired Indian state to converge through a shared appreciation for Vedic-inspired ways of living.
The terms (Hindu and Vedic) are used synonymously and interchangeably, regardless of whether the two cultural periods are similar in religious practice or ideology. A “Vedic-scape” refers to the lineage of a cultural/textual complex of which the Vedas are a vital part. This insider’s perspective of vaidika (i.e. “Vedic” “relating to”, “derived from” or “conformable to” the veda) is synonymous with veda-aviruddha (consistent with the veda), veda-anurūpa (conforming with the veda); and veda-anusāra (following the veda).
Below, is the last bit of Swami Chidananda’s introduction:
Let us honor our Prime Minister. Our divine Prime Minister. Thank you, thank you, thank you, yogiji, Prime Minister of India. But, I want one thing more. He is, today, as a virtual Modiji; but, next year, we want on the banks of gangā, not only virtual Modiji, we want real Modiji. Real Modiji, here on the banks of Gangā, on the banks of Gangā. We love Modiji, we love. We love Modiji.
“Modi, Modi, Modi, Modi”.
Before we proceed, let’s put this into perspective.
This is an invitation to discuss imaginative consumption of yoga-inspired lifestyles and how global yogis potentially become unwitting, tacit supporters in the Indian state’s cultural expansionist agenda, and how unlikely alliances between seemingly incommensurable social worlds and actors can, and does, occur.
And, we should clarify one thing. Just like any authoritarian leader, the scenes described above are akin to “instilling the idea of blind obedience to the Fuhrer in the young, an entire generation was systematically brainwashed into becoming unquestioning fanatics.”
Now, for the Really NERDY Bit…it’s short…you can do it!
By analyzing the intertextuality inherent in the creation of shared narratives and heterotopic spaces; and, by anchoring these polysemous images that relate to ideal, yogic “ways of life”, we begin to understand how the rarefaction of complex signs occurs through commodification; which enables perceptibly seamless intermingling of meanings and identities through the sharing of factoids, and includes the sanitizing of Hindu supremacist ideology through promotion of a banal, affective “soft Hindutva”.
This, ultimately, allows for unwitting support to occur through various heterotopic spaces, such as: international yoga festivals, yoga-related social media groups, in casual conversations at local studios, and in institutionalized pedagogical material of yoga teacher-training manuals.
A productive way to view contemporary spirituality is through what Bowman (2008, p. 244) refers to as: interconnectedness and synchronicity. Interconnectedness occurs through individuals coming together at yoga festivals, meditation classes, or while sitting on a tour bus, people can feel connected — in a holistic way — and not just to each other, but to other species of animals, the planet, and through and beyond dimensions of time and space. While synchronicity refers to the self-authentication process where individuals find meaning, purpose, or answers.
However, the consumption of yoga-related tourism through pilgrimages to ‘yoga festivals’ is similar to multi-day music festivals like Glastonbury or Burning Man; particularly, how a sense of re-enchantment through ‘the globalization of intermittent co-presence’ is facilitated (Urry, 2002, p. 264).
Urry’s (2002) three-tier typology of co-presence includes: face-to-face, face-the-place, and face-the-moment.
The first refers to the intense commingling which facilitates feelings of interconnectedness (cf. a Turnerian  sense of communitas and heightened feelings associated with Durkheim’s collective effervescence, which is contrasted to the normal state the individual experiences when alone) through being within a group of like-minded people. This occurs through identifying with the group mentality, which ultimately leads to the feeling of collective effervescence (Law 2011). While Weber argues that unthinking emersion in a group was a response of lethargy, Durkheim argues that participation, and the sense of self-loss in the community, is validated by the immediate sense of transcendence and ecstasy it offers (Lindholm, 2002, p. 294). The second refers to physically walking, seeing, touching, doing, and being, etc., which is a self-evident part of pilgrimage. The third refers to the ‘timing’ of travelling to and being at a ‘live’ event.
This all leads to the ways in which global yogis, particularly within the less constrained parameters of international yoga festivals, are swayed by proselytizing rhetoric of charismatic authority figures to consume portable, yoga-inspired lifestyles (Lucia, 2018), which can include a subtle infusion of political theology within the spiritualized discourse.
What the hell is Hindutva, anyway?
OK, here is a quick primer on what Hindutva is: Hindutva literally means “Hindu-ness” and has come to be understood as “Hindu first”. Hindutva, according to Hebden (2011, 26), “is a modern religion born out of a globalisation of western statist enlightenment ideology. The British statemaking project fostered and embraced Hindu fundamentalism through colonial interference — the nationalisation of religion”. Hindutva is the semiticized political theology and the ethno-political philosophy at the heart of Hindu exceptionalism. As Sophia Ariel Bardi notes, in her article, titled: How ‘Hindutva’ recast multi-faith India as the Hindu homeland, the ideas of Hindutva are, basically, next-level Indian Nationalism; and, they are central to the current government’s agenda.
Within the variegated worlds of Yogaland, Hinduism, and Hindutva, there are many different attitudes towards adhering to a strict, literal interpretation of doctrine; which, for many, is the definition of fundamentalism.
However, it is important not to uncritically lump huge swathes of people under the homogenized banner of “fundamentalism”, as not every yoga consumer and practicing Hindu believes in a strict interpretation of Hinduism’s texts, or the literal “historical” assertions related to myths (purāṇa-s) contra histories (itihāsa-s). Even though aspects of yoga have a distinct literal religiosity, and many are inspired by the soteriological assuredness of their guru, many also just do yoga for fun and fitness, while some people are culturally, or nominally, Hindu. So too, the social world of Hindutva is exceptionally heterogeneous.
There are many groups which have different agendas and affiliations, which means not all the groups align under the generic banner of Hindutva Parivar, which refers to the groups affiliated with the RSS (the National Corps of Volunteers) and the BJP (Indian People’s Party). Here is a comprehensive, but not exhaustive, list.
The common goal of these organizations is undoubtedly to create a Hindu nation, which is otherwise understood as a Hindu theocratic state, which is no way different to Pakistan’s or Saudi Arabia’s constitutions. To do this, the world’s largest sovereign, socialist, secular democratic republic would have to be, constitutionally at least, dismantled. It sounds pretty alt-reich, doesn’t it…well, there are definite links between Hindutva and the new global wave of white supremacy.
So, what’s that got to do with me and my yoga day?
It turns out, quite a lot, actually.
Coming back to the 4th International Day of Yoga, which is happening in the next few weeks, my mind turns to pondering how “yoga diplomacy” is working to alter our perception of yoga and India.
In the meantime, if one cannot wait, just like Swami Chidananda, until June 21, 2018, then it is possible to virtually do, “Yoga with Modi”.
One can also read the official protocols set up by the Ministry of AYUSH.
But, the more interesting claims are made on page 2.
Probably, many people would read this with an ambivalent attitude and agree that yoga is really old. Well, it’s certainly complicated. India and yoga are steeped in mystery. That is part of the appeal, I guess. However, the second part of this paragraph is really worth dissecting.
These sages carried this powerful Yogic science to different parts of the world including Asia, the Middle East, northern Africa and South America. Interestingly, modern scholars have noted and marvelled at the close parallels found between ancient cultures across the globe. However it was in India that the Yogic system found its fullest expression. Agastya, the saptarishi who travelled across the Indian subcontinent, crafted this culture around a core Yogic way of life.
If it’s not clear, the assertion is that there was a pan-global Vedic civilization that was the Ur-civilization of humanity. This is part of the Out of India theory. Here is a pro-argument article AND here is an against-argument article. The idea is that humans started in India thousands of years ago, speaking a fully-formed, Vedic Sanskrit, and took the Vedic/yogic way of life to all corners of the globe. Here is a map, of sorts. While the genetic, linguistic and archaeological stuff can get confusing, this is a cogent overview of the history of the Indo-European language family.
However, due to the 4-tiered, cyclical time cycle of brahminical theology, we are supposedly en route to returning to this imagined, global Vedic paradise, which is built upon the idea of dharma (more on this below), which apparently is the core of all religions…ergo…everyone is ultimately, Hindu. If you want to read more about the fertile imagination behind these ideas, then PN Oak is the originator. His books are available, below. The more relevant are: World Vedic Heritage 1 and 2.
books of Sri Purushottama Nagesh Oak - these in englisharchive.org
This is just a sample of how a global Vedic theology is understood.
The AYUSH website hosts the trailer for this documentary. The 44-min version below is not the full 96-min version. In this documentary, we are told many things. The first is that ‘Yoga is 6000 years old’.
As the fast-approaching 4th International Day of Yoga (#IDY) currently has 7,688,005 pledges
to make “YOGA an Integral Part of my Daily Life”,
it is really worth pausing to consider just what people are actually pledging to. Because, when I read this pledge, it was an instant
But, for most unsuspecting global yogis, this pledge is nothing more than a personal promise and cosmopolitan commitment to make the self and world better. And, I guess, for the most part, that is all it needs to be. Yet, there is much more to this, as there is no coincidence, nor secret, to the Integral component of the pledge; at least, for the insider.
There are two philosophers, Jacques Maritain (1936) and Deendayal Upadhyaya (1965), both of whom wrote treatises, similarly titled, Integral Humanism.
Here is the original version, in French, of Maritain’s monograph.
And, here is Upadhayay’s digitized version on the BJPs website.
From a communal perspective, the ideas of these two thinkers differ fundamentally; however, the general holism of integral humanist philosophy appeals to the individual concerned with glocally ethical implications that result from globalization and the neo-liberal project (Robertson 1992, 186). Globally, Integral Humanism is akin to a broader neo-pagan “religious environmentalism” and “dharmic ecology” movement, which, in its Indian iteration is decidedly “Neo-Hindu” rather than genuinely “Vedic” (Nanda 2004; Jain 2011; Scheid 2016).
However, Upadhyaya’s Integral Humanism, who was the founder of BJP forerunner — the BJS — is an evolution of an earlier Gandhian socialism (Puniyani 2006, 19), which Narendra Modi’s political party, the BJP (Indian People’s Party) is heavily invested in. In fact, every BJP member swears allegiance to the twin pillars of its political philosophy; namely, Integral Humanism and Hindutva (Wikileaks 2006).
The following road map is from Samskrita Bharati’s UK chapter’s website. Samskrita Bharati consists of a committed group of people who very much would like to see Sanskrit revitalized to ultimately replace English as the next, global lingua franca. I’ve already written a bit about this topic of spoken Sanskrit and the politics of language revival here, here, here, here, and here. I’ve also made a short-film series, episode 1 is here.
The key aspects of this map are that for our conversation, at least, are that, an eventual critical mass of Sanskrit speakers will occur, combined with the green and purple squares on top that will ultimately lead to a Renaissance (अभ्युदयः abhyudayaḥ). It should be clear what lays behind the ideas of Integral Science (संस्कृतशास्त्र saḿskṛtaśāstra) and Integral Life (संस्कृतजीवन saṁskṛtajīvana).
If it is unclear, then this video will provide more clarity, in which the co-founder of Samskrita Bharati, C.K. Shastry explains the role of Sanskrit and yoga in facilitating the utopian-inspired renaissance. The short video is only a few minutes long. It is part of a much larger speech that I watched, patiently. At about the 65–70 minute part of the original video, the speaker reveals the plan to use the cultural capital of yoga to create a pan-global Hindu/Vedic theocratic state, which is predicated by a “Dharma Civilization”. The talk is mostly in Sanskrit, to which I have added subtitles in English.
Furthermore, Hindutva, rebranded as Integral Humanism, enables easier proselytization of English speakers.
This is also achieved through the more recognizably palatable, euphemistic reference:
The reason that Dharma and Integral Humanism are promoted is that the term Hindutva is too well known, and has very negative connotations for anyone who does not support. Dharma needs no introduction, since it plays a central part in any cosmopolitan discourse about yogic ways of life (Palkivala 2007).
However, it’s worth looking at it from a sociological perspective, at least, just for a moment. If we look at through the lens of M.N. Srinivas, who came up with the idea of Sanskritization, we can understand, in part, how global yogis, who we can replace with “low castes” below, work to emulate the Brahminical standard they have been told is typical of a yogic way of life
So, we find dharma listed here, along with some of the other KEY WORDS used in yogaland to define a yogic identity, practice and theology. One way in which the prestige of dharma is propagated is through the idea that it is difficult to translate. This is a logical fallacy, in the sense that, it is an appeal to mystery. To make the form clearer. Logically, it looks like this:
However, it becomes easier to articulate a sense of its meaning, even its promoters are unwilling, when it is clearly used to define theo-political ideologies and excuses. Like below:
The founder of this outlier group, Frank Morales, who clearly wants to create a pan-global, Vedic-inspired theocratic state through the prophesized Vedic Golden Age, says:
In an apparently prophetic discourse, the speaker tells us about the coming Golden Age and how to prepare for it. It is more or less described in a similar way to the Christian eschatological principle of the Rapture. Now, I don’t support this person, his organization, or his ideas. I point them out because it is quite likely that some people do watch his videos and think he is, perhaps, not an Alt-right, Vedic fundamentalist.
And, so, the two groups below, the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (Hindu People’s Awakening Society) and Sanatan Sanstha (Eternal Assembly) are sister organisations that are implicated in murders and bombings. They are deeply problematic and represent the extreme right-wing of Hindu nationalism. Yet, it can be confusing for many who are not familiar with their background but are enticed through the shared symbolism of ideas associated with dharma.
Here is another take on Dharma by the Andhra Cultural Portal:
And yet, there is this…
Possibly more disturbing is how the Indian government’s Ministry of External Affairs published an e-book promoting Integral Humanism. Regrettably, the link no longer works.
Varadarajan explains that:
Dharma is a very popular concept within Yogaland; and while it might mean reasonably the same thing to different people, its applications can vary quite considerably (Sen 2017).
For example, The Way of Dharma project, which is organized by the Srijan Foundation claims that it “is a platform for spreading dharmic traditions and religions. Our goal is to make Hinduism missionary” (Srijan 2018).
This organization makes no attempt to hide its Hindu nationalism, particularly when there is a video in the bottom right corner of the homepage, titled, “Hindu Dharma and Nationalism” (Srijan 2017).
You can watch the video here; although, it might help if you know Hindi.
To bring all these synonymous concepts together, Battaglia (2017, 10) explains, that:
“Whereas Integral Humanism is India’s universal mission, it is the completeness of a civilization realized over millennia, and at the same time the remedy to rid humanity of its evils. Humanism seemed to oppose any form of obscurantism, pointing at a truth which is deeper than any religion or any ideology. That is Dharma. Notwithstanding such humanism contains the presuppositions of a new intolerance and sectarianism”.
It gets more interesting. For all the talk about dharma… it is usually only understood or referred to as a blank category. If pressed, people do not really seem able to articulate what a substantive account of dharma might be. We often hear people say, ‘Oh, that is dharmic’; or, as an identity-politic-inspired pejorative slur, ‘He is adharmic’. Yet, apart from using this +/- category of dharma, what is dharma, exactly? More importantly, how does/can one perceive dharma? And, does it require extra-sensory perception (yogipratyakṣa)? Is yogipratyakṣa actually possible? And, without yogipratyakṣa, what does dharma practically amount to? This article by Elisa Freschi on this topic is worth reading — it’s a bit dense — but, if you can get through the first page or two, you might find it interesting. It explores this very topic of perceiving dharma based on a dialogue between different authors of Sanskrit texts, which focuses on the ideas of Vedānta Deśika, who is the most authoritative theologian of the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta (which is a rival school to Śaṅkara’s Advaita Vedānta) after Rāmānuja, who lived in Southern India, around the 13th-century.
If you can’t be bothered reading this; then, the following is a powerful summary of subjectivism and epistemic relativism, which are rife within the unregulated global yoga, spiritual tourism and wellness industries.
For some people, the video featured in this article represents how dharma can be weaponised as an instrument to control, intimidate and justify extrajudicial violence.
With this now in perspective, it becomes quite clear what global yogis are actually pledging themselves to. The apotheotic rhetoric of Swami Chidananda towards Narendra Modi demonstrates how the politics of Hindutva is legitimized and sanitized for consumption by global yogis. Upon watching this video, one wonders how many of the international audience members and other presenters are aware of Narendra Modi’s controversial past and links to the Hindutva Parivar.
And, if they do know, how is their participation in such events alongside people with seemingly incommensurable politics, who openly support and promote at least a soft Hindutva, rationalized?
Regrettably, only one of the presenters chose to comment, anonymously as well. They informed me that after attending the festival five times they were “done with it. It is clear that everyone there is bypassing, hard”. Of the other presenters whom I contacted from the International Yoga Festival, none responded to my requests for a comment. It really should go without saying; but, say it nonetheless I shall, I don’t assume that everyone below supports Hindutva. Yet, there are some amongst this list who quite clearly do.
The question is: How does one know?
So too, the banal nationalism deftly hidden in the International Day of Yoga’s pledge reveals another way in which Hindutva is sanitized, popularized, and unwittingly consumed.
Or, instead, if the pledge Modiji is offering is now less appealing, perhaps you could try making a promise…
This time to a guru, and not the Prime Minister. However, Sri Sri is mired in controversy for his yoga festival that the Delhi High Court described as an “ecological disaster”, and linked in many indelible ways to Modiji (Parekh 2016).
Also, even Modiji’s promise to use the yoga industrial complex to boost jobs in Uttarakhand, where the “home of yoga” apparently is in Rishikesh, seems to be falling short. Perhaps all these promises to yoga, or to do things with, for, or by yoga won’t really amount to much.
But, this is part of a march larger problem that sees millions out of work. Even if they have graduate degrees.
I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide whether they will pledge themselves to make ヨーガ an INTEGRAL part of their daily life. I wonder, also, if the Mayor of Kyoto will participate again this year?
If, in the end, neither the pledge nor the promise appeals, I guess there is always LuLu Lemon’s pledge that one could get behind.
Of course you want to know the answer to that question…
In the end, it’s really up to you.
(I haven’t included here the websites and other articles that are online)
2017 “Neo-Hindu Fundamentalism Challenging the Secular and Pluralistic Indian State.” Religions 8, 216:1–20.
2008 Going with the flow: Contemporary pilgrimage in Glastonbury. In: Margry, P J (ed) Shrines and pilgrimages in the modern world: New itineraries into the sacred. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
2011 Dalit Theology and Christian Anarchism. Farnham, UK: Ashgate.
2011 Dharma and Ecology of Hindu Communities: Sustenance and Sustainability. London: Ashgate.
2002 Authenticity, Anthropology and the Sacred. Anthropological Quarterly, 75, pp. 331–338.
2018 Saving Yogis: Spiritual Nationalism and the Proselytizing Missions of Global Yoga. 35–70 Asian Migrants and Religious Experience: From Missionary Journeys to Labor Mobility edited by Bernardo E. Brown and Brenda S.A. Yeoh, Amsterdam. Amsterdam University Press.
1936 Humanisme Intégral: Problèmes Temporels et Spirituels d’une Nouvelle Chrétienté. Paris: Fernand Aubier.
1992 Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture. London: Sage.
2004 “Dharmic Ecology and the Neo-Pagan International: The Dangers of Religious Environmentalism in India”. 18th European Conference on Modern South Asian Studies. 1–8. Lunds University, Sweden.
Parekh, Nisha Kiritbhai
2016 Art of Living’s World Cultural Festival 2016: An Ecological Disaster. Journal of Legal Studies and Research 2, 3: 98–105.
2006 Contours of Hindu Rashtra: Hindutva, Sangh Parivar, and Contemporary Politics. New Delhi: Kalpaz Publications.
Scheid, Daniel P.
2016 The Cosmic Common Good: Religious Grounds for Ecological Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press.
1986 The anthropology of performance. New York: PAJ Publications.
2002 Mobility and proximity. Sociology, 46, pp. 255–274.
Patrick McCartney, PhD is a JSPS Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Graduate School of Global Environmental Studies, Kyoto University, Japan; a Research Associate at Nanzan Anthropological Institute, Nanzan University, Japan; and a Visiting Fellow at the South and South-East Asian Studies Department, Australian National University, Australia.
Building upon an anthropological premise, Patrick’s work intersects the commodification of desire and consumption of yoga-inflected lifestyles. It explores the imaginative consumption of global yoga through the politics of imagination and the sociology of spirituality. Patrick’s current project focuses specifically on the Japanese yoga industry, which includes understanding the aspirations of Japanese yoga consumers and how modern yoga is reconstituted in unique ways into Japanese culture. You can follow this project at Yogascapes in Japan, and also find his articles and films there too.
Unless otherwise stated, all content is licensed under: CC Attribution 4.0 International