I was born in the darkest ignorance, And my master opened my eyes with a torch of knowledge. I offer my respect to him, to the Highly knowledgeable one of yoga, To the Ocean of jewels of yoga, To the scholar of yoga, To the wealth of yoga-Sri BN Sundararaja Iyengar
It was long ago when I first met my master, Yogavisharada Sri BN Sundararaja Iyengar. As a young man, just out of an ashram, where I had spent seven years learning Sanskrit, Mantras, Pujas, Yagnas and the Six Philosophies (satdarshana), under the auspices of different Vaishnava masters (all well versed in their respective subjects), I was drawn towards the path of yoga by the sheer power its effects had on me. I was heading from Mumbai to the holy city of Mysuru to meet the great master, Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois.I had an overnight stay in Bengaluru, after arriving from Mumbai, near the city’s railway station in anticipation of catching the train to Mysuru. Alas, the next day, the railways employees had a strike, and, in my mind, that was a bad omen to begin a journey. “Am I not destined to study yoga?” was the question running through my mind. I quickly looked for an alternative and came to the city’s bus station, across from the railway station. It was just like any Indian bus station – overtly chaotic, with an underlying order. I boarded the cheapest bus with hard, wooden seats that was to become my abode for the next four hours. To my luck, I sat next to a gentleman who claimed he knew where Sri Pattabhi Jois lives. I was excited. The railway strike turned out to be lucky for me.After we arrived, the gentleman took me to Sri Pattabhi Jois’ home. He opened the door himself and I bowed down and touched his feet, a show of respect toward a great soul, guru, a parent or any elder. It is an ancient custom prevalent in India. I was somewhat awed. I told him that I have come to learn yoga from him. He asked me to come in the morning and watch the class. Excited and hungry, I checked into a nearby hotel. The next morning, I was there. The place was packed with yogis contorting in to a myriad of poses, in a way I have never seen before. It was real and authoritative. My heart was racing.Talking to another waiting student, I heard about the fee, which was too steep for me to afford with my meager savings. A little disappointed, yet upbeat, I returned to my hotel, where I did my own practice with newfound zeal.In a few days, I moved to a house where several yogis were sharing rooms. There, I was told about YogaVisharada Sri BNS Iyengar, who teaches at the Parakala Swami Mutt, a monastery and a temple for Vaishnava monks and priests, a line to which I had already been initiated into, in my ashram days.
I met the master, late on the afternoon of August 9, 1999.
I came up the stairs and saw him at a distance. I took off my shoes and proceeded toward him. He said, “Yes, what you want?” I bowed down and touched his feet. He had become uncomfortable with my act and said, plainly, “No need of that, just keep respect in your mind.”
That was a 180-degree turn from all my experiences of the past.
He invited me to his office, which was a place in the balcony, complete with straw mat shades to keep away the elements, an old office table and two unsteady chairs.
I was young and arrogant and spent the next fifteen minutes arguing with him about Sanskrit, yoga and various philosophies. I know it was to conceal my ignorance and the sheer desire to be master of them someday.
A little annoyed he said, “If you want, you come; otherwise no need”, referring to my desire to study yoga. The words shook me. I left the office and watched an afternoon practice of his Indian students, some of whom had elegance, strength and control. The master did not want me watching too much. He said, “Okay. Enough, you cannot learn by watching.”
Walking down the stairs recalling his words, “If you want to come, you come; otherwise no need”, I realized he does not need me; indeed, it was I who needed him. Soon, I found a permanent place to live in, with a lovely family, who took great care of me during my years of studies. I returned to Mumbai, to pick up the rest of my possessions.
On August 18th, I began my first class with him. After paying my fees, I went to change into shorts, when, to my horror, I realized that I have forgotten them at home. God, was this another bad omen? I just could not practice in front of everyone in my white underwear! It would be embarrassing, not to mention improper. The master quickly solved this unpleasant situation. He took me to his balcony/office and allowed me to practice there.
He chanted a prayer to the sage Patanjali, and led me through the Surya Namaskaras and the asanas of the first series of Ashtanga-Vinyasa. Covered in sweat, I moved from one to the other, my white underwear almost black, from dust. There was an immense surge of energy and lightness of being in me. The master, calmly counting half in English, half in Sanskrit, the asanas and their links, pausing, only for moments to let me adjust myself in to the pose, or helping me in to the pose. “Enough?” he asked, somewhere in the middle of the sequence. “I can go more”, I replied. “Okay, continue”, he said and he led me further towards the end of the sequence.
“Take rest”, were his final words at the end of the instructions. By the end, I was lying blissfully, in Shavasana, the corpse pose, drenched in sweat, with my blackened underwear. I knew from that moment on that I would learn the art of yoga from him.
After resting awhile, I thanked him and he asked me to come the next day. The sense of lightness pervaded my limbs, my mind had gone and life had become different, full of purpose of the spirit. Mindless and blissful, I walk out of the temple hearing Gods chant Vedic hymns. I walk straight to the garbage bin to deposit my un-recognizable and un-washable underwear. I throw them away, and with it my old self too!
Over the years, the master taught me the art and science of yoga in depth.
With him, it is not just an asana affair. Only a part of yoga is asana. The spiritual world of yoga is never ending in its knowledge and comprehension.
My eagerness for knowledge has not waned from my days of youth, neither has his eagerness to teach. When young, I was always begging him to tell me more and more. On one of such occasion, he jokingly said, “I am giving all this to you, because you are attacking me like a spirit.” It should be understood that he is the source of the knowledge presented on this web site.
The master was born on 19th September 1928, in Hemmige Agrahara, or Learned Hamlet on the banks of the sacred river, Cauvery. It is the place with a long tradition of Bhakti and Gyana. In his youth, he studied with a powerful yoga master (whose name he keeps secret), who imparted knowledge of yoga to him for twelve years. Besides that, he later finished his studies in Sanskrit, in Mysuru, where he studied at the Maharaja’s Sanskrit college and was later acquainted with the famous master Sri Tirumalai Sri Krishnamacharya, under whom he mastered not only Yoga but also the Vedas, Upanishads and Yoga Sutras. After Krishamacharya left for Madras (presently, Chennai), he remained under the tutelage of the oldest and most experienced teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who oversaw his practice of yoga for another four years. Later, he took off to propagate yoga all over India and visited many places of pilgrimage. He was known as a great asana performer and in the early 1950’s, in Bengaluru, he awed the public with his unique demonstration of YogAsanas.
He then returned to his native village where he devoted himself to his practice and the further study of yoga. He married Ranganayaki at the age of forty-two and has two daughters, Srimathi and Indumathi.
In 1984, Abhinava Ramanuja Mahadeshikar Swami invited him to open the school of yoga at Parakala Mutt (a Vaishnav religious institution). In the same year, on April 18th, Sri Patanjala Yogashala was inaugurated by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and the Swami, bestowed on him, the title of YogaVisharada or Highly Knowledgeable One in Yoga.
The master has brought fame to his village with no less then five titles gracing his garland of knowledge. YogaVisharada or esteemed yoga scholar; YogaRatnakara , the ocean of jewels of yoga; YogaShastra Pandit, scholar of yogic scriptures; Yoga Sri, the wealth of yoga and the same title in his native language Kannada, YogaSiri, the wealth of yoga, given to him on a separate occasion.
The master’s wealth of knowledge does not extend only to Yoga and its many branches. He is well versed in Ayurveda, Jyotish (astrology) and music too.
Known for his simplicity and humbleness, the master possesses a unique sense of humor which shines through in the powerful analogies underlying his explanations of the matter concerned. Over the years, the master has trained many students from Mysuru and from around the world.