Co-opting Patanjali

by Nina
Patanjali Store in New Delhi*
Just last night I finished reading Edwin Bryant’s extraordinary book The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Among the many, many things I learned from reading this work is that for those following the yogic path outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras (the path of meditative absorption), it is clear that any attachment to earthly pleasures, accomplishments, or even yogic powers, will prevent you from achieving liberation, which is the goal of yoga.

Then I woke up this morning to this article in the New York Times The Billionaire Yogi Behind Modi’s Rise. It’s not exactly news to me that it’s not only the west that co-opts yoga for commercial purposes. But somehow I still stumbled over this quote, with its reference to Patanjali:

“One by one, the dignitaries rose to recount Ramdev’s extraordinary career: how he brought physical fitness to the Indian middle class with his mass yoga camps and television empire; how he built his medicine-and-consumer-goods company, Patanjali Ayurved, into a multibillion-dollar colossus.”

I just found it particularly sad that Patanjali’s name was being used to market commercial products in India, some of which turn out to be quite questionable. 

“Over the years, this way of fending off criticism has become a pattern; nonetheless, Patanjali has faced at least half a dozen legal actions over its products. In October 2016, the food and drug administration of Haryana State found Patanjali’s cow ghee (clarified butter) to be ‘substandard and unsafe.’ Last April, the Indian military stopped selling a popular Patanjali juice to soldiers after a government agency tested samples and found them ‘unfit for consumption.’"

Patanjali Juice? Ah, well. I decided to look on the bright side and to find it encouraging that I—who is often accused by friends of being overly skeptical and/or pessimistic—still have the capacity to be disillusioned. Why it was the use of the name Patanjali by an Indian business empire that was disillusioning for me is something for me to think about. Now here is a link to the link to the article The Billionaire Yogi Behind Modi’s Rise, which is quite long, in case you want to read it for yourself. It has quite a lot about Indian politics in it, which is something was somewhat aware of, but is always worth learning more about. 


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