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Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar was born on December 14, 1918 while his mother, Sheshamma was in the grip of the influenza epidemic. His father, Sri Krishnamachar was a school teacher, and Sundararaja was their thirteenth child. Sundararaja did not have a very healthy childhood, being a victim of malaria, typhoid, and tuberculosis in an era when antibiotics did not exist.
At the age of 16, young Sundararaja was introduced to yoga by his elder sister’s husband, Sri T.Krishnamacharya – a very learned, and gifted man with great physical prowess, an authority on the scriptures who taught yoga at the palace of the Maharaja of Mysore. He was also a very hard task-master.
It was in 1936, that Sundararaja, then 18, was deputed by his Guru to go to Pune for 6 months to teach yoga. The reason Sundararaja was selected was that he knew a little of the English language as compared with his fellow students who spoke the local language Kannada or Sanskrit. Sundararaja himself had no choice. He was ordered to go, and he had to. And as he said later, “With fear and hesitation, I surrendered to his “order” as grace (Ashirvad), and went to Pune which has become my land of action (karmabhumi) since then.”
In Pune, times were tough for 18 year old Sundararaja. He had no home, no friends, no family, andwas a stranger to the language and culture of the state. Although he had lived with his Guru for two years before coming to Pune, their interactions were very limited, and he did not get many opportunities to learn from his Guru. Therefore, in Pune he decided to practice diligently and attentively to acquire first hand experiential knowledge. He continued with his practice on his own, refining, and redefining asanas to achieve perfection, and precision.
He may have missed his daily meals but he never missed his practice. He would practice for long hours to understand the techniques of each asana, and the effects they brought about.This precision, and perfection in his practice was reflected in his teachings, and his students grew in number. However, in those days teaching yoga did not generate enough funds to sustain oneself in a city. Sundararaja had to live on a hand to mouth existence often unaware of where his next meal would be coming from.
In 1943, his brothers arranged his marriage with 16 year old Ramamani who had no idea of yoga when she entered Sundararaja’s life. But soon she absorbed the essence of yoga, and was the real strength and power behind her husband’s progress in his field. She never interfered in his practices and teachings but at the same time was a good support, one of his best critics and advisers. She took care of their large family of five daughters, and one son, often single-handedly, giving her husband the time he needed for the path that he had chosen. It also fell upon her to introduce the subject of yoga to her children.
B.K.S. Iyengar was now being recognized as a yoga teacher. He taught several famous personalities such as J. Krishnamurti, freedom fighters like Jayaprakash Narayan, Achyut Patwardhan, the commandant of the National Defence Academy, many physicians and industrialists. He gave hundreds of demonstrations which were appreciated by several luminaries including Dr. Rajendra Prasad, First President of India, Dr. Mohammad
Hatta, ex-Vice President of Indonesia, Marshal Bulganin, ex-Premier of Russia, Nikita Krushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Russia, and a meeting with Pope Paul VI.
A fortuitous meeting with the violin maestro Yehudi Menuhin in 1952 was instrumental in introducing the Western World to Guruji, then called Mr. Iyengar. Menuhin was a very devoted student, and year after year Guruji went abroad to teach him, and his family. Many more people joined in these sessions, and gradually a large number of people in the western world became his students, eagerly waiting for him to come back a year later. Menuhin like his other students, continued his practice, and acknowledged Mr. Iyengar as his best violin teacher.
Guruji’s work is now being appreciated by various organizations, and Governments world wide. He has received numerous awards, and titles like the Padmashri from the Government of India; Patanjali Award, Doctor of Science from the United Nations Charter for Universal Peace; Shri Krishnanugraha Prashasti by Jagadguru Shri Madhavacharya; Yoganga Shikshaka Chakravarti by Yogacharya T. Krishnamacharya; Yoga Ratna by Vishwa Yoga Samelan; Yogi Raja by Swami Shivananda; Rajyotsava Award of the Government of Karnataka; Purna Swasthya Award.
Even a star in the Northern Hemisphere has been named as Yogacharya B.K. S. Iyengar, and registered with the Ministry of Federal Star Registration, USA. Its location is Monoceros Ragh 30m49sd + 1degree 29′.
Guruji’s understanding of the human body, and mind is phenomenal. He has utilized this experiential knowledge of his to treat individuals with various disorders. “Therapeutic Yoga” has become an integral part of “Iyengar Yoga” with individuals suffering from myriad of disorders seeking solace from Guruji. Many thousands are indebted to him for literally saving, and giving a new meaning to their lives.
From 1975 to 1984, it was Guruji who taught most of the classes at the Institute. Then in 1984, he took a back seat as if going into a stage of life where one learns non attachment while living in a family (Vanprasthashrama). He has the ability, the power to go on, but he also has the capability to restrain, and detach himself. He also wanted the younger generation to come up. His daughter, Geeta, son Prashant and other senior teachers started taking the regular classes at the Institute.
However, he still continues to teach periodically, guiding his students, and student-teachers through mega classes conducted in various parts of the world. In 1998, he taught 800 of his students for a week on the occasion of his 80th birthday.
Again, in the year 2000, he conducted a special course for senior
“When I practice, I am a philosopher.
When I teach, I am a scientist.
When I demonstrate, I am an artist”.
”Iyengar Yoga” teachers from nearly 40 countries. Even today, at the age of 81, he never misses his practice. He appears to be at ease in any posture he performs, thoroughly involved, reflecting, concentrating, with the senses of perception totally quieted – in a state of meditation (dhyana)!
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