Reports say India's top television yoga guru drew hundreds of followers to a tiny Scottish island, turning it into an unlikely pilgrim center in the windswept Firth of Clyde.
Swami Ramdev, who has a wide following among millions of middle-class Hindus, brought his teachings to Little Cumbrae, a tiny dot of land off the Scottish coast southwest of Glasgow.
AdvertisementKnown as Wee Cumbrae to locals, the 684-acre (277-hectare) barren, rocky island has previously been best known for its birdlife.
But the islet has been bought by an Indian couple, Sam and Sunita Poddar, who plan to establish a five-star yoga retreat here.
Hundreds of followers from around the world gathered for the orange-robed guru's first appearance on Scottish soil on Sunday to bless the land.
"Yoga is the universal and scientific philosophy of self-realization and healing," Swami Ramdev said, cited by The Guardian newspaper.
"Our personal life should also be full of austerity and self-control and a complete sense of denunciation."
He said of Little Cumbrae: "It is like the Himalayas and the banks of the Ganges," adding that the island could become "a center of great pilgrimage," according to The Times newspaper.
The Poddars have lived in Glasgow, western Scotland, for 25 years, making their fortune in the care home business. They bought Little Cumbrae last month for two million pounds.
They have pledged to use the island to create a center dedicated to the yoga and holistic health principles adhered to by Swami Ramdev, the first such retreat outside India, according to their spokeswoman.
Retreats comprising up to 100 people will begin here next year, with visitors coming for up to a week at a time to take part in yoga classes and receive massages, natural herbal remedies and detoxing treatments.
Swami Ramdev advocates combining yoga with traditional Indian healing called Ayurved medicine. He promotes this through the Pantanjali Yog Peeth Trust (PYPT), which opened a branch in Britain three years ago.
Sunita Poddar was made a trustee and credits the Ramdev approach to her own recovery from various health problems, while her husband is a yoga teacher.
However, Swami Ramdev's approach has caused controversy. In July, he reportedly challenged a landmark court ruling in India legalizing gay sex, claiming it is a "disease" that can be cured by yoga.
He filed a petition on the grounds that the Delhi High Court "erred" in decriminalizing "unnatural sex acts" last week and that homosexuality was an illness which could be treated, according to the Indian Express newspaper.
The Poddars also hope to encourage other visitors to the island to learn about its history, remnants of a seventh-century religious cell remain, as does a 13th century castle keep and enjoy the wildlife and plants here.
"Whether it is experiencing the rejuvenating and healing powers of Yog Pranayam and Ayurved, exploring the magnificent history of the island, enjoying the many walking trails, or experiencing the many gifts of nature this beautiful island has to offer, we want to make Wee Cumbrae accessible for everyone," Sunita Poddar said.
A spokeswoman for the North Ayrshire council expressed hope the new use of the island would help boost the local economy.
"If it brings in more people to the area, if there is a possibility of tradesmen getting more business, we would welcome the development," council head of communications Anne Clarke told AFP.
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