India Masala

Bollywood and culture in an emerging India

WHEN A GURU DIES

May 27, 2009

It was, perhaps, a matter of time. After all Krishna Pattabhi Jois, the influential guru of Ashtanga yoga, was 94 years old and had not been in good health.

But with news of his death, circulated on the Internet, by word of mouth, frantic phone calls, on Ashtanga blogs and finally officially on the website of his K.Patabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute,  his students around the world made plans to descend on the Indian city of Mysore for services commemorating his life.

Jois, known as “Guruji” to his thousands of students, is credited with popularising the vigorous system of  Ashtanga yoga in the West.

He travelled several times to the United States and Europe on his”World Tours”, taking his method of yoga, characterised by vigorous “Darth Vader“-like breathing, a strict sequence of postures and a lot of sweat, to gatherings numbering more than a few hundred.

The more famous of his students included pop star Madonna, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who, according to the Ashtanga rumour mill, he thought was a tall blonde man when she first attended his class, and the musician Sting.

Guruji — I will call him that as he was also my teacher — taught Ashtanga for more than 70 years, pretty much non-stop, barring the Hindu holidays or a religious ceremony, of which there are quite a few.

As recently as a few years ago, he was a constant and daily fixture in his yoga school, clad in his shorts and singlet, walking up and down and the rows of 40-50 sweaty students, assisting in postures or asanas, with some grunting, humour and sometimes embarrassingly loud instructions yelled across the room.

“Ehhhh, bad lady (or man)!” he would call across the room, adding instructions on how to twist one’s reluctant limbs in a yoga posture. Perversely, his student enjoyed the attention even though inwardly we would cringe.

Guruji’s life wasn’t without minor controversies.

He loved his bling. His gold chains and rings did put off some of the more starry-eyed Western students, who expected a saffron-clad aesthete rather than the down-to-earth Indian grandfather sitting in front of them when they were ushered into
his office to pay their fees.

But Guruji was a compassionate, profound and humble man whose teachings have changed the lives of many people around the world. The yoga was his life and he would have taught it whether he had five students in his school or 500, so unwavering was his belief in the system. He was teaching yoga at the Sanskrit University of Mysore in the late 1930’s long before yoga became popular with the masses.

And Guruji had a strong belief in that the practice of yoga transcended the individual.

As he said in the book Mysore Style  “After my life is finished, Yoga only will remain”

Comments

And why should we care???

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