New Delhi: Millions of Indians on Tuesday morning stretched and twisted their bodies and performed breathing exercises to celebrate the second International Yoga Day, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Chandigarh urging people to de-link the ancient Indian practice from their religious beliefs.
"Yoga is not a religious activity. Many people do not understand yoga completely. It is not what you will get from yoga, but what is important is what you will give to yoga and what all (ailments) will it rid you off," he said early in the morning in a nearly 30-minute speech before the yoga session.
Yoga, the prime minister said, could give "health assurance at zero budget" and it should be made a part of everyone's daily life for peace and harmony.
Mass yoga events were held in schools, public places, lawns of residential localities and office complexes across thousands of Indian villages, cities, and towns -- from the deserts of Rajasthan to eastern planes and from the Himalayan heights to high seas -- on naval warships -- down south. The celebrations of the day and yoga performances even went high up in the sky at 35,000 feet above Earth on some morning flights.
Modi, in a white T-shirt and a payjama with a stole around his neck, led from the front in Chandigarh's Capitol Complex. Stretching on a mat and staring at the overcast Chandigarh skies, he himself performed the asanas among the crowd of over 30,000 yoga enthusiasts.
"Yoga binds body, mind, intelligence and soul. It provides a balance to mind and body. Anyone can do it anywhere," said Modi, a keen yoga enthusiast on whose proposal the UN marked June 21 to be celebrated as the International Yoga Day every year.
In the run-up to the celebrations, the government had created a huge hype to popularize the event, asking people to organise ceremonies for mass participations.
In Delhi, as the morning sun broke through the overnight clouds, tens of thousands of its residents performed asanas. Over 10,000 people gathered at Central Park in the heart of Connaught Place and the circular road around it, making it one of the largest yoga events in the city.
It rained heavily in Mumbai but that did not deter lakhs of school and college students and men and women of all ages from doing yoga exercises in many parts of the city and suburbs.
The Indian Navy in Mumbai completed a three-week long capsule to train 25 personnel and popularise yoga among thousands of its sailors and civilians while over 2,000 took part in a yoga programme at Kohli Grounds.
Tamil Nadu capital Chennai also saw thousands of people performing yoga. The navy marked the day with its officers and personnel performing yoga on INS Adyar.
And it wasn't just the metro cities.
In Jammu and Kashmir, scores performed yoga exercises and the main function was held at the Maulana Azad Stadium in Jammu. Similar functions were held in Srinagar and Leh and Kargil towns of the Ladakh region.
In Himachal Pradesh, the day was observed amid cloudy conditions and yet thousands did asanas in hundreds of camps across the state.
In Left-ruled Kerala, the day sparked a controversy as Health Minister K.K. Shailaja was irked by Sanskrit kirtans rendered at an event. She pointed out that yoga doesn't belong to any particular religion and is also practised by atheists.
Celebrations were also held in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar and northeastern states.
High up in the sky, budget airline SpiceJet conducted practice sessions on all its two-hour morning flights. It was a special 10-minute 'Upa-Yoga' onboard capsule for its passengers and crew. The participants performed while seated. The special asanas are believed to help activate joints, muscles and energy systems to overcome jetlag, fear of flying and breathing difficulties.