India PM leads yoga day celebration

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) participates in a mass yoga session along with other Indian yoga practitioners to mark the International Yoga Day on Rajpath in New Delhi on June 21, 2015. Photo: AFP

The heart of India's capital today turned into a sea of colourful mats as Prime Minister Narendra Modi led thousands of people performing various physical postures across the country for the first International Yoga Day.

Dressed in all-white kurta-pyjama and a tricolour scarf, 64-year-old Modi took everyone by surprise by performing a variety of postures including Vajrasan and Padmasan, along with nearly 40,000 people on red mats on the Rajpath in a 30-minute mass outdoor yoga session from 7 am, aimed at qualifying for the Guinness Book of Records, reports our New Delhi correspondent.

Modi was expected to make only a speech at the event and not take part at the mass yoga session.

Similar yoga events took place simultaneously in other parts of India with chief ministers of states joining students, bureaucrats and others.

Yoga guru Ramdev shared the dais with Modi along with heads of some other religious and yoga institutions. Modi later joined the participants on the ground as he practiced the 'asanas' during the programme.

Attendees take part in a mass yoga session to mark the International Yoga Day on Rajpath in New Delhi on June 21, 2015. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 21 hailed the first International Yoga Day as a "new era of peace", moments before he took to a mat and joined thousands in the heart of New Delhi to celebrate the ancient Indian practice. AFP PHOTO / PRAKASH SINGH

Kicking off the event, Modi said the yoga session is aimed at benefiting the people by making them both physically and mentally healthy.

He said yoga seeks to make a tension-free world and spread the message of harmony and added that it is "more than only physical fitness".

"For most of the people, yoga is just a physical exercise. This is the biggest mistake.... Had this been the case, children working in circuses could have been called 'yogis'. Hence yoga is not only about making the body flexible," Modi said addressing the yoga session participants.

"We are not only celebrating a day but we are training the human mind to begin a new era of peace – harmony. ….This is a programme for the benefit of mankind, a tension-free world and a programme to spread the message of harmony," Modi said.

Modi expressed joy over the large gathering at Rajpath noting "did anyone imagine this Rajpath will become a Yog path?

Later, he interacted with the children who turned up for the event.

Modi, a vegetarian who practises yoga every day, briefly stopped to inspect students performing yoga before rejoining the gathering that followed instructions by yoga teachers in Hindi and English.

Before going to the event, the prime minister tweeted early this morning "greetings to people around the world on 1st International Day of Yoga! Lets pledge to make Yoga an integral part of our daily lives #YogaDay."

The grand event, also featuring bureaucrats, ministers, diplomats and soldiers, was monitored by the Guinness World Records as the government aimed at a record for "largest yoga demonstration or class at a single venue."

Giant digital screens set up for the event beamed live the yoga session for which security arrangements matched that of the Republic Day celebrations held every year on January 26 as more than 8,000 security personnel guarded the venue.

The UN announced an International Day of Yoga last year after Modi's appeal at the General Assembly in September.

Modi terms yoga "the anchor of my life," helping him work long hours. 

Yoga day will be celebrated in over 251 cities in 191 countries across the world; in Britain, mats will be rolled out along the banks of the River Thames.

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj is at the UN's headquarters in New York for the Yoga Day celebrations in Times Square where scores are expected to strike postures.


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