Memo to Bikram: India Wants Her Yoga Back!

The government of India has decided to take a giant leap into cyberspace.

In an effort to thwart future copyright claims by rogue gurus like Bikram Choudhury, who annoyed Indian officials in 2003 when he managed to copyright a sequence of 26 yoga asanas in the U.S., the Indian government will launch a massive yoga database.

Inspired in part by the Hindu American Foundation’s “Take Back Yoga” campaign, to increase public awareness of yoga’s ancient roots, the Internet project began last spring. The Indian Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Union Health Ministry’s Department of Ayush have documented 1,300 asanas and plan to record as many as 4000 asanas executed by expert yogis.

The asanas will be uploaded to India’s Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), a vast archive of the countries wisdom which numbers some 30 million pages and includes ayurveda, unani, siddha, naturopathy, homeopathy and yoga.  The database has already foiled patents filed on turmeric, neem and basmati. Recently, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) selected the database for a pilot study, as they begin to tackle the problem of ancient indigineous knowledge being misappropriated by modern business people.

Created by Dr. V.P. Gupta, the TKDL is attempting to authenticate the history of yoga and its origination in India and to place Yoga asanas firmly back in the public domain, in order to put an end to the bizarre U.S. habit of granting patents for other countries ancient knowledge.

According to Dr. Gupta, “The data will be up online in the next two months. In the first phase, we have video-graphed 250 asanas, the most popular ones. Chances of misappropriation with them are higher. So if somebody wants to teach yoga, he does not have to fight copyright issues. He can just refer to the TKDL.”

This should come as welcome news to the studios across the country who have been sued by Choudhury or driven out of business. Though India is not planning litigation against Choudhury, it will be extremely difficult for Choudhury to sue anyone once the government of India’s documented Database can be used as evidence of Bikram’s Yoga sequence predating the birth of his megalomanic ego onto the earth plane.

Dr. Gupta added, “A voice-over will also point out which texts mention the postures. The information will be available in several international languages. We have screened through several ancient books like Srimad Bhagwat Gita, Vyas Bhashya, Yogasava Vijana, Hatha Praditika, Gheranda Samhita, Shiva Samhita, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Sandra Satkarma to exactly document all known asanas and yoga references.”

As yoga expands in the U.S.,  yoga schools and styles are morphing into a Battle of the Brands. But what Americans consider good clean fun, aggressively jockeying for position in the marketplace, Hindus apparently find strange and disturbing. In India, yoga is considered a sacred gift, not a product to be callously sold in the marketplace.

So, will the best brand win? Or will the accumulated karma of countless sun salutations clear the path for future yogis to practice as they see fit?

I’m betting on India.

Image of Sadhu practicing Pranayama by Fernando Garcia Aguinaco

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