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Krishnamacharya – Father of Modern Yoga

 

Born on the 18 November 1888, the eldest of six children (four boys and two girls) in a remote Indian village. Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya who lived about 101 years is the Māha Yogi of our times. His scholarship in various Philosophy (darshans) of orthodox Indian philosophy earned him titles such as Sāṃkhya-yoga-śikhāmaṇi, Mīmāṃsā-Ratna, Mīmāṃsā-thīrtha, Nyāyācārya, Vedāntavāgīśa, Veda-Kesari and Yogācārya.

Sri T Krishnamacharya in his different life stages – A Scholar, A Family man, who promoted Yoga for woman and children. Even at the age of 50, his appearance looks healthy, vibrant and photogenic 🙂

His father, Sri Tirumalai Srinivasa Thathacharya, a great religious master teaching the knowledge of the ancient wisdom books (the Vedas), takes charge of the child’s education with his wife Shrimati Ranganayakamma. 

The arrival of Yoga in Krishnamacharya’s life

Around the age 28 – 30 Krishnamacharya started exploring and learning the vast subject of Yoga. On a friend’s advice at the Banaras Hindu University – Varanasi, Krishnamacharya headed towards Kailash mountain – the Home of Param-Yogi, Lord Shiva. Here he finds Sri Rammohan Brahmachari,  in a cave at the foot of Mount Kailash who was living with his wife and three children. Krishnamacharya pleased his guru by learning Nepali in a very short duration.  Krishnamacharya spent 7 years studying the “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, as well as rare yogic texts like “Yoga Kuruntha” and Learning and practising various Asanas and Pranayamas along with the therapeutic aspects of yoga.

History of Yoga Mulabandhasana
Mulabandhasana: Indus civilization seal (3300–1300 BCE) and Shri T. Krishnamacharya

Krishnamacharya claimed to have mastered 3,000 asanas. He developed some of the most remarkable skills, stopping his pulse or heartbeat for 2 minutes.  As tradition holds, the student offers guru-Dakshina (a kind of fees) to his master after completion of studies. The guru Rammohan Brahmachari sought his guru-Dakshina by asking his loyal student Krishnamacharya to return back to his homeland, establish a household, raise children and teach yoga. In accordance with his Guru’s blessings, he moved to Mysore, married Srimati Namaginammal in 1925 and received six children.

“Practice first, the yamas and niyamas.  Then practice asanas, as appropriate for you.  Follow with pranayama, and control the senses, staying in meditation, until samadhi is reached.  Forsaking this structure, practicing as he wishes, elusive will the yogi find, the fruit of the yoga tree.” — Sri T. Krishnamacharya

Teaching in Mysore

The Maharaja of Mysore Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar was visiting Banaras. The fame of Krishnamacharya reached him. He was surprised to hear that a young man from his kingdom was being hailed as one of the greatest scholars of yoga up north. The king promptly invited him back to Mysore.

Krishnamacharya teaching yoga as Cikitsa (therapy) to one of his students. He had the mastery in understanding the body type (Vata, pitta, kapha) and prescribed asana for better health.

The king was a great patron of performing arts like classical music, classical dance, drama, and yoga. He started a Yoga Shala  (Inspired – yoga shala Heidelberg) a little school in the Jaganmohan Palace and handed over its administration to Krishnamacharya.

Krishnamacharya Yoga Demo at Jaganmohan Palace, Mysore | © KYM

Krishnamacharya was very progressive for his times. He encouraged education and the training of girls in yoga and often conducted demonstrations with them. In 1938, the Maharaja even sponsored a film on Krishnamacharya.  Watch the version with Hanuman Chalisa in the background. Observe the Bāndha and his breathing is down to 1 to 2 breaths every minute. Incredible!

All this glory ended in 1940, with the demise of the Maharaja. His successor did not have as much interest in yoga. The Yoga Shala was closed in late 1940.

A staunch Shri Vaishnavite, he never crossed the country’s geographical boundaries. He trained some of the finest masters of modern yoga like BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois.

His female student Indra Devi took Yoga to the west. They continued his legacy and teachings around the world.

 

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