Tens of thousands expected at Berlin yoga fest
Tens of thousands of yoga fans are expected in Berlin this weekend for a huge festival organized in the German capital's 1930s Olympic Stadium by one of India's best-known gurus, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
The July 2-3 World Culture Festival is billed as a "unique celebration of harmony in diversity," bringing together an anticipated 70,000 participants from 151 countries.
All will take back home with them "unique sights, sounds, tastes and the mesmerizing variety of all the world continents in one place," the organizers promise.
Dance and music troupes from around the globe will perform, climaxing in a grand finale involving 30 pianos and 2,000 guitars as well as a mass "Peace Meditation."
Figures from government, business and academia as well as "spiritual leaders, peacemakers and renowned personalities" will "exchange their views and spread the message of peace, unity and harmony in diversity."
The venue was built for the 1936 Olympic Games, infamously intended by Adolf Hitler to showcase Aryan racial supremacy, but since then its Nazi ghosts have been steadily exorcised.
The stadium plays a central role in the German sports and cultural calendar, hosting Berlin's main football team, the 2006 World Cup final, concerts by the likes of U2 – and in September Pope Benedict XVI will hold a mass there.
The eclectic list of weekend attendees includes former European Commission president Jacques Santer, a tribal king from Ghana and a former Slovenian prime minister who will play the EU anthem, Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," on the harmonica.
Yoga, though, the originally Eastern combination of meditation, controlled breathing and body postures that has exploded in popularity in the West in recent decades, is the main focus.
The event will be "the world's biggest yoga camp," according to Ravi Shankar's biographer Francois Gautier.
"It will be a chance for the public to get to know all the different kinds," operations director Christoph Glaser told a news conference ahead of the festival.
The event also celebrates the 30th birthday of the Art of Living Foundation, created by Ravi Shankar, one of India's best-known spiritual figures whose public appearances often draw vast crowds.
The 55-year-old's foundation is a not-for-profit, educational and humanitarian non-governmental organization dedicated to creating a "stress-free mind and a violence-free society."
Based in Bangalore, India, it has also helped in conflict resolution in places such as Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Iraq, disaster relief, female empowerment and environmental sustainability.
Ravi Shankar, always dressed in white and sporting a long dark beard, is one of India's five most influential people, according to US magazine Forbes. He is also on social networking website Facebook, needless to say.
He once studied under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – the guru who famously inspired the Beatles. He is not to be confused with the world-famous sitar player Ravi Shankar, also associated with the Fab Four.
Millions of people overseas are believed to use his breathing techniques.
"Unless we have a stress-free mind and a violence-free society, we cannot achieve world peace," he says.