Born in 1918 in Bellur, Karnataka, Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar founded the Iyengar School of Yoga.
By the time he was 15, Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja had experienced series of sickness – malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid fever and malnutrition in the highlights. It was then when his brother-in-law, Sri Tirumali Krishnamacharya asked the young Iyengar to seek respite in Yoga to improve his health, giving him a brief training of 10-15 days. This, they say was the only Yoga training Iyengar has ever received.
“BKS Iyengar is said to have a troubled relationship with Krishnamacharya. In the beginning his guru had predicted that the stiff and sickly teenager, weakened by his multiple illnesses, would not be successful at yoga. So, he was neglected and tasked with household chores.
It was only when Krishnamacharya’s favourite pupil at the time, Keshavamurthy, left that he finally decided to teach BKS a series of difficult postures, sometimes telling him not to eat until he had mastered a certain posture”
At 18, Iyengar began teaching yoga.
Iyengar spread his Yoga prowess in about 60 countries with a loyal following of disciples in and outside the country. He was often called as “modern rishi” and has over 100 branches of his institute in several countries.
Named at one of the top 100 influential personalities in the world by TIME magazine, Iyengar has been guru to a long celebrity list that includes Jayprakash Narayan, Sachin Tendulkar, Kareena Kapoor, Aldous Huxley, Annette Bening, Donna Karen and J Krishnamurthi. One of his famous stints include teaching headstand to 80 year old Queen Elizabeth.
In 1952, Iyengar met violinist Yehudi Menuhin and it was this serendipitous encounter that catapulted Iyengar from a comparatively obscure Indian yoga teacher into an international guru. As the story goes, Iyengar was asked to go to Mumbai to meet the violinist at the behest of famous philosopher J. Krishnamurti whom he had taught yoga. Menuhin was said to be very tired and could spare only five minutes. Iyengar told him to lie down in Savasana (lying on his back), and he fell asleep. After one hour, Menuhin awoke refreshed and retuned, spending another two hours with Iyengar. Menuhin came to believe that practising yoga improved his playing, and in 1954 invited Iyengar to Switzerland. At the end of that visit, he presented his yoga teacher with a watch on the back of which was inscribed, “To my best violin teacher, BKS Iyengar”. After this, Iyengar visited the West regularly, and schools teaching his system of yoga sprang up all over the world. There are now hundreds of Iyengar yoga centre.
Iyengar was conferred with Padma Shri in 1991, Padma Bhushan in 2002 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2014 for his immense contribution to the field of yoga.
Even when he was old, Iyengar would place heavy stones on his knees and continue to sit in that position for hours. He continued practicing asanas for three hours and pranayamas for an hour daily even at the age of 90.
Iyengar died from heart failure and renal failure in August 2014 in Pune. He was 95-years-old then. The interactive doodle made by Kevin Laughlin is a memoire to the legendary yoga guru on his 97th Birthday.
BKS Iyengar: 14 December 1918 – 20 August 2014
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