India celebrates low-key International Yoga Day during virus crisis


New Delhi (AFP)

India marked International Yoga Day with low-key events Sunday as the nation battles coronavirus, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the crisis had made the ancient practice even more relevant.

The annual event -- proposed by Modi and adopted by the United Nations in 2014 -- is observed mostly in India, but also worldwide on the Northern Hemisphere's longest day.

As the virus crisis forced practitioners to celebrate the occasion indoors, or with small outdoor sessions, Modi -- an avid yogi himself -- called on people to draw strength from the practice's physical and mental benefits.

"Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the world is realising the need of yoga now more than ever," Modi said in Hindi in a video speech shared on social media Sunday.

"COVID-19 virus attacks our respiratory system. Pranayam (breathing exercises) helps the most in making our respiratory systems strong."

Since taking office in 2014, the Indian leader has spearheaded an initiative to reclaim the practice as a historic part of Indian culture.

Indian scholars believe yoga dates back 5,000 years, based on archaeological evidence of poses found inscribed on stones, and references to Yogic teachings in the ancient Hindu scriptures of the Vedas.

The event came as the South Asia nation of 1.3 billion people reported a record single-day spike of 15,413 new coronavirus infections on Sunday.

It took the nationwide total to over 410,000 cases, including more than 13,250 deaths.