April 11, 2009

Every Sunday, at 7 am, while most Mumbaiites are still sleeping, a motley group of around 20 people gather at the Bombay Port Trust park in Colaba and move gracefully to the beats of Chinese music.

Sometimes they stretch their arms skywards; at others they hold their palms facing their stomachs like Laughing Buddha statues.

The men and women are followers of Falun Dafa or Falun Gong, a spiritual practice born in China in 1992 and later banned by the Communist Party on grounds that it "advocated superstition and spread fallacies".

Since 1999 there has been widespread persecution of Falun Dafa practitioners.

The Mumbai practitioners, who swear by the tranquillising quality of Falun Dafa exercises, feel deeply for their counterparts in China.

Some of them, including Mumbai university professor Poornima Raina, flew to Delhi on Saturday to host the Divine Land Marching Band, which spreads the message of Falun Dafa and raises awareness across the world about the persecutions in China.

The band, comprising 150 Falun Dafa practitioners from Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Japan, will perform at Jantar Mantar and Lodhi Garden in Delhi on Sunday and Monday.

Raina, a Colaba resident, had been suffering from acute spondilytis form 20 years but said it "disappeared" when she started practicing Falun Dafa five years ago.

Many practitioners believe that the practice cures long-standing illnesses but Raina said that health benefits are just a "by-product". "Falun Dafa makes one grow spiritually," she said.