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Śrī Tirumalai Krishnamacharya was one of India’s most respected authorities on the Vedic tradition and Yoga Teachings and practice.
He was born in Karnataka State in South India on November 18th 1888 and belonged to a family of distinguished ancestry. Among his forebears was the 9th century teacher and sage Nathamuni. Śrī Nathamuni was a great Teacher who created remarkable works, such as the Nyaya Tattva.
T Krishnamacharya began his formal education at the age of six, at the Parakala Math in Mysore. His first Yoga teacher was his father until his untimely death. His next recorded teacher was Śrī Babu Bhagwan Das. His thirst for knowledge gave him the opportunity to travel widely and seek all aspects of the Vedic tradition from the best teachers across India. His formal education, largely in Saṃskṛta, included degrees from several universities in North India.
He in turn studied and mastered these systems and was bestowed with titles such as Samkhya Yoga Sikhamani, Mimamsa Tirtha, Nyayacarya, Vedanta Vagisa and Veda Kesari. He was also a master of Āyurveda (the ancient Indian system of healing) and Saṃskṛta.
At the age of twenty-eight, he is said to have trekked to the Himalaya to learn Yoga from Sjt Rammohan Brahmacari Guru Maharaj. This was either, according to legend, in the area of Lake Manosarovar at the foot of Mount Kailash in Western Tibet or, according to Krishnamacharya’s original preface to his 1930’s book the Yoga Makaranada, at Mukti Narayan Ksetra on the banks of the river Gandaki in the Mustang district on the northern border of Nepal and Tibet.
Either way he is said to have stayed for over seven years returning on his teacher’s instructions, and his fathers last wishes, to South India to teach. Being a master in many subjects, Krishnamacharya was offered high scholastic positions in great institutes of learning. Instead he chose to be a Yoga teacher to fulfil the requests made both by his Yoga teacher and his father. Eventually he was invited to establish a school of Yoga in the palace of the Maharajah of Mysore.
On occasions he demonstrated the great potentials of Yoga in different areas of health and self-control over his body. The most prominent among them was being able to stop his heart beat from being detected for more than two minutes, using Yoga techniques.
With his vast learning in Yoga as well as other systems of Indian Philosophy, he emphasized that the practice of Yoga must be adapted to the individual, and not the individual to Yoga. This deep held view was one of his most significant contributions to the field of health and healing through Yoga.
“In recommending Yoga practices,
teachers should always consider an individual’s particular circumstances.
Just as other activities and practices must be adapted
to the changes in one’s life, such as ageing,
so too Yoga practices need to be adapted as the practitioner changes”
– T Krishnamacharya’s commentary to Yoga Sūtra Chapter One verse 34
After Independence and the closing of the school he moved to Madras where he became well known for his skills within the field of the therapeutic application of Yoga.
He was married (in 1925 to BKS Iyengar’s sister Namagririammal) and had six children, sons TK Srinivasan, TKV Desikachar, TK Sribhashyam and daughters Srimathi Pundarikavalli, Srimathi T Alamelu Sheshadri and Srimathi Shubha Mohan Kumar.
Śrī Krishnamacharya is now recognised the world over as an accomplished exponent of Yoga, and a major influence in shaping what we see as Yoga in the West, particularly in the field of Āsana.
“He has developed so much in his teaching, made so many changes,
that I don’t think anybody can identify ‘Krishnamacharya’s style’.
One person will say one thing,
and a few minutes later somebody else will say,
no, no, this is what he taught me.
So fortunately it solved the problem of the ‘Krishnamacharya style’,
unless you are unwilling to see, of course.”
– TKV Desikachar from lectures on ‘The Yoga of T Krishnamacharya’,
given at Zinal, Switzerland 1981.
He was also a visionary who had a sense of the atrophy that Vedic study would face in modern times. He made it his lifetime work to nurture Vedic culture by teaching Yoga, Sāṃkhya, Saṃskṛta and the Veda, to one and all who sought him.
Tracing the genesis of Vedavani, a center for teaching Vedic Chanting, which was inaugurated in 1999 under the auspices of the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, TKV Desikachar linked its roots to his father’s conviction that teaching of the Veda had to be kept alive at all costs.
Undaunted by the criticism that the Veda cannot be chanted by everyone, he taught the Veda, on the authority of the scriptures that such stringent regulations could be set aside at times when there was threat to Dharma (Āpad Kāla), which was true of this age. Even though it may not be possible to follow the same system of teaching in such an institution, it was more important to retain the spirit of the tradition, said Desikachar, in an address at the inaugural function of Vedavani, a centre established in 1999 solely to teach Vedic Chanting.
His death in 1989, at the age of 100, marked the passing of a great sage and teacher.
At this point in time, as we near 2017, outside of his five surviving children, his middle son TKV Desikachar having died on August 8th 2016, there are only two students of Krishnamacharya now living who studied directly with him and are actively teaching in the West. They are S Ramaswami and AG Mohan, who were also the two longest serving non-family students.