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Millions of yoga enthusiasts bent and twisted their bodies in complex postures across India and much of the world on Sunday to mark the first International Yoga Day.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had lobbied the U.N. to declare June 21 as the global Yoga Day, spread his mat among rows of people, including his Cabinet members and foreign diplomats, at New Delhi's main thoroughfare that has been transformed into one sprawling exercise ground.
Thousands of people dressed in white sat on yellow mats under the Eiffel Tower, and similar events were held in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Beijing, Manila and other places.
"We are not only celebrating a day, but we are training the human mind to begin a new era of peace and harmony," Modi told participants. "This is a program for the benefit of mankind, for a tension-free world and to spread the message of harmony."
Tens of thousands of schoolchildren, bureaucrats, homemakers, soldiers and ordinary folk took part in the exercise, which was repeated in all Indian state capitals. In Modi's home state of Gujarat, public yoga events were organized at nearly 30,000 places, state officials said.
India's Defense Ministry said that soldiers on the Siachen Glacier, the world's highest battleground in the Himalayas, and naval cadets on navy ships at sea also would be participating in the Yoga Day events.
Although Modi's message was one of peace and harmony, many in India were concerned that the push for yoga was an attempt by Hindu groups to give a boost to Hinduism.
In the run-up to Yoga Day, many Muslims objected to the government's exhortations to join in the public exercise programs. Some Muslim leaders said yoga was a Hindu practice.