35,000 Bend It With Modi As India Launches World Yoga Day : Parallels Led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, tens of thousands of government officials, soldiers and students performed yoga in New Delhi Saturday for the first-ever International Day of Yoga.

35,000 Bend It With Modi As India Launches World Yoga Day

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Imagine it - thousands of people as far as the eye can see standing on their yoga mats, their left arms extended out down toward their left legs; their right arms reaching toward the sky. So many people were gathered in one place moving in this kind of way. The event set a Guinness world record. And if that weren't significant enough, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi named today International Yoga Day declaring that the world was, quote, "training the human mind to begin a new era of peace." NPR's Julie McCarthy was there.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: School children, yoga instructors and government employees gathered before dawn eager to extol the virtues of India's ancient passport to harmony and inner peace. Home Affairs Ministry employee Urmisha Nandi called yoga India's hidden treasure.

URMISHA NANDI: It's just very healthy and helpful also because, you know, at the age of -we are nearing the age of 40s. And at this age, we need it badly.


MCCARTHY: Looking out at the sea of yoga mats, made by the way in China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the assembled that today's occasion was a program for human welfare, stress-free living and a message of love and harmony.



MCCARTHY: "There is a great misconception that yoga is about physical flexibility," he said. "If that were so, circus performers would be yogis," he said. "The full journey of yoga is very long," Modi said, adding, "We are making an attempt to begin it today." He then enthralled onlookers by taking up position on a blue-green mat at the head of columns of yoga enthusiasts touching off a frenzy.



MCCARTHY: "Step away from the mats," warned the security. Modi dressed in white and mopped his brow with a scarf the tri-colors of the Indian flag in the early morning heat. He joined the estimated 35,000 people following instructions in English and Hindi. Giant screens projected images of the instructors leading the 35-minute program.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This asana helps in treating backache.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Now stretch your legs. Come back to dandasana.

MCCARTHY: Looking relaxed and nimble, Modi performed the pose. Narendra Modi came to office vowing to propel India onto the world stage. And Jahan Zeb, a Muslim, said he'd done that with global yoga day. Other Muslims said by showcasing yoga, Modi was showcasing Hinduism, the majority religion in India. But to Zeb brushes that criticism aside and said he came for physical fitness and to broaden his mind.

JAHAN ZEB: (Speaking Hindi).

MCCARTHY: "Some Muslims," he says, "believe that life is completely governed by religion, whereas the Quran says one should learn and expand their knowledge," Zeb says. Participants, including U.S. Ambassador Richard Verma, filled up the mall stretching for nearly a mile arranged on numbered mats; evidently easier for observers from Guinness World Records to verify the largest single yoga demonstration. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi.

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