FaithWorld

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

(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.

Popular Indian guru Swami Ramdev to start hunger strike against corruption

(India's yoga guru Swami Ramdev speaks in support of anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare during a "fast unto death" campaign in New Delhi April 8, 2011. In the background is an image depicting Mother India/B Mathur)

Swami Ramdev, India’s most popular and powerful yoga guru, rejected an appeal by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday to call off a hunger strike against corruption, the second major challenge to a government losing its authority due to rampant graft. The charismatic guru, who dons a saffron cloth thrown over his bare torso, runs a $40 million-a-year global yoga and health empire and has millions of followers. Some 30 million viewers tune into his daily yoga TV show.

These followers are expected to rally behind him as he begins on Saturday a “fast-to-the-death” in Delhi until the government agrees to pass a tough anti-corruption “Jan Lokpal” bill and set up a task force for repatriating illegal funds held in foreign bank accounts by Indians.