Despite an atmosphere laden with controversy, International Yoga Day was celebrated at the premises of the Indian High Commission in the Maldives, on Tuesday. Unlike last year's location - the national stadium in Male, the venue this year was nestled in the heart of the Indian diplomatic outpost.
The authorities cordoned off the entire area surrounding the High Commission, with the Maldivian police providing stringent security throughout the event. Eyewitnesses reported seeing government vehicles parked nearby and senior officials emerging from the High Commission post-celebrations, hinting at potential high-level participation.
The decision to host the event at such a fortified venue comes in the wake of last year's violent fallout. The 2022 Yoga Day celebrations, held at the national stadium, drew significant backlash, resulting in protests that escalated into a full-blown conflict.
The controversy arises from the standpoint of many Islamic scholars in the Maldives, who view yoga as shirk - an act of idolatry or polytheism, thus deemed unsuitable for Muslims. Despite the religious fatwas and heated debate surrounding yoga, the Maldivian government, in conjunction with the Indian High Commission, proceeded with the event.
Such defiance of religious injunctions has led to tangible consequences. Last year, two prominent religious scholars were arrested following their vocal opposition to the celebration of Yoga Day. They are currently facing charges of terrorism.
However, it is not just the religious facet that breeds discontent. Critics argue that yoga is not part of Maldivian culture and its health benefits are often exaggerated. They claim the Indian government's promotion of yoga leans more towards ritualistic tradition than fitness exercise.