Taking Yoga to Indonesia

Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. According to a Google search about 87% of its 26.3 crore (2017) population is Muslim. It has a rich history including that of interaction with India.

The culture of Indonesia is highly influenced by India. In fact, the word Indonesia actually means “Indian island”. The entire country is diffused with a touch of India. Religions of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism arrived from India. The Javanese language, the country’s second most common, stems in large part from Sanskrit. The magnificent Prambanan and the Borobudur temple compounds, one Hindu and another Buddhist, both built around the ninth century in central Java echo India’s elaborately carved Gupta style.


The local language spoken in Indonesia is Bahasa, which is derived from the Sanskrit word, Bhasha, which means language. Around 30% words in Bahasa are from Sanskrit. Hence, both countries share a rich historical bond.


Did you know that there is an Indian connect to the name of former President Meghawati Sukornoputri. “In 1947, Biju Patnaik (father of current Orissa Chief Minister) came to visit Soekarno in Indonesia. His wife had just given birth to a baby girl. It was raining heavily so Bijuji suggested the name ‘Meghawati’ (Megha in Sanskrit means rain cloud). She is thought of as Putri of India also by the older generation.”


Therefore, it should not surprise you that Yoga has become very popular with Indonesians. They accept and recognise the immense health benefits of this ancient science without looking at it through the prism of religion.


Since our esteemed Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi ji proposed the International Day of Yoga, its acceptance and declaration by the United Nations to celebrate the 21st of June as International Yoga Day, the popularity of Yoga has leapfrogged especially in the capital city of Jakarta.


The first International Yoga Day in 2015 drew a huge response. It was led by the Indian Embassy and organised by me being on deputation to the Indian Council of Cultural Research (I worked as Joint Director, Kaivalyadham Mumbai then). Our objective was to spread the knowledge of Yoga in Indonesia. 


After being in Mumbai for a while I returned to Jakarta with the aim of starting a full-fledged Yoga centre that would operate under the banner of Kaivalyadham. For those who do not know the parent Kaivalyadham Lonavala is a ninety plus year old organization founded by Swami Kuvalyanandaji in 1924 and a pioneer in traditional and scientific forms of Yoga. 


During my various visits to Jakarta found that people are interested in yoga as long as there is no religious activity or chanting involved. Some were neutral towards chanting too.


Teaching in Jakarta has given me new ideas and perspectives. Earlier I used to teach very simple, slow & soft asana, but now I teach advanced asana too as people do what their bodies allows them to anyways. Students do difficult asana, take selfies and show their friends.


As compared to Mumbai people in Jakarta are small or medium frame, thinner & supple. They can do more advanced yoga asana easily. More ladies than men do yoga in Jakarta. Ladies do asanas for all round well being to bring out inner beauty. Ladies wearing Hijab & Burkha do asanas as well.


Yoga class in Jakarta


How does China compare? According to Pushpendra Kumar who has been teaching Yoga in China since 2006, “In India they focus on meditation and pranayama, but in China they just focus on asana, physical exercise”. Source Global Times 20/6/2017. According to a Hindustan Times report of 21/5/2017, “More women than men in China practise yoga and the urge to stay healthy and look young is pushing its rapid popularity in richer cities across the country, according to government-sanctioned research.


Jakarta and Mumbai are similar in many ways & diseases too. Stress of urban life is the same. I found the average Indonesian to be more fit than their Indian counterparts.


Jakarta is a happening place & people are heath conscious. For half a day on Sunday it is No Car Day on main roads. Wish we had this on Mumbai’s Marine Drive where Kaivalyadham is situated. Even though there are many Indian restaurants miss India food esp. ghar ki daal chapatti. (Home cooked lentils and roti).


Yoga has gained immense popularity, with many local yoga teachers & courses offering certification. I trained around ten Indonesians and certified them through the online courses offered by Kaivalyadham (details can be viewed at www.kdham.com). Besides that I conduct workshops, classes in local schools/colleges and corporates.


India and Indonesia are close in nautical miles, culturally and have many similarities. Here are some examples – 


Ramayana and Mahabharata are most popular in Indonesia. They were probably translated in the 11th century during the reign of King Airlangga in the ancient Kawi language. King Airlangga was himself a great scholar and ascetic who spent many years in the jungle in meditation. Ramayana and Mahabharata are the basis of innumerable dances, plays, sculptures, paintings and music themes. The entire ancient literature has been written on the leaves of lontar palm. The literature has thus been preserved well in many libraries of Indonesia and also at Gedung Kritya in Singaraja in Bali.”


“The national emblem of the Republic of Indonesia – “Garuda Pancasila” is adorned with the Garuda in the Indonesian history holds a place of honor. It is a symbol of national emblem with Vishnu riding it. Garuda sculpture is shown in countless temples. Garuda stands for complete devotion to Lord Vishnu and subsequent freedom from evil. Garuda also stands for the freedom of the people of Indonesia from foreign rule.”


My aim is to spread Yogic Joy in both the countries and bind the people together through the medium of YOGA.


Also read

1 Yoga Asanas Book

2 See Movie on History of Yoga – in English, Hindi, Chinese and Spanish 

3 Impact of Shavasana and Meditation on memory scores

4 Management of Anxiety, Stress and Depression through Yoga  

5 Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 

6 Prambanan Shiva Temple

7 Ramayanas of Southeast and South Asia 

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