Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar Biography
B.K.S. IYENGAR : The King of Yogis
Yoga guru Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar died on 20th August, 2014. He is widely known for his efforts to popularise Yoga first in India and then in the West. Iyengar, who died at the age of 96, has his last name listed in the Oxford dictionary as a noun, and described as ‘a form of astanga yoga’. His popularity stemming from his wisdom made him one of the most renowned Yoga teachers in the world for which he was honoured with Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan. BKS Iyengar is credited with several books on the practice and philosophy of Yoga. In 2004, he figured in the list of 100 most influential people in the world brought out by Time magazine.
His form of Yoga called the Iyengar Yoga is bound to live on through his disciples and the numerous certified teachers at the Iyengar Yoga classes offered across the globe.
Let’s take a look at the life and times of BKS Iyengar:
A Troubled Childhood
Iyengar, right from his birth (14th December, 1918) to most of his early years battled poverty and attack of several diseases. He was the eleventh of the thirteen children of his parents Sri Vaishnava Iyengar and Sheshamma, out of whom only ten survived. Bellur in Karnataka, Iyengar’s birth place, was grappling with influenza pandemic which did not spare him too. As a sick and weak child, Iyengar suffered from tuberculosis, malaria, typhoid and malnutrition. While these troubles were not getting resolved, Iyengar, who was just five, went through another sorrowful period where he lost his father to appendicitis.
The Path to Yoga
The ailments Iyengar was suffering made his brother-in-law, Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who was a yogi, extremely worried. It was in the year 1934 that Iyengar was called by Sri Tirumalai to Mysore to practise Yoga for health improvement. This proved to be a turning point in his life, as not only did his health improve but he also got the opportunity to demonstrate Yoga in the Maharaja’s court, Mysore. While Iyengar turned to Krishnamacharya for advice, he was often underestimated by him. Krishnamacharya thought that Iyengar, a weak child, would not be able to master Yoga. A proper training only began when Krishnamacharya’s favourite pupil left and he focused his attention on Iyengar.
The Beginnings of Becoming a Guru
The year 1937 marked the beginning of Iyengar’s journey as a teacher. On the insistence of Krishnamacharya, Iyengar went to Pune at the age of eighteen where he spent most of his time, testing and learning various techniques.
Gradually, his teachings won over prominent personalities ranging from Jiddu Krishnamurti, Yehudi Menuhin, Jayaprakash Narayan, Elizabeth the Queen of Belgium, Aldous Huxley to Sachin Tendulkar, Kareena Kapoor, Isha Sharvani and Zaheer Khan, to name a few.
Iyengar’s journey to international fame began when he befriended Yehudi Menuhin, the violinist. The first time Iyengar went to Yehudi, he was told that Yehudi was really tired and could spare only five minutes. Iyengar made Yehudi to adopt a relaxing asan after which Yehdi fell asleep for an hour. Waking up refreshed, Yehudi spent two more hours with Iyengar and realised that practising Yoga improved his violin performance. This made Yehudi invite Iyengar to Switzerland after which Iyengar frequented the West and now there are hundreds of institutes which teach Iyengar Yoga.
The Written Word
Iyengar wrote several books beginning with “Light on Yoga” which was published in 1966 and became an international best seller with translations of it available in 17 languages. This widely read book was succeeded by several titles on pranayama along with aspects of philosophy which have made a total of 14 titles under the authorship of Iyengar. The last of these was “Light on Life”.
Expanse of Influence
Iyengar after retiring from teaching in 1984 continued an active life by conducting workshops and special classes. When in 2005 he visited the United States for the promotion of his last book, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors declared 3rd October 2005 as “BKS Iyengar Day”. Owing to his innumerable disciples, anthropologist Joseph S. Alter said, “He has by far had the most profound impact on the global spread of yoga”. Another honour was added to his name in 2011 when the Beijing branch of China Post issued a commemorative stamp and presented it to him as five cities of China have more than 30,000 Iyengar Yoga students.
The Secrets of Long Life
Iyengar’s long life was the result of the practice of what he preached, “live happily and die majestically”. Even at the age of 95 he was a practitioner of asanas for minimum of three hours and one hour of pranayamas every day. A strict vegetarian, he also mentioned once in an interview that he has found himself at other times, performing non-deliberate pranayamas.
Iyengar had married Ramamani in 1943, who died at the age of 46. Iyengar named his Yoga school in Pune after her. This wedlock gave them five daughters and a son. While two of his children are world renowned teachers the rest have made names in authorship.
Unique Form of Yoga
Iyengar Yoga remains a special form of Yoga for the differences it bears. Iyengar’s style of teaching incorporated exactly what was desired by his students. He stressed on flexibility and physical strength. It was when his spine got dislocated as a consequence of a scooter accident that Iyengar discovered the use of props like belts, blankets and blocks in Yoga to help differently abled people to be its practitioners as well. His knowledge of deities like Yoga Narasimha also found a place in his teachings of asanas. His work extended to philanthropy and activism which included huge donations and support to the causes of nature conservation, animal adoption and promotion of awareness of multiple sclerosis in India.