Indian guru aims for world record with mass yoga event

NEW DELHI (AFP) - An Indian guru said on Friday he hopes to set a world record this weekend by practising yoga with millions of other people, including opposition election frontrunner Narendra Modi.

Swami Ramdev, who heads a huge yoga empire and is a household name in India, has thrown his support behind Modi, the prime ministerial candidate for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, tipped to win the polls due to kick off next month.

Ramdev tweeted that "100 million people will do yoga together on March 23" and asked people whether they would join in and become "a part of the history." The guru told a news conference in New Delhi he plans to hold the three-hour yoga session "simultaneously" with people who will gather in the country's more than 600 districts.

The session in the capital will be held at the Ramlila Maidan, a traditional site for staging religious and political rallies that has the capacity for tens of thousands of people.

Ramdev told reporters that Modi would attend the event.

He rejected suggestions that the gathering was a political stunt to boost the politician's popularity.

"The event's only aim is to spread yoga by bringing together people from different backgrounds, professions and regions," Ramdev told the news conference.

Modi's office spokesman could not be immediately reached for confirmation that he would take part.

According to the Guinness World Records website, the record for "the largest yoga class" held in "multiple venues" was set last December by a natural healer in south India.

Some 62,824 people took part in the yoga class held by D. Veerendra Heggade, president of the Shantivana Trust, in 47 locations, the Guinness site said.

Ramdev combines spiritualism, yoga and social activism and has courted controversy with his purported cures for cancer and other diseases.

The guru has endorsed Modi, saying the hawkish conservative leader will restore India's former glory.

Opinion surveys have pointed to Modi as the favourite to oust the graft-tainted Congress-led coalition in the elections, whose results will be known in mid-May.