As a night of thunderstorms and a dark, cloudy morning was broken by shafts of sunlight, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the First International Day of Yoga here with a call to harness the power of the ancient art to usher in a life of dignity for humanity.
It has the strength to usher in world peace and help bring a life of dignity to the world, said Ban, who was dressed in a yoga track suit and participated in the yoga demonstration, performing several asanas that Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar led the audience in.
On the summer solstice morning, the sun defied the weather predictions to bathe event in its warm glow and a lone butterfly symbolically fluttered among the participants clad in red and seated on the floor.
Calling the International Day of Yoga “a wonderful addition to the UN calendar”, Ban said: “If it can promote physical dexterity, it can also promote diplomatic dexterity.”
That was a theme that ran through the speeches at the celebration. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said yoga was a powerful tool to promote peace.
Yoga Day “celebrates our common humanity”, she told the the audience of several hundred at the UN plaza along the East River and the 30,000 massed at the Times Square, who were watching it on video screens several stories high.
Yoga brings a powerful message of men and women living together in peace and in harmony with the world, she said.
“It is not a part of religion,” she said. “It should be seen as a science.”
Underscoring this message, 47 Muslim or Muslim-majority nations were among the 177 countries that co-sponsored last year the General Assembly resolution to declare the Summer Solstice Day as the International Day of Yoga.
General Assembly President Sam Kutesa said the initiative taken by India was exceptional for the support it received from nations around the world.
Global health has taken greater importance in the mission of the UN and yoga can promote it, not only in physical well-being, but also in the health of the mind.
Tulsi Gabbard, the lone Hindu member of the US Congress, referring to the massacre of nine Christians at a South Carolina church by a white supremacist last week, said this was the result of ignorance and hate and the antidote to that is the wisdom and spiritual love that lies dormant in all. “Yoga can awaken them,” she said.
India’s Permanent Representative Asoke Kumar Mukerji, invoked the ‘shloka’ “Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah” and said that its message of health, joy, freedom from suffering peace was the guiding principle for India joining the UN as a founding member. Yoga was the force behind this concept and the outpouring of support for the yoga day showed its time has come.