Iyengar, B. K. S.

(1918– )
   yoga teacher
   Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar was born on December 14, 1918, in the small village of Bellur in the Kolar District of Karnataka state in India, during the worldwide influenza pandemic. His mother had an attack of influenza while car-rying and birthing Bellur. Both of them miracu-lously survived, but the child was left with a weak constitution, and he often suffered from malaria, typhoid, and tuberculosis.
   Bellur was the 11th of 13th children, 10 of whom survived. His schoolteacher father, Sri Krishnamachar, died of untreated appendicitis when Bellur was nine years old, leaving his family in a state of poverty. His mother, Sheshamma, was known to be simple, kind-hearted, and religious in a highly orthodox way. Bellur’s poor health and lack of financial resources affected his education. He struggled to stay well enough to pass exams and to collect funds to pay for his high school education.
   In 1934, at age 15, he went to live with his sis-ter in Mysore. His brother-in-law, the famous YOGI Sri T. Krishnamachar, was in need of someone to perform yoga ASANAS (postures) at the Yogashala, the school of yoga. Bellur was initiated into the GAYATRI MANTRA and began to learn yoga practice from his brother-in-law, which slowly helped him to overcome his maladies. He began to train students at the school and soon ended his formal education in order to devote his energy to yoga instruction. He won certificates in the elementary, intermediate, and advanced diploma courses in yoga.
   In 1937, Krishnamachar sent the young Bellur to Pune, India, to teach yoga. His commitment to a disciplined practice grew, as did his conviction not to publicize or beg for work or recommenda-tions. He was devoted to living a yogic life as long as God willed.
   In 1943, Iyengar married Ramamani; they had five daughters and one son. Although the 1950s continued to be financially challenging, Iyengar began to have contact with eminent personalities, such as the spiritual leader J. KRISHNAMURTI, the freedom fighter Jayaprakash Narayan, Achyut Patwardhan (commandant of the National Defense Academy), Prime Minis-ter Nehru, and the violinist Yehudi Menuhin. Iyengar trained Menuhin in yoga, which helped him to have better control over his violin. This special friendship, begun in 1952, continued over time and gained Iyengar great respect in the West. From the 1960s onward, Iyengar traveled abroad regularly to train students and perform demonstrations.
   In 1975, Iyengar opened the Ramamani Iyen-gar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune, named after his wife. His eldest daughter, Geeta, and son, Prashant, are actively involved in teach-ing yoga there.
   Iyengar has based his teachings on the tradi-tional eight limbs of yoga as presented in the YOGA SUTRAS by PATANJALI, written over 2,500 years ago. His first book, Light on Yoga, explains Patanjali’s philosophy while introducing Iyengar’s emphasis on body, mind, and spirit integration. This work, first published in 1966, has been translated into 18 languages.
   Today, Iyengar is known to be one of the most influential yoga practitioners in the world.
   Further reading: B. K. S. Iyengar, Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom (Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale, 2005); ———, Light on Yoga (New York: Schocken Books, 1979); ———, Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health (London: Dorling Kindersley, 2001); B. K. S. Iyengar and 60th Birthday Celebration Committee, Iyengar: His Life and Work (Porthill, Idaho: Timeless Books, 1987).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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