Indonesian ban makes people curious, draws them to yoga festival

By Azera Rahman, IANS,

Bali : Never mind the recent ban in Indonesia on certain elements of yoga, the first International Bali-India Yoga Festival has attracted hordes of people. If anything, the ban has only escalated the popularity of yoga by making people curious, says Indian academician and spiritual guru Somvir, who has organised the festival here.

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“Instead of decreasing its popularity, the fatwa on the Hindu elements of yoga has escalated its popularity. People are now more curious to know what yoga is all about and we are telling them that it is just a means to a healthy living and cannot be encompassed within the boundaries of religion,” Somvir told IANS on the second day of the week-long festival Wednesday.

Nearly 500 people, including artists, dignitaries and spiritual leaders, came together for the festival, the first of its kind to be held in this picture postcard island in the Indonesian archipelago.

Impressed with the turnout, Acharya Laxmi Narayan, a yoga expert who came from Rishikesh in India to conduct workshops, said: “It’s amazing to see this kind of response from the Balinese people. This shows that people here understand that yoga is a path to healthy living and want to live that way.”

Somvir said the main purpose of the festival was to remove misconceptions held by people about yoga.

“Yoga has no rituals like religion does. Rituals often lead to conflict and yoga leads to peace. For instance, you don’t have to say Om while practising an asana. You can say any name you want, it simply has to help you concentrate and focus.

“This festival is therefore a means to remove people’s misunderstandings about yoga. Also, it will help all those experts teaching yoga, like in hotels where almost every tourist wants to do yoga, come together and exchange ideas,” he said.

Islamic scholar Salman Harun, one of the speakers at the festival, said on the first day of the festival that Islam and yoga don’t contradict each other.

“Yoga teaches peace and unity, and Islam does the same. It has been wrongly portrayed that Islam is a religion of violence. I am of strong opinion that Islam and yoga don’t contradict each other,” Harun told IANS.

A number of workshops, seminars and conferences with multi faith leaders, yoga gurus from India and Bali, yoga competition, cultural show and other events are part of the festival’s agenda.

Somvir, who also teaches Indian aesthetics in Bali’s Udayana university, added that after the ban came into being, the sale of his books on yoga have doubled.

“It’s natural. People want to know what the ban is all about. Now I see my books in most of the book stalls and the sales have actually gone up,” he said.