Sri T. Krishnamacharya (1888-1989)

A symbolic figure of Traditional Indian Culture.

The number 108 is a sacred number in Indian Culture. According to the Veda, when the universe was created, the Creator made 108 divinities to manage the created world. In later mythology, the Gods and Goddesses each had 108 names.

This tradition of Shatanama or garland of names, continues and today this Shatanama is offered on the 108th anniversary of a spiritual Master. In Indian culture, centenarians achieve the status of a God 108 years after they were born because of their experience of life. This 108th anniversary is often celebrated by their descendants who, together with others, join to pay them homage.

This is the case of Sri T. Krishnamacharya, a symbolic figure of traditional Indian Culture and a founding father of the teaching of Yoga to Europeans. Born in southern India in 1888, Sri T. Krishnamacharya belonged to a family of philosophers and spiritual Masters. He was the eldest of five children.

The majority of his studies were done in Varanasi (Benares) and Calcutta, strongholds of traditional Indian philosophy where he quickly obtained the highest distinction in all the branches of Indian Philosophy. He mastered Hindu Yoga in the Himalayas and Buddhist Yoga in Burma, then part of India. Later, he went to Cashmere to study Sufism. He taught Indian philosophy at the Benares University and Calcutta University before accepting the King of Mysore’s invitation to teach Indian philosophy at Mysore Sanskrit College. Like his forefathers, he taught the King and was appointed a philosopher of the Royal Court.

As a Master of Philosophy, Sri T. Krishnamacharya was invited by many Indian Royal Courts and Monasteries to participate in the Philosophical Debates, characteristic of Indian Culture since time immemorial. He emerged victorious, not only in his arguments, but in his ability to explain the application of Indian Philosophy, to the general public in a simple and convincing way. In addition, he had mastered 15 Indian languages, was an astrologer, musician, sportsman and refined cook.

In the 1920s, Sri T. Krishnamacharya began teaching Yoga to the Royal Family and residents of Mysore. With time, he gave increasing importance to the teaching of Yoga. He always integrated the philosophical aspects of Yoga when practising or teaching. Around 1935, Sri T. Krishnamacharya taught his first non-Indian students. These were Europeans, and as their numbers increased, he taught himself English in order to teach them in English. He lived in Mysore till 1954 when he moved to Madras where he lived until his death in 1989.

Sri T. Krishnamacharya had six children, three sons and three daughters. His wife, Srimathi Namagiriammal as well as his children were taught by him. Although his eldest son, Sri T.K. Srinivasan, was well-versed in Yoga, he chose to specialise in Indian Philosophy. Today he is one of the authorities on Nyaya and Mimamsa, two philosophical standards which feature among the most important in Indian tradition. His other sons, Sri T.K.V. Desikachar and Sri T.K. Sribhashyam, gave up their professions to devote themselves to teaching Yoga. Sri T. Krishnamacharya’s second daughter Srimathi Alamelu is one of the first women to whom he taught the Veda.

Sri T. Krishnamacharya taught Yoga to his wife’s brother, Sri B.K.S. Iyengar (born in 1918), when the latter was still a child. Following the ancient tradition, Sri B.K.S. Iyengar lived in his Master’s house. At the age of 15, he started teaching Yoga. Sri T.K. Sribhashyam, born in 1940, was also taught by his father from the very young age. In 1956 he began teaching Yoga with his father in Madras, while still undergoing university studies. Sri T.K.V. Desikachar, completed university before studying under his father in the 1960s. Sri T. Krishnamacharya continued to teach his family until his death.

Sri T. Krishnamacharya never abused his position. He refused the rewards offered by the King and the Royal Courts and lived on the modest income earned as an inspector of a coffee plantation, carrying sand and stone for construction projects and practising Indian Medicine (Ayurveda). He even conceded his rich inheritance to his brother and sisters in order to remain true to his philosophical principles.

He refused distinguished positions offered by Courts and Monasteries in order to maintain his liberty and freedom in teaching. His wife, Srimathi Namagiriammal followed his example and shared his simple life. For Sri T. Krishnamacharya and his children she represented a living philosophy.

While Sri T. Krishnamacharya, was a strict practicing Hindu, he had great respect for all religious, traditional or contemporary thoughts.

His open-mindedness brought him to meet many Spiritual heads of other faiths. Many religious chiefs, head of states, yoga masters and philosophers came to learn under him. He respected their need for confidentiality and never used these relations for his own personal benefit or advantage.

He participated in family life, including domestic activities. For him, everyone was equal and deserved the same attention.

Sri B.K.S. Iyengar, Sri T.K.V. Desikachar and Sri T.K. Sribhashyam are Master’s most intimate disciples. They have been invited the world over to transmit the teaching of Sri T. Krishnamacharya.

All facts about Sri T. Krishnamacharya are based on information furnished by Sri T. Krishnamacharya himself, Smt T. Namagiriammal and the elder members of Smt T. Namagiriammal's family.