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Tirumalai Krishnamacharya: India’s First modern Yoga Guru was also a Scholar and Healer

He is responsible for the preaching of yoga in today’s times

  • Tirumalai’s lineage has been traced back to Nammazhwar, one of the greatest of Vaishnavite saints
  • In his lifetime of 101 years, he trained BKS Iyengar, Indra Devi and Pattabhi Jois
  • He remains an authoritative reference point for anyone interested in fields such as yoga and philosophy

India has gifted the world with the power of Yoga. Now, it has become so popular due to the benefits attached to it that people are bending and stretching all over the world and mats are rolling out everywhere. But, not many are aware of the man who made Yoga popular in India. Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, the man who was a Scholar and Ayurvedic healer but most importantly, he was India’s first modern Yoga Guru.

Born on November 18, 1888, in Muchukundapura, the Chitradurga District of Karnataka to Tirumalai Srinivasa Tatachary (his father) and Ranganayakamma (his mother) who were devout Shri Vaishnavas. What is more interesting that, his lineage has been traced to Nammazhwar, one of the greatest of Vaishnavite saints.

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At the age of six, Krishnamacharya had his sacred thread ceremony performed. He was then taught Vedas, Sanskrit grammar, the Amarakosha and other ancient texts. When he was 12 years old, he went to Parakala Mutt in Mysore where he gained his education at the Mysore Patasala.

Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. Image source: alchetron.com
Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. Image source: alchetron.com

As the legend goes, at the age of sixteen, he had a dream, Krishnamacharya travelled to the town of Alvar Tirunagari in Tamil Nadu. On his arrival in the town, he seemed to have slipped into a trance. In this trance, he was taught “Yoga Rahasya”, the famous treatise on yoga by three sages. After coming out of this trance, he was able to recite the treatise from memory alone.

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At eighteen years of age, Krishnamacharya went to Banaras. Under the guidance of Brahmasri Shiva Kumara Shastri, he learnt rare aspects of Sanskrit grammar. In Banaras, he continued his quest of gaining knowledge and learnt various branches of philosophy such as– Nyaya, Tarka, Mimamsa, Vaiseshika and so on.

Over the next decade, he learnt these systems exclusively in Banaras. He even went to areas of Bihar and Bengal to meet scholars and learned men and gain training in their guidance.

On the insistence of his one teacher, Krishnamacharya travelled to the Manasarovar in the Himalayas. There, he learnt Yoga, Yoga Sutras, therapy and Yoga practice from Shri Ramamohana Brahmachari. After seven years of training, he returned back to Banaras.

In 1926, Maharaja of Mysore, Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar had come to the holy city for a visit. On gaining knowledge of young Krishnamacharya, the king invited him to teach him and his family yoga in Mysore.

He accepted the offer and shifted to Mysore. Krishnamacharya married and became the personal yoga trainer of the Maharaja. He taught many dignitaries, the elite and foreigners as well. The king started a yogashala in the Jaganmohan Palace. Krishnamacharya looked after its administration for nearly 2 decades.

Mysore Yogashala source- www.elevatedretreat.com
Mysore Yogashala. Image source- www.elevatedretreat.com

During the reign of Maharaja Nalwadi, Krishnamacharya wrote “Yoga Makaranda”, a two-volume encyclopaedia on yoga in 1934. All the principles of modern yoga can be traced back to these encyclopaedias.

However, after the death of Maharaja Nalwadi and due to political instability in the country owing to the fight for independence, the yogashala was closed. Krishnamacharya took up the post of a lecturer in Vivekananda College in Madras and spent the rest of his life there with his family.

In his lifetime of 101 years, he trained many students, including  BKS Iyengar, Indra Devi and Pattabhi Jois. He never taught the individual students in the same way. He believed that Yoga should be adapted to the individual, never the individual to Yoga.

Not much recognition has come his way. Still, he remains an authoritative reference point for anyone interested in fields such as yoga and philosophy. Krishnamacharya has left behind a legacy for all the future generations to follow.

-prepared by Devika Todi, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: devika_todi

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