The Mother Divine
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By Rajvi Mehta
Sri Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnath

The news that Guruji Yogacharya BKS Iyengar had left his mortal body swiftly spread across the globe. Be it through the breaking and flashing news of the public media or the trends of the social media or personal messages or through Guruji’s official website.  The ‘news’ led to a silent outpour of grief as Guruji has touched the lives of millions across the world. From China to Chile, From Americas to Africa to Russia; Iran or Israel – wherever we were – we were united in our grief. Be it the very senior and decades old students from Pune and Mumbai or the very young students from China.
Each of us felt as if we had lost a part of ourselves. But, as the days go by, we all realize that he has left a part of himself in all of us. He has sown the seed of yoga on all kinds of beings irrespective of whether ‘the being’ was fertile and ready to receive this divine knowledge or whether the ‘being’ was as hard as a rock. He never differentiated between any of us. He watered, tended and nurtured us till this seeds started growing into a sapling. If the seeds were not germinating he used unique innovative means so that no being was deprived and no seed wasted. The seeds have started sprouting, germinating, growing into saplings and trees leading to reforestation of mankind by this divine art of man-making.

The magnitude of work that he has done in one life time may make it difficult for the generations to come to fathom that this is indeed the work of one individual. As the intellectuals and scholars in this era debate whether it is the ‘same’ Pantajali who has written on yoga, Ayurveda and grammar – the generations may wonder whether it is the same ”Iyengar” responsible for this massive body of work! No wonder that one of the local media called him Patanjali Part II!

Through a series of articles, we would be giving you some glimpses of his mammoth body of work. But, to start with, even his life story is extremely inspiring. 

Born into a poor school teacher’s family, during the world influenza epidemic of 1918, he inherited poor health. He survived bouts of typhoid, malaria and tuberculosis in his growing years and that too in the era when antibiotics had not yet been discovered and many human beings lost their battle to these microbes.  He lived but there was no life in him. Education too suffered because of poor health. He had to give it up after he failed in English in the matriculation exam as he was no longer eligible for a freeship and the family could not afford to pay for his education.

It was sheer chance or divine destiny that his brother-in-law, Sri Krishnamacharya, a very learned man and a yoga exponent introduced a few asanas to him stating that their practice would give him some health. Health was something he had never experienced and just the hope of health made him stick to the practice of asanas. Not only did he regain health but he gave health to millions across the world. He redefined the meaning of health. Health according to him is the health of the physical, physiological, emotional, mental, intellectual, conscientious, social, moral beings and all these ultimately lead to divine health.

He spent just two years with his brother-in-law but since it was he who had ignited the fire of yoga in him, he called him his Guru. Sri Krishnamcharya deputed him to go to Pune for an assignment to teach at the Deccan Gymkhana for 6 months. Little did he know then that Pune would become his Karma Bhumi. Life was not easy in Pune for a young man of 18. He had no financial resources, no family, no friends, he did not even know the local language. There was barely any interest in yoga and nobody was willing to pay to learn yoga. But, what he had, was time. And he used it very productively. He practiced in all the free time available which revealed to him the depths of this human embodiment. He referred to the various ‘systems’ in our body as tunnels and the five karmendriyas (the organs of actions); the jnanendriyas (the senses of perception), the manas (mind), buddhi (intelligence) and ahamkara (ego) and citta as the caves. All these tunnels and caves had to be kept clean through the practice of yoga for the involution of mula Prakriti (elements of nature) and evolution of the Purusha (SELF) so that they not only communicate but commune with each other to make one experience the Inner Beauty and Inner Light.

While he progressed on his inner journey, his outer journey was flooded with hardships. He often had no money for two square meals a day and sometimes even survived on a cup of tea or tap water. The people who saw him performing various ‘contortions’ even referred to him as a mad-cap. However, individuals suffering from health problems which could not be resolved by conventional means approached him time and again. With his understanding of the human body, his personal experience with the asanas, he managed to give them relief from pain and suffering. His abilities as a healer spread.

It was once again a chance meeting or divine destiny that made him to meet the violin maestro, Yehudi Menuhin that opened the doors of yoga to the western world. The genius in Menuhin made him see ‘something’ in Guruji and the subject of yoga. With a few classes he soon realized that yoga improved his performances. He then invited ‘Mr. Iyengar’ to teach him and his family once a year in Switzerland and UK. And, through Menuhin, he met and taught intellectual giants and royalty. He taught Aldouz Huxley, the Queen Mother of Belgium and J. Krishnamurthy amongst many others. While the subject of yoga was being appreciated by these giants, he, being an Indian yogi was looked at with suspicion by the common man in Europe. He once narrated how when he entered the UK, he was asked whether he ate glass or walked on fire. His baggage was extensively scrutinized for the presence of any acid as that was the reputation of yogis then. Life in the western world was very difficult. He came from a contrasting culture and a young emergent India which did not have much standing in the world. Discrimination and racism did exist and he took it all in his stride without complaints.

Having won the hearts and minds of the ‘high class’ people, he then suggested that yoga should reach the common man. Yoga does not discriminate and thus started the first public class in UK in 1961 with barely 6 people. This class grew not only to larger classes, but to Institutes, and finally to a movement of yoga. Today, there are millions of yoga practitioners of ‘Iyengar’ Yoga in the world. Although Guruji himself laughed at the term ‘Iyengar Yoga’ and always said that “yoga is one like God is one” – even the Oxford dictionary defines Iyengar as a form of yoga. This clearly denotes how Iyengar has become synonymous with yoga.  His struggled to get his first book, Light on Yoga, published. This is now translated into 21 languages and since then he has authored a total of 30 books!
To make it possible for one and all to do yoga and attain benefit from it, he innovatively used many household items like chairs, pillows and blankets to help perform and maintain the asanas despite strong opposition from the traditionalist and scathing comments by the media who even called him a furniture yogi. It is these props that made it possible for old, diseased and even the disabled to perform yoga and attain benefits from it.

After causing and awakening of the kindle of yoga the world over, his only wish was that yoga should go back to the villages of India. He embarked on massive philanthropic project to improve the quality of life for the children of his birth place Bellur – where even in the early 21st century – there were barely any basic amenities of healthcare or education. Within 10 years, there has been a transformation of this village.

Although Guruji BKS Iyengar is not physically present anymore – his teachings, his message, his life example will remain with us for generations to come.

Rajvi Mehta has been a student of Guruji Iyengar for over 35 years and is the founder editor of the journal Yoga Rahasya.