India all set to celebrate Modi's Yoga Day

India all set to celebrate Modi's Yoga Day
Young Indian yoga enthusiasts perform during a rehearsal for an event at a college in Amritsar on June 20, 2015. The first International Yoga Day will be celebrated on June 21.

NEW DELHI - Thousands are set to roll out their mats in the heart of the Indian capital Sunday to celebrate the first International Day of Yoga championed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Some 35,000 people including bureaucrats, students and soldiers will gather a little after dawn to do the half camel, cobra and 13 other poses in a 35-minute mass outdoor yoga session on a New Delhi boulevard, hopeful of qualifying for the Guinness Book of Records.

In his maiden address to the United Nations General Assembly, Modi pitched the idea for a day dedicated to the ancient Indian discipline, prompting the UN to proclaim June 21 as the International Day of Yoga.

And to mark the day, instructors will teach stretches, breathing control and meditation from 7:00 am (0130 GMT), with all of it beamed on giant screens along the historic avenue that connects the president's palace with the iconic India Gate monument.

Modi, who credits yoga for his ability to work long hours on little sleep, will however make only a speech and not take to the mat himself at the mass session along the 1,400-metre (4,600-foot) Rajpath stretch.

Rajpath, or King's Avenue, has been sealed off and carpeted, with dozens of metal detectors placed and multiple checkpoints erected for the big day that will see top ministers and celebrities like Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan participate.

While people in 650 districts across the nation stretch it out, yoga enthusiasts in 192 other countries are also expected to join in the celebrations, including in Britain where mats will be rolled out along the banks of the River Thames.

Indian scholars believe yoga dates back 5,000 years, based on archaeological evidence of poses found inscribed on stones and references to Yogic teachings in the ancient Hindu scriptures of the Vedas.

And Modi wants to reclaim yoga as an historical part of Indian culture which has been lost to the West where it has become a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Since storming to power, the Hindu nationalist premier has set up a ministry dedicated to promoting yoga and other traditional Indian treatments and also started free yoga classes for his government's three million bureaucrats and their families.

Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, who is at the UN's headquarters in New York for the day's launch in Times Square, has called yoga "the soft power of India" that can foster world peace.

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