As the gentle breeze wafted across the South China Sea, tele guru Swami Ramdev transformed the deck of Star Cruise Virgo into an ashram with its serene quite and meditative tranquility, seeking to validate yoga as a technique for the mind-body connect that will ultimately lead to a brush with spirituality. Over a thousand people from 15 countries, including a fair sprinkling of NRIs, watched the Swami as he demonstrated an incredible range of yoga exercises, stressing repeatedly that the wisdom embodied in the ancient Indian system would prove to be a panacea for most of the physical ailments.
As the Swami, with a rather dishevelled shoulder length hair and slightly crossed eyes, began his demonstration of exercises like 'pranayam' and 'Kapal Bhatti', he revealed a sinuous and absolutely fit physique as a testimony to the effectiveness of yoga, evoking feelings of amazement and adulation from his disciples.
In a short span of five years, Swami Ramdev has galvanised Indians into becoming ardent practitioners of yoga and pranayam, and millions of them claim that they have lost weight and got cured of chronic diseases like diabetes, spondylosis, thyroid and hypertension.
But this 'Yoga on Sea', a week-long programme on the cruise in Hong Kong, China and Vietnam, stands for its sheer uniqueness as for the first time Swami Ramdev has undertaken his mission to popularise yoga among his followers on a luxury boat, the biggest and the best in the Asia-Pacific.
"Luxury cruise throughout the world is normally associated with entertainment and vacationing, but in this case it will be an occasion for spiritual uplift. Yoga, in any case, is the most sublime form of entertainment,'' he said.
The special on board Yoga campaign has been organised by the Kolkata-based Vishwa Jagriti Mission Trust under the aegis of Patanjali Yogapeeth and later in the day, the Swami will have one-on-one with his followers where he would answer their queries related to health and spiritualism at the 'Samadhan' session.
For the current programme, people have come from England, America, Mauritius, Hong Kong and some S African countries. They have paid a rather steep amount ranging from Rs 80,000 to Rs 1.5 lakh individually for the cruise alone.
Swami Ramdev also said that trip is trageted at the upper middle class segment, but it would popularise yoga outside India. "My mission is to popularise yoga throughout the world and I will be training some 20,000 teachers at Hardwar who will be propagating the ancient Indian healing system in all the six lakh villages of the country in the next two years.
On the first day of the programme, the participants --- men, women and children --- assembled at the deck at the crack of the dawn and practised yoga as demonstrated by the master.
Swami Ramdev demonstrated his trademark yoga exercises like Anulom-Vilom, pranayam and kapal bhatti, and the participants religiously followed him. In between, he took a gentle swipe at those who relish non-vegetarian food.
"Don't turn your stomachs into graveyards. Eat natural and organic food. Live the yoga way. It is the best way to secure a bonding with divinity and spirituality," he told the gathering. "No religion sanctions killing of living beings. There is no rationale for slughtering animals just to whet up your appetite." Though it rained intermittently, people did not budge from their exercise mats and continued with yoga. The testimonies to the effectiveness of yoga came fast and thick.
One pot-bellied person said he weighed 144 kg before he began yoga exercises; he shed 40 kg barely a month later. "It has inspired me to take to yoga in a vigorous way,'' he said, with a child-like exuberance.
Among the gathering are old and infirm people, including women, and they are bonded together with a common feeling that Swami Ramdev is the saviour for them.
The guru too enjoyed the entire setting: the massive open deck of the cruise liner, gentle cool breeze, occasional drizzle and the exuberance of the participants.