Indian yoga teacher's funeral draws thousands to Pune

BKS Iyengar was one of those who took yoga to the West
Indian yoga teacher's funeral draws thousands to Pune

Picture: BKS Iyengar official website

Thousands of people attended the funeral of yoga exponent BKS Iyengar in Pune city on Wednesday. One of the pioneers of the ancient practice who helped to foster its popularity in the West, he died on August 20 aged 95.

Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and Jews were among those attending the cremation in the city.

His son Prashant Iyegngar performed the last rites of the yoga expert, who is respectfully called Guruji (master) among his disciples, fans and yoga students.

“A week ago, Guruji was admitted to the ICU due to poor heart functioning and difficulty in breathing. But he succumbed to kidney failure,” said Shirish Prayag, director at the Prayag Hospital, where he was admitted.

Iyengar, who practiced yoga well into his 90s, established yoga institutes on six continents, with its headquarters in Pune, where he lived.  

Iyengar developed his own brand of yoga, explaining it as a non-religious discipline acceptable to all religions. He became internationally known during his more than 60-year career as  a teacher of yoga to world celebrities. His students included author Aldous Huxley and violinist Yehudi Menuhin, American actress Ali MacGraw and Elizabeth Queen Mother of Belgium, among others.

His students also included Catholic priests.

“I am the only senior yoga teacher whom Guruji gave the exclusive right to use his brand of Iyengar yoga for the recovery model of Alcoholics Anonymous,” said Father Joseph Pereira, founder and director of Mumbai-based Kripa Foundation for Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation.

The 72-year-old Bombay archdiocesan priest told that he has been practicing and teaching Iyengar Yoga for 40 years. Iyengar yoga’s biggest contribution was its psychosomatic effects on alcoholics, he said.

He said his yoga was all about body, breath and meditation. “While we Catholics choose the mantra of Maranatha, Hindus may choose Hari Om and non-believers Shalom during meditations,” said Father Pereira, a renowned addiction treatment expert.

The Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, which the guru started and ran until he took ill a couple of months ago, continues to attract foreigners and locals.

“I come to Pune every year for three months to try to perfect the art of Iyengar yoga under the watchful eyes of my revered Guruji,” Liselotte Prakash from Switzerland, said.

She married an Indian and opened a Iyengar yoga centre in the Hindu holy city of Hrishikesh 12 years ago, where she teaches both foreign and Indian students.

She had a terrible car accident in Switzerland 12 years ago and about 20 surgeries later, was not able to walk. “I came to Pune in a wheelchair. After practicing yoga with the guidance of Guruji, which stretched from one to three hours daily, I was completely cured and I got hooked on Iyengar yoga,” Prakash said.

Born in Karnataka’s Kolar district in 1918 and debilitated by illnesses since childhood, Iyengar modified the yoga postures of Patanjali, which date back as far as 200 BC, in an innovative, dynamic style that came to be known as Iyengar yoga.

His seminal book Light on Yoga, first published in 1966, took him seven years to write. Referred to as the bible of yoga, it contains 602 photographs minutely illustrating each asana, or position. The photographs enable the reader to practice a posture without a teacher.

An appendix directs the reader to specific exercises for a wide variety of ailments, and for the serious student there is a long yoga course of over 300 weeks. The book has been translated into 19 languages and has sold more than three million copies.

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