India is an assault on the senses, challenging you with its extremes, prompting you to contemplate who you are and where you stand in the world
India, the largest democracy in the world is also the world’s second largest nation with 1.25 billion people calling it home. Seemingly homogeneous at first glance, this nation of 29 states and 7 union territories is actually so diverse it is almost shocking. Nearly all of the world’s religions are represented here, while 22 different languages are officially recognised with many others being spoken across the country. India has had its share of foreign rule as well that spans over 1,100 years, with the British claiming 300 and the Mughals 800. This hotbed of various influences allowed for the shaping of Indian society as we see it today.
There is no concrete history of the birth of yoga – many of the sacred texts and teachings were transmitted orally and were considered secret for many years. While the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation of northern India is widely credited with yoga’s beginnings over 5,000 years ago, some historians believe yoga may have started as early as ten millennia ago.
Pre-classical yoga was developed by the Brahmans and Rishis (mystic seers); they documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, of which the most renowned is the Bhagavad-Gita, composed around 500 BC. The Upanishads taught that excellence could only be achieved through the sacrifice of the ego via self-knowledge, action (karma yoga) and wisdom (jnana yoga). In classical yoga, there is an ‘eight limbed path” containing the steps and stages towards obtaining Samadhi or enlightenment.
In contrast, post-classical and modern yoga rejected the ancient teachings in favour of embracing the physical body as the true path to achieving enlightenment; the yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life, and developed a new form of practice called Tantra Yoga (what we refer to today as Hatha Yoga), consisting radical techniques to cleanse the body and mind in a bid to free the flesh from the binds of physical existence.
My journey started in New Delhi, all ready for International Yoga Day on 21 June – it was in its second year of celebrations following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal to the United Nations General Assembly in 2014. “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.” Having been adopted by the majority of the member nations. International Yoga Day is celebrated by yogis worldwide.
Delhi is recognised amongst the world’s longest continuously inhabited cities and longest serving capitals. Known as the city of seven towns, the city has not forgotten the importance of its past glory and continues to pay tribute to the rice and diverse cultures that call it home.