01/23/2007, 00.00
INDIA

Indian Church: rather than worship the sun, the government should deal with more pressing problems

by Nirmala Carvalho
The archbishop of Bhopal talks to AsiaNews about the state government’s proposal to organise a mass sun worshipping ceremony. In his view there are more important issues that require attention. The Muslin community protests against what it considers an un-Islamic and unconstitutional proposal.

Bhopal (AsiaNews) – The proposal by the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh to have schools salute the Sun in a modern form of Sun worship is “disturbing to non Hindu communities, because ‘worship’ is a loaded term and [therefore] inappropriate, especially because the government has other more pressing issues to deal with,” Mgr Pascal Topno, archbishop of Bhopal, told AsiaNews. He was referring to Surya Namaskar or ‘Salute to the Sun,’ a ceremony the state government wants performed in all state school this coming January 25, ostensibly to promote the practice of yoga among the population.

Surya Namaskar is a modern form of sun worship, and one of the first lessons of yoga. The name comes from Sanskrit and means “prostrating oneself before the luminous disc”.

The government wants the ceremony to be followed by a yoga programme and has called on all students to follow the teachings of guru Baba Ramdev. Audio and video links will thus be set up to connect all educational institutions.

Local districts have also been asked to organise parallel events where volunteers will demonstrate Surya Namaskar and guide students who want to participate.

According to Indranil Dani, principal secretary for education, the programme is “compulsory only for public schools even though the government does encourage private schools to participate.”

L. S. Baghel, commissioner for school education, agrees. “The government can’t force students to attend it. The idea is only to inspire the young generation to know more about yoga and its health benefits,” he said.

But Archbishop Topno is less enthusiastic about the idea. “We have no problems with yoga. It is taught in our school,” he said. “The issue is the idea of ‘worship’ in ‘Surya Namaskar.’ The term is loaded and too much importance is attached to it when in fact there are other more pressing issues that the government should deal with.”

What is more, the ceremony is scheduled to take place on Republic Day. “We are proud to be Indians and proud of our constitution that guarantees us freedom of speech and freedom to choose,” the prelate said, “but we are disturbed by the fact that instead of focusing on this we should be polarised by such an issue”.

The local Muslim community has reacted differently. The Jamiat Ulma Hind, a Muslim organisation in the state capital, has decided to file a complaint against the state government after the chief minister refused to listen to their appeal.

According to a group representative, “to force Muslim children to worship the sun is unconstitutional and against Islam.”

Many Muslims have also announced that they won’t send their children to school if the authorities do not cancel the ceremony.

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