Kerala Health Minister K K Shailaja raised a controversy by challenging the Sanskrit prayer chanted at the start of the state’s main session on International Yoga Day. She felt the prayer was against the secular tradition of yoga.
Shailaja, a CPM central committee member, inaugurated the main event.
As per protocol, the yoga session at Thiruvananthapuram’s Central Stadium began with the chanting of Sanskrit verses. The minister, who performed yoga, did not join to chant these opening verses. After the function, she criticised the chanting and expressed her displeasure with the organisers.
Shailaja said it was not right to chant the prayer of a particular religion.
“What should be chanted is something that is not part of any religion, something everyone could relate to. Yoga does not belong to any religion,” she said. “The secular tradition of yoga should be upheld. Ours is a secular country. Let believers go for the prayer of their choice. We have people who don’t believe in any religion.”
The organisers tried to convince her that the prayer was part of the yoga protocol given ahead of the function.
In the evening, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan joined issue with the minister. While inaugurating a party-sponsored yoga meet in Kollam, Vijayan said certain quarters were trying to mislead people about yoga. “They want to limit yoga within the confines of religion and faith. Yoga will become beneficial for the public only when it is liberated from religion,” he said.
Since last year, the CPM in Kerala has been promoting “secular yoga” as a concept. The party has established Indian Martial Arts Academy to promote yoga and impart training to cadres. The CPM has dropped chanting prayers from its “secular” version of yoga, titled Chetana Yoga. Asanas are staged without prayers or mantras.
Meanwhile, the Congress and the BJP came out against Shailaja’s stand. Former chief minister Oommen Chandy said it was part of culture to start a function with a prayer. He said the approach of the minister shows the CPM’s intolerance.
BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan said the CPM should reveal whom the minister wanted to propitiate by denouncing prayer at yoga. Indian Union Muslim League general secretary K P A Majeed said the CPM should make clear its stand towards prayer.