Scottish island to become ashram
By Catrin Nye
BBC Asian Network
Bought by two of his devotees from Glasgow for £2m, the tiny North Ayrshire island of Little Cumbrae is being converted into an international yoga camp after a blessing from India’s most popular lifestyle guru Baba Ramdev, also known as Swami Ji.
After comparing the west coast island to the Himalayas and the banks of the Ganges, Baba Ramdev led a procession accompanied by bagpipes across the island, trying not to trip over the fans who jostled to touch his feet.
In a traditional Hindu Hawan blessing the swami, surrounded by bright petals and grains, chanted and poured ghee onto an indoor fire watched on by his followers from around the world.
With that Baba Ramdev officially started the transformation of the previously uninhabited 700 acres of rocky land into Peace Island.
It will now be an international pranayama yoga base and teaching centre and “a centre of great pilgrimage”.
Baba Ramdev’s special brand of yoga has attracted a following of 80 million worldwide.
He is praised for his charisma, his straight talking and the health benefits of the strict vegetarian diet, stretching routines and the circular breathing techniques that he promotes.
At the sell-out camps he holds around the world, crowds arrive hoping for cures to diseases like multiple sclerosis and many will stand up to declare how he has changed their lives.
Indeed on Little Cumbrae the stories poured in from those who say their life has been changed by Swami Ji.
Sunita Podder, 49, the island’s new owner, says before pranayama she was overweight and taking 12 tablets a day.
Dhruv, who came from Mauritius for the occasion, says he was stressed on his diet of alcohol and meat and says now nothing can trouble him
Eric Ross, from Bolton, is among a new breed of non-Asian British followers. Eric has been doing the yoga for three months and says it is already helping his diabetes.
Eric believes in the cancer-treating claims made for pranayama.
“I believe it 110%. It’s been going on for thousands of years but it’s new to westernised people. I’m going to India so I can learn how to do it myself and teach it. We can cure ourselves from within.”
Sam and Sunita Poddar have lived in Glasgow for 32 years after moving from India, and made their fortune in care homes.
Mrs Poddar is dedicated to pranayama and says it changed her life.
Baba Ramdev faced plenty of questions about the claims his breathing exercises can help sufferers of cancer and leukaemia.
In front of the flashing bulbs of a massive press pack and in a combination of broken English and Hindi he answered them with the help of Mrs Poddar.
“We have cured hypertension, thyroid problems, asthma, arthritis, [and on cancer] the cancer cells cannot survive in an oxygenated environment – this is a scientific truth,” said Baba Ramdev.
“With Swami Ji’s pranayama your actual intake of oxygen increases to 10 times. So when you have more oxygen in your blood cells the cancer cell does not thrive,” added Mrs Poddar.
“I was a bit sceptical before. But now because I have experienced the benefit, I know. I had several ailments, I was overweight and on 12 tablets a day and (after practising pranayama) they were all taken away.”
The swami wouldn’t be drawn though on comments in the Indian press that he is anti-homosexual.
Mrs Poddar translated his Hindi response to a question on whether they “needed treatment”, saying it is not something Baba Ramdev would comment on outside India.
The Hindu lifestyle guru is a straight talker – in his TV shows he has called people who sell things like alcohol, tobacco and meat criminals and berates indulgent parents for damaging their children.
The rest of the Poddar family told the BBC they want to share what they have learned from the swami with the rest of Scotland.
Mrs Poddar, in fact, says she is on a mission to use Swami Ji’s yoga as part of a 10-year campaign to clean up the poor health of the nation.
And of course, the kids, and the grandkids have a new island to play on.
“My daughter is turning around and saying to everyone, ‘my grandfather’s bought me Cinderella’s castle and I’m the Cinderella who’s going to live in it’,” says Deepak Poddar, 28.
“I think that sums it up. It’s a dream that’s come true and every time we come here we fall more in love with the place.”
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