Who Was Krishnamacharya?
October 24, 2008 by Ray Baskerville
Krishnamacharya is known today in the world of yoga, because he was the teacher of B.K.S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, and TKV Desikachar, three of the great teachers of contemporary yoga. As such he has been called by some the father of modern yoga. Shri Krishnamacharya’s lineage can be traced to the Yogi Nathamuni, a ninth century South Indian saint who was renowned for his great works in Sanskrit and Yoga – the Nyayatattva and Yoga Rahasya.
Krishnamacharya was born on November 18, 1888, at Muchukundapuram in the Chitradurga district in the State of Karnataka. His parents, Shri Tirumalai Srinivasa Tatacharya and Smt. Ranganayakamma were of distinguished ancestry and lived their lives according to the shastras. Krishnamacharya was the eldest of three brothers and three sisters.
Krishnamacharya had his initial education under his father who taught him the Vedas, yoga sutras of Patanjali and the other religious texts in the traditional gurukula (pupil in the house of the guru) manner. The seeds of yoga were also sown in young Krishnamacharya by his father. He would be woken at two in the morning and made to chant the Vedas and perform asanas. His father who was his first guru planted the seeds of knowledge in him, encouraged and guided him in his quest for learning. He lost this precious guidance at the age of ten when his father died.
At the age of 16, the entire family then moved to Mysore to join his great grandfather who was the head of the Parakala Math. It is here that he studied Vyakarana (Sanskrit grammar), Vedanta and Tarka (logic) under the religious Guru to the Maharaja of Mysore. His thirst for knowledge increased and at the age of 16 he took the examination in Purva Mimamsa and the different shastras at the Maharaja Sanskrit College in Mysore. In his early adult life he studied with the pundits in Benares (Varanasi), and further studies on the Vedanta and advance Sanskrit grammar in Mysore before returning to Benares.
Once while he was practising asanas as taught by his father in Banaras, a saint saw him and advised him to study yoga under Shri Jha who had the title of Yogacharya. Yogacharya Jha advised Krishnamacharya that if he was seriously interested in Yoga, then he must travel beyond Nepal to Tibet, where Rama Mohana Brahmachari lived. He also recommended a book called Yoga Kurunta in the Gurkha language, which gave practical information on Yoga and health. this knowledge secured Krishnamacharya the permission he needed to leave the country when he was unable to improve the health of the Indian viceroy who was ill with diabetes. The viceroy was so pleased, that he made the necessary arrangements, provided clothing and even sent to aides with him.
After a long trek across the Himalayas, Krishnamacharya reached the sacred lake Mansarovar near Mount Kailash. There he searched for Rama Mohana Brahmachari and on finding him Krishnamacharya prostrated and requested him to accept him as his disciple. Krishnamacharya became a part of Rama Mohana Brahmachari’s family and lived there for seven and a half years. For the first three years he memorised the entire texts including the Yoga Kurunta. The following three years he practiced yogabhyasa (Study of Yoga)and the next one and a half years he studied sikshana (teaching) and chikitsa krama (yoga therapy). His Guru then asked him to return to society, lead a married life and spread the message of yoga.
After these 7 years of study, he came back to South India and studied Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of medicine. His fame as a great scholar led to an invitation from the Mahraja of Mysore Krishnamacharya accepted the offer and lived the remainder of his life devoted to the spread and teaching of yoga. In accordance with his Guru’s wishes that he should live a life of a householder – he married Namagiriammal in 1925.
After Indian independence and the close of the Maharaja’s yogashala, Krishnamacharya and his family left Mysore for Madras. as he aged Krishnamacharya’s teaching style changed. Iyengar said of him "in the early days, he was like a militant. He was a fierce, strong, demanding individual. Pattabhi Jois echoes this saying "if you came one minute early or one minute late you would not be allowed into class. He demanded total discipline and was very tough." His son Desikachar, who did not begin yoga studies with his father until Krishnamacharya was 70 says " Later on, he changed and began to teach people differently. He began to cater to the needs of the individual, rather than to teach everyone the same way. His teaching methodology also involved, which meant that he reduced and adapted it to the needs of individuals, to their culture and mentality. It was not standardization of their "everyone has to do this asana" variety. Although many considered him a Yoga Master he continued to call himself a student because he felt that he was always “studying, exploring and experimenting” with the practice.
T. Krishnamacharya died in 1989, just after his 100th birthday. His work lives on through his son T.K.V. Desikachar who lived and studied with his father for 3 decades. Sri Desikachar still lives in the family home in Chennai and is semi-retired so that he can spend his days translating the library of work that T. Krishnamacharya left for future generations of yogis. So Krishnamacharya will be providing us with yoga teachings for many years to come. He lives on through these teachings and the family that is carefully disseminating them to the world.
T. Krishnamacharya’s work was revolutionary in his time because he believed that yoga was universal to all people, irrespective of age, gender, culture, faith, abilities and interests. He is one of the few masters of m modern times who understood the whole gamut of yoga’s tools and their potentials for health and healing. For him yoga was not merely a form of physical exercise, but one that helped us in our journey towards our authentic selfs.
“Living Liberation - Meditation Training, and so much more" "It changed my life"Find out more