FaithWorld

Factbox – Swami Ramdev, India’s most popular yoga guru

By Reuters Staff
June 2, 2011

(India's yoga guru Swami Ramdev speaks during a yoga camp in the northern Indian town of Haridwar April 8, 2010/Jitendra Prakash)

India’s government suffered a fresh blow in containing growing anger over corruption from million of voters as Swami Ramdev, the country’s most famous yoga guru, gained the support of a leading civil activist for his “fast-until-death” against graft. Anna Hazare lent his support on Thursday for Ramdev’s hunger strike from Saturday to protest against corruption in Asia’s third-largest economy and has called on his legions of followers to join him.

Here are some facts about Ramdev:

YOGA GURU

Ramdev, who successfully brought yoga to the masses through live telecasts, is revered in a country that places great emphasis on spirituality and health. His yoga demonstrations and performances to thousands of followers regularly include postures like a headstand or making his belly dance inside his ribcage, a popular trademark.

NATIONWIDE CLOUT

The yoga guru claims to have a follower in every household in India, and at least 30 million people tune in every day to his yoga programme that describes methods and teachings for treating anything from diabetes to high blood pressure.

While Ramdev is not a spiritual leader, yoga’s cultural resonance in India, where Hindu gods are often depicted in yoga poses, means his followers show a devotion similar to religious gurus such as Sai Baba, who died in April.

BUSINESS EMPIRE

Ramdev’s main yoga centre in Haridwar, in Uttarakhand, can hold 6,000 people, and is the heartbeat of a global business spread across three trusts with a turnover of $40 million every year. His assets include a Scottish island now renamed “Peace Island”, a two-campus university dedicated to yoga teaching and a pharmaceutical company producing ayurvedic medicine and herbal products.

POLITICAL AMBITIONS

Ramdev has pledged to “cleanse” the world’s largest democracy of greed and foreign influences, overhaul political, legal and education systems which he says are hangovers from colonial rule, and set up fast-track courts to pass sentences for capital crimes including corruption.

But critics have attacked him for his links to the Hindu-nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

CONTROVERSIAL VIEWS

Ramdev has claimed that homosexuality is a mental disease, and that mentally stable people do not become homosexuals.

Ramdev was also sent a cease and desist order by India’s health ministry after he said that sex education in schools should be replaced by yoga education to combat the spread of HIV and AIDS.

Read the full factbox by Henry Foy here.

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