Scottish isle is guru's choice for global healing

Controversial television yoga teacher plans to transform remote island
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The Independent Online

To date, the remote Scottish island of Little Cumbrae has been an uncontroversial place. Best known for its rich birdlife, the island's most dramatic feature has been its ruined castle. But that is about to change – as Little Cumbrae gets renamed Peace Island, thanks to the teachings of a contentious Indian guru who has said yoga can cure Aids.

Guru Ramdev, despite his unusual views, is a huge star in India, where more than 20 million viewers tune in to his daily television show. He has recently won over a fresh legion of fans in America and the UK.

Now the Scottish owners of Little Cumbrae plan to transform it into a centre for yoga and traditional teaching under the guru's direction. He is due to attend a ceremony to bless the island later this month.

Last night, a spokesman for the guru, SK Tijarawala, confirmed: "We are setting up a yoga institute and laboratory... to show how traditional knowledge from India can cure the world."

The island was bought this summer by Sam and Sunita Poddar. The couple head the Patanjali Yog Peeth Trust (UK),  a sister organisation of Divya Yoga, a group Mr Ramdev established in India 15 years ago. The group's website says it aims "to make a disease-free world through a scientific approach to Yoga and Ayurveda".

This has certainly been the vision of Guru Ramdev. In India, the bearded teacher, usually dressed in flowing orange robes, has built an empire that includes a yoga camp in the holy Himalayan city of Haridwar where the Ganges rushes from the mountains. The camp is said to earn around £20m a year.

But as well as riches, the 56-year-old guru has faced no small amount of controversy. Several years ago, it was alleged that a website promoting his products had claimed yoga could cure HIV. The guru then said he had been misquoted. But he has continued to say that yoga can cure various forms of cancer.

It is unclear how much time Mr Ramdev, a life-long celibate, will spend on the island, off Ayrshire, though Mr Tijarawala said he would be a regular visitor. Local people have been invited to meet him at the 27 September inauguration.

The Poddars, whose business interests include a home for the elderly in Glasgow, were last night unavailable for comment. While it is unclear how much they paid for the island in July, Little Cumbrae was being advertised for £2.5m. As well as a ruined castle, it comes with a 12-bedroom mansion and the remains of a lighthouse. It is said to be home to more than 50 species of bird.

Peter Smith of estate agents HLL Humberts Leisure, who oversaw the sale of the island, suggested it would be the perfect location for those seeking quiet contemplation. "It's very secluded. It's a very peaceful place," he said. "When the weather is kind, the views are stunning."

Intriguingly, Guru Ramdev, who says he overcame paralysis through yoga's powers, is not the first aesthetic to have been lured to Little Cumbrae. History suggests that a seventh-century nun known as Saint Veya established a religious group on Little Cumbrae. History does not record, however, whether Saint Veya was as flexible as Guru Ramdev or whether she had such kind and generous friends.