- Russian Philosopher and Yoga Practitioner
are yogis? Twenty years ago the answer to this quesion sounded
something like this: "Indian herments and fringe elements
who can sleep on beds of nails, tie themselves into knots
and stand on their heads". But today yoga is popular
among trendy Russian youth. No fashionable fitness club in
Moscow or other major cities can do without a yoga instructor,
and one may even find queues for yoga mats at sport shops.
during the Soviet era, yoga is becoming more po pular in Russia.
In Moscow and St Petersburg alone, according to the publisher
of the Russian version of Yoga Journal, there are at least
100,000 people who practice yoga regularly. Among them is
President Dmitry Medvedev! Having told Tainy Zvyozd (Secrets
of the Stars) magazine that he can even do a headstand (shirshasana),
Mr Medvedev stirred up a surge of enthusiasm both among long-time
yoga fans and neophytes who decided to commit to this physical
and spiritual discipline that is not a traditional part of
days there are no obstacles. Few people remember the Russian
trailblazers who mastered yoga on their own from translated
books and tried to share their knowledge and skill with others
in Soviet times, when the price for this could be losing a
good job, material well-being or even one's freedom. Professor
Vasily Brodov, the first chairman of the Yoga Association
of the USSR, had first-hand experience with all of this.
path towards this Indian philosophy and yoga was not an easy
one for him. A native of Moscow (1912), he graduated in philosophy
at the Moscow Institute of Philosophy, Literature and History
in 1938, but he never even dreamed in those times that India
would become his life's work. His gravitation towards free
thinking and participation in intellectual gatherings led
Brodov, a young philosophy professor at the time, to the infamous
Gulag prison camps, where he was incarcerated at the start
of World War II. Brodov continuously applied to be sent to
the front. At first, the camp administration replied with
an unequivocal "no," but as the situation at the
front became more desperate, prisoners were thrown into the
front lines in penal battalions. In an artillery unit, Brodov
marched from Ukraine to Berlin and miraculously survived.
Prison and fierce battles behind him, Brodov's severe wounds
after all, he "paid his dues to the Motherland with his
blood" served as a lifetime reminder of his hard-knock
life was not a bed of roses even after the war. Having finished
his post-graduate studies at the Institute of Philosophy,
USSR Academy of Sciences, and defended his thesis on a subject
that was in demand given the Communist regime ("John
Dewey's instrumentalism in service of the American reaction"),
he was nevertheless practically exiled to the city of Saransk
by an assistant professor in the philosophy department of
a pedagogical institute. He was bandied about from one institution
of higher learning to another and deemed "unreliable."
Still, the talented exile was able to become a lecturer at
the department of dialectical and historical materialism of
the natural sciences division of Moscow State University (1962
- 1966). Brodov's brothers-in-arms remember these as "the
most fruitful years of his academic and teaching career."
was during this time that he came to know India. The subject
of his doctor's thesis, "Progressive social and philosophical
thought in India in the New Era (1850 - 1917)," which
he successfully defended in 1964, was suggested to him by
academy member Georgy Alexandrov, director of the USSR Academy
of Sciences, Institute of Philosophy, with whom Brodov was
fortunate enough to work. Brodov's dissertation was a tremendous
breakthrough not only in Soviet Indology, but it was also
recognised by the German Indologist Walther Ruben as the first
systematic research into the history of Indian philosophy
in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Later on the basis
of his doctorate thesis he wrote a monography "Indian
Philosophy in Modern Times" which was translated
into English and distributed by Soviet "Progress Publishers"
with two editions.
notable event in his life was a meeting with Indian President
Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan in 1964 at Moscow State Univer sity.
Brodov delivered a welcome speech for the president and gave
him a copy of the book "Ancient Indian Philosophy:
The Early Period," the first in the series "Philosophical
Heritage" translation into Russian from Sanskrit of the
ancient Indian texts of the Upanishads. A team of translators
worked on the book, and Brodov wrote the preface and extensive
commentary on the ancient texts from a philosophical point
new subject matter steered the recently awarded doctor of
philosophical science onto the right track. In 1966, having
become the head of the philosophy department of the All-Union
Extramural Engineering and Construction Institute (now the
Moscow Institute of Municipal Economy and Construction), the
professor continued to work in Indian philosophy and as an
academic secretary, participated in preparing "The
History of Philosophy" for publication. Brodov penned
individual chapters on the history of Indian philosophy in
this six volume work, published in full in 1965.
the same period, in the early 1960s, Brodov was fortunate
to meet renowned Indian guru Dhirendra Brahmachari, who was
invited to the USSR to research the possibility of using yoga
to train Soviet cosmonauts. Brahmachari gave the cosmonauts
lectures and practical lessons in closed sessions, which Brodov
was able to attend.
with the guru, mastering the asanas and pranayama had an almost
immediate salutary affect on the former frontline soldier's
health. Professor Brodov, the philosopher and Indologist who
had discovered yoga, which he called the "fruit of the
creative genius of the Indian people," dedicated the
rest of his life to promoting it in his home country. He took
every opportunity to impart his countrymen with some knowledge
of the ancient healing art, despite disapproval from the authorities.
And from time to time, he was able to cut through the Iron
Brodov stood at the epicentre of the struggle for official,
albeit indirect opportunities to study and promote yoga in
the USSR," said Viktor Boiko, one of the yoga teachers
of perestroyka time.
to note the history behind the writing of the article
Teachings of Indian Yogis and Human Health in Light of Modern
Science," which was published in the digest "Philosophical
Issues in Medicine." The digest was published in
1962 with the approval of the ideological department of the
Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, which was
concerned that the seepage of information on yoga into the
Soviet Union was an indirect consequence of the political
rapprochement, and subsequent economic and cultural cooperation,
of the USSR with the Republic of India.
ideologists did not want anything to do with the introduction
of any system of personal development for the population,
because it was contradicting the system of limiting the intellectual
growth of common people.
the practice of yoga, Dr. Brodov had by that time improved
his health, which had deteriorated during his time in active
army duty, penal battalion as well as in his post-war exile,"
recalled Boiko. "And being the actual executor of the
state order, he nevertheless understood that his task created
an opportunity to provide at least some information about
Indian yogic tradition in a government publication. As a result,
this article became the first official publication on yoga
since the death of Stalin and under the Soviet system in general,
making it unique."
opened the door to a whole series of articles on Indian yogis
in various publications, including the authoritative "Scientific
and Atheistic Dictionary," (Moscow, 1969) and the
magazine "Science and Religion" (1962, No.
4). Brodov was also the co-producer and chief consultant for
the documentary film "Indian Yogis. Who are they?",
which was distributed in the USSR in 1970, and created an
explosion of interest for yoga practice.
the film had not been approved by the authorities and was
shelved for many years. Brodov wrote the following on the
making of the film and the subsequent reaction to it: "The
years of personality cult and stagnation in our country were
also a time of strong negative attitudes towards yoga practices.
The official line stated that yoga, from the point of view
of its philosophy, is pure idealism, religion, mysticism,
and in practice, it is quackery, hoodoo and acrobatics. We,
as the filmmakers, had the intention, at first, to introduce
to the Soviet people a unique phenomenon of ancient Indian
culture, and, at second, to prompt our scientists, especially
those from biological and medical sciences, to think about
the human potential.' Third, we wanted to motivate the experts
into gleaning from yoga the rational core that could serve
as an additional source of health. Unfortunately, for ideological
reasons during the period of stagnation, the intention did
not meet with our expectations. The more influential officials
at the Ministry of Health and the State Committee for Sport
had an unequivocal reaction to the documentary. They called
it the propaganda of idealism and religion. The result of
this criticism is evident, they crucified yoga as not of our
ideology and it was banned."
the early 1970s, a group of scientists and public figures,
including Brodov, tried to influence the System by writing
an open letter to General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee
Leonid Brezhnev and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of
the USSR Aleksey Ko sygin with a request to legalize yoga
and establish a yoga therapy scientific research institute.
Well-know medical doctors, scientists, journalists and cultural
figures signed the document, but the initiative produced no
visible results at the time.
not all Soviet people shared the opinion and motives that
led to the ban," recalled Brodov later, in his tenure
as president of the USSR Yoga Association, which was established
in 1989. "Many people practiced hatha yoga on their own
at home and in private. Translations of foreign literature
the so-called samizdat (the secret publication and distribution
of government-banned literature - ed.) served as instructional
aids. Following the perestroika years, "yoga health groups"
started popping up everywhere. Among the leaders of the groups,
the more enlightened and gifted ones became real teachers
is true that the newfound openness brought a lot of rubbish
to the surface. Among those who called themselves gurus were
many impostors and people far removed from real yoga who were
conning people to make a living. Professor Brodov, not wanting
to be associated with these people in any way, resigned his
chairmanship. Despite not holding an official position, Brodov
remained a recognised authority among Russian practitioners
of yoga. Incidentally, in the 1990s, in the so-called "era
of hard times," in his twilight years, Brodov said that
the revival of Russia would only be possible on a path of
growing nationalist sentiment, and he drew clear parallels
to the Indian independence movement. He was sure that modern
Russia could succeed by replicating the Indian experience
of revival and the retention of nationhood.
first glance, the most paradoxical aspect of Brodov's biography
is that he never visited India. However, this is easily explained.
One only need consider the times in which he lived. His friends
and relatives recalled that in the 1970s, he was frequently
invited to philosophical conventions abroad, including those
in India, but for some reason perhaps because of his time
in the Gulag or because of the secret programme of yoga practice
for cosmonauts he was not allowed to leave the USSR. Brodov
received the last invitation to visit the land of the yogis
and maharajas in the early 1990s from the Ramakrishna Mission
Institute of Culture. But his health no longer allowed long
distant flights, and he never did see India with his own eyes.
Nevertheless, his colleagues note that inspite of a hard life,
Vasily Brodov always remained good-natured and cheerful personality
with a subtle sense of humour. He maintained his physical
and mental health with daily yoga exercises that he had mastered
Brodov himself wrote: "Yoga is a system of self-regulation
and self-improvement of human personality, and here I can
refer to my own experience. After WWII I returned wounded
and ill from the front lines in 1945. The doctor who prescribed
my medicine reassured me, "You've got another 10 or 15
years to live..." Unfortunately, prescribed medicine
helped very little. Illnesses that became more acute, cardiac
insufficiency, radiculitis, salt deposits, kidney stones and
many others forced me to try hatha yoga. Studying primary
sources and consulting with Indian experts helped me master
the elements of this physical therapy. As a result, all of
the ailments that were troubling me disappeared. They disappeared
without the aid of doctors or medicine. Today, being 78 years
old, I give my heartfelt thanks and deepest respect to the
great people of India for giving yoga to humanity."
millions of proponents of yoga in Russia would concur. [ NT
Lents, New Delhi