Yogacharya Shri K. Pattabhi Jois
Founder of Ashantanga
After questioning Guruji, Krishnamcharya agreed to take him on as his student, and for the next two years, unbeknownst to his family, Guruji practiced under the great yogi’s strict and demanding tutelage every day before school, walking five kilometers early in the morning to reach Krishnamacharya’s house. He was ambitious in his studies and driven to expand his knowledge of yoga. When he would read the Ramayana and other holy books on the veranda of his house, his family members would say, “Oh, look at the great pundit. Why are you wasting your time with books? Go tend to the cows!”
When Guruji turned fourteen, he was given the Brahmin thread initiation – the ceremony in which a Brahmin boy becomes a man and is initiated into the spiritual life. Soon after the significant ceremony, and with two rupees in his pocket, Guruji secretly ran away from home to seek Sanskrit study at the Sanskrit University of Mysore. After getting off the train, he went straight to the admissions department, showed his thread as proof of being Brahmin [this would gain him free admission], and was accepted to the school. He dutifully attended classes and his studies, and continued his yoga practice, even giving demonstrations that secured him food privileges at the university mess. With little money, life, in the beginning, was difficult for Guruji, who also begged for food at Brahmin houses. It was three years before he wrote to his father to tell him where he was and what he was doing.
In 1932, he attended a yoga demonstration at the university and was pleased to discover that the yogi on stage was his guru, Sri Krishnamacharya. Having lost touched after Guruji left Kowshika, they recommenced their relationship in Mysore, which lasted twenty-five years.
The Maharaja was especially fond of Guruji and would call him to the palace at four in the morning to perform yoga demonstrations. In 1937, he ordered Guruji to teach yoga at the Sanskrit University, in spite of his desires to remain a student. Guruji established its first yoga department, which he directed until his retirement in 1973. The department was permanently closed after that.
The Maharajah died in 1940, bringing an end to Krishnamacharya’s long patronage. By the time the esteemed teacher left for Madras in 1954, he had only three remaining, very dedicated students: Guruji, his friend C. Mahadev Bhatt, and Keshavamurthy. Guruji was the only one who considered teaching his life’s work and carried on Krishnamacharya’s legacy in Mysore.
After the wedding, Amma returned to her family and Guruji to his room at the University. They didn’t see each other for three to four years, until 1940, when Amma joined her husband in Mysore to begin their life together. They had three children – Manju, Saraswathi and Ramesh – each who became great yoga teachers themselves. Amma was Guruji’s first yoga student, and was also given a teaching certificate by Krishnamacharya. Amma was like a mother to Guruji’s students, both Western and Indian; her presence cherished as much as his. She was kind and loving, always ready with an invite for coffee or an encouraging word. Because she was also well-versed in Sanskrit, she was often nearby to correct Guruji’s mistakes or remind him of a forgotten Sanskrit verse – much to the amusement of all present. She passed away suddenly in 1997. Her loss was devastating to the entire family, as well as to the family of yoga students.
In 1964, Guruji added an extension to the back of his house, consisting of a yoga hall that held twelve students, and a resting room upstairs. That same year, a Belgian named Andre van Lysbeth arrived at the AYRI on the recommendation of Swami Purnananda, a former student of Guruji’s. For two months, Guruji taught this foreigner the primary and intermediate asanas. Soon after, Van Lysbeth wrote a book called Pranayama in which Guruji’s photo appeared, and introduced the Ashtanga master to the Europeans. They eventually became the first Westerners to seek him out and study in Mysore. Americans followed soon after in 1971.
Guruji had already traveled widely in India with Krishnamacharya and with Amma, meeting yogis, debating with scholars and giving yoga demonstrations. He met with Swami Sivananda, and the Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram, and befriended Swami Kulyananda and Swami Gitananda, both renowned for their scientific research in yoga. Guruji’s ashtanga had extended throughout India but didn’t reach the overseas community until 1973 (the very same year he retired from the Sanskrit University), when he was invited to Sao Paulo, Brazil. The following year he went to Encinitas, California, the first of many teaching trips abroad, including France, Switzerland, Finland, Norway, England and Australia.
Over the next twenty years, word of Pattabhi Jois and Ashtanga yoga slowly spread across the globe and the number of students coming to Mysore steadily increased. In 1998, Guruji shifted his residence to Gokulam, a suburb of Mysore, but continued teaching from the Lakshmipuram institute. By then, he was receiving more international students than the small room could handle, so he began construction of a much larger hall, just opposite his house in Gokulam. The new shala officially opened in 2002, with several days of pujas and ceremonies. Four years later, his dream of opening a school in the United States was realized with the launch of an institute in Islamorada, Florida. Guruji conducted the opening ceremonies there in 2006, which served as his final trip abroad.
The Passing of the Lineage
Guruji passed away at home in Mysore on May 18th, 2009 at the age of 93. His death came as a tragic loss to the worldwide yoga community. His entire life was an endeavor to imbue his students with commitment, consistency, and integrity – and to actualize in his own life the conduct of a householder yogi. It is by virtue of his undying faith and enthusiasm that the practice that he learned from Krishnamacharya has remained alive. And thus, by his devotion to the daily teaching of yoga, his legendary works will remain alive too.
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