Baba Ramdev is a yoga guru, which is known for his active involvement in ayurveda, business and politics. He is one of the gurus appearing most on the TV and in the news. The products of his Patanjali company are now familiar to every indian, and it’s hard to find a person in india who haven’t heard anything about him. However he is not so well-known in the West, probably because of his obvious nationalistic “pro-indian” orientation, since his target is the population of India, or Bharat (the ancient name of India), as he prefers to call it.
Ramdev was born in a farmers family in a village close to Delhi. He claims to have been paralyzed at the age of 2,5 and later been cured by practicing yoga. As a young man Ramdev was studying indian scriptures, yoga and sanskrit in different religious schools. He was initiated into sannyas, and for a while offered free yoga classes to villagers. Later he moved to Haridwar (one of the most sacred places for hindu), where he continued his studies and practice of meditation. At the age of 30 he founded Divya Yog Mandir Trust, which aimed to spread yoga and ayurveda “to make a disease-free world”. A few years later he started giving yoga classes on TV, which soon became popular, and Ramdev gained large following. Since then he regularly appears on TV in programs and shows, and conducts big yoga camps. In 2006 Ramdev started Patanjali Ayurved, a consumer packaged goods company that produces a wide range of products from ayurvedic medicines to instant noodles. The company soon became successful, and keeps on conquering the indian market offering “cheap and best” goods for everyday use. Though Ramdev claimed he will stay away from direct political activity, he tried to form a political party, and used the funds of his yoga and ayurveda trusts to support other parties. Ramdev became one of the key figures of 2011 anticorruption movement, which demanded for strict measures to fight disastrous corruption in indian political life. After a few days of fasting in front of a huge crowd in Delhi, Ramdev was arrested and sent back to his ashram.
Baba Ramdev teaches yoga. Or to be more precise, he teaches a simplified and adapted to the general use version of hatha yoga and pranayama, sort of indian style fitness. A look at a sort of summary of his teachings on the official website proudly called “words of wisdom” reveals a mix of traditional hindu rhetoric with zero originality and bold straightforward nationalism. Exactly what is needed for a public success. He is known for speaking against homosexuality, “which is unnatural, a mental disorder, and can be treated with yoga”. He claimed to have proof of natural yoga treatments for numerous diseases, and that his practices healed millions of people. At the same time he has no formal degree from any authorized institution in the field of yoga or ayurveda. He claims, that the practice of yoga can replace the use of medicine completely, but his company produces and sells hundreds of medicines. He wants to deprive english of its status of an official language of India and calls for boycotting the foreign companies. If that means taking over the market – he is quite successful. In 2016 he was named the 5th most economically powerful person in India, due to incredible success of his company and close connections with the ruling party.
Basically, there is one word to describe Baba Ramdev – a populist. He would still be fine just teaching yoga on the TV, though the benefits of such practice are quite doubtful, since teaching complex asanas and especially pranayama to unprepared audience can be pretty harmful. But getting into politics and threatening to win all the parliament seats is a bit too much for a humble monk, who claims that abstaining from politics is a norm of good conduct. Anyway, Ramdev’s words are all full of contradictions. And he doesn’t appear to be too much of an intellectual. But that is not necessary – his goods are selling well.