Today’s update is about ‘The Legendary Yoga Guru Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois’. He is one of those Yogis who gained world recognition in teaching Yoga. Sri Pattabhi Jois is one among the greatest contemporaries like B.K.S. Iyengar and TVK Desikachar who took Yoga to new dimensions across the world.
Sri Pattabhi Jois was born on the full moon day of July, 1915, Guru Purnima day in an ancestral village called Kowshika, near Hassan in Karnataka State. It is inhabited by around 500 people and has one main street. At one end of the street there is a Vishnu temple, just next to Pattabhi Jois' home. At the far end of the street, just 100 yards away, lies a small Ganapati temple, and just opposite, a Siva temple. Both are several hundred years old, and are the focus of the village.
Pattabhi Jois's father was an astrologer and a priest, who acted as the pujari for many of the families in the village. From an early age, as most brahmin boys, Pattabhi Jois was taught the Vedas and Hindu rituals.
When Jois was 12 years old, he attended a yoga demonstration at his middle school in Hassan. The next day he went to meet the great yogi who had given the demonstration, a man by the name of Sri T. Krishnamacharya, who learned yoga for nearly eight years from his Guru, Rama Mohan Brahmachari in a cave in Tibet. For the next two years, Pattabhi Jois learned Yoga from his Guru every day. When Jois turned 14, he had his brahmin thread ceremony. Krishnamacharya left Hassan to travel and teach, and Pattabhi Jois left his village to Mysore. He wished to attend the Sanskrit University of Mysore. With two rupees in his pocket, he left with two friends. They traveled more than 100 kilometers by bike, over muddy roads. For the first year or two, life was very difficult for him. With very little money, he begged for his food from some of the brahmin houses. Jois attended yoga classes and did his studies. Then, around 1930, he went to a yoga demonstration and saw that it was his Guru again. He came forward and prostrated, and they recommenced their relationship and Guruji his yoga studies.
The Maharaja of Mysore, Krishna Rajendra Wodeyar, had fallen ill. He learned that there was a great yogi who had come to Mysore. Krishnamacharya was called to him and duly cured him by suggesting a few asanas. The Maharaja became a great patron of his and built him a yogashala (school of yoga) on the grounds of the Palace Art Gallery. Pattabhi Jois was also beckoned to teach the Maharaja on occasion, and was called upon several times to give yoga demonstrations. The Maharaja, who had taken a liking for Jois, offered him a job to teach yoga at the Sanskrit College with a scholarship at his school, free food in the mess hall and a salary. A happy Pattabhi Jois approached his guru T. Krishnamacharya for permission. On approval of his guru he joined the Sanskrit College to teach Yoga and thus the Yoga Department of the Sanskrit College began on March 1, 1937. He continued as the head until his retirement in 1973.
From 1937 to 1973, Guruji earned his professorship at the University, granting him the title of Vidvan. He got married to Savitramma, who came from a long line of Sanskrit scholars. Her grandfather was the Sanskrit and Philosophy teacher to the last Shankaracharya of Kanchi Sri Chandrasekhara Saraswati. Theirs was a love marriage. They had three children, Manju, Ramesh, and Saraswati. Saraswati is the mother of Sharath, born in 1971, who is now the director of their school in Mysore.
Pattabhi Jois had formally started teaching ashtanga yoga in the year 1937. Jois has to wait half a century before aerobics conquered gyms in the west. Fame arrived belatedly after body and soul fitness freaks found that ashtanga yoga wasn’t so alien and esoteric after all; it was hyperkinetic and given them both the familiar rhythmic workout of the dance floor and some sense of spiritual well-being that went way beyond endorphins. More than any other form, ashtanga vinyasa yoga is about power-both in the crude physical sense and the subtle flexing of the mind but Jois detests the world and its suggestion of what he calls, in convoluted Kannada, a South Indian Language, “ethical corruption”.
Pattabhi Jois was shot into fame in the west in early 1960’s. In 1964, Andre Van Lysbeth was the first Westerner to study with Pattabhi Jois. Soon after that, more Europeans came. Around 1972, the first American came, after meeting Manju at Swami Gitananda's ashram in Pondicherri. It was at that point that ashtanga yoga began spreading in America, starting in California, and then later emerging in Hawaii. In 1975, Pattabhi Jois and Manju made their first trip to America. This was the period when Ashtanga Yoga and Pattabhi Jois along with some of his contemporaries like BKS Iyengar and TKV Desikachar hit the spotlight in the western world. Over the next 25 years, the practice spread through the United States, France, Germany, Russia, Japan, Israel, Chile, England, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc. Pattabhi Jois has, for 63 years, been teaching uninterruptedly this same method that he learned from Krishnamacharya in 1927.
Pattabhi Jois was very upset over ashtanga vinyasa yoga being advertised in the west as ‘power yoga’. Jois blames the misnomer on some American “Student Ladies” of his who have set up yoga schools of their own and did “power yoga advertisements and book writing” meaning Beryl Bender Birch, author of Power Yoga. Some people call it also “mini Yoga” but Jois calls it a nonsense. Jois gets furious sometimes at the “evil bad use” by those who purport to teach power yoga and brandish his name for validating what he mutters is “half learning”. After a spate of advertisement disclaimers in the newspapers and magazines in the US, paid for by more straitlaced students, “an article in Yoga Journal came out” and brought him some peace after what he feels is betrayal by some disciples. It’s been done before-the “pupil killed the master syndrome” beloved of psychoanalysts or like says Jois: “The puppet killed the puppeteer.”
Pattabhi Jois throughout his life believed and taught that “ashtanga yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory.” That 1% theory is designed to hard sell the therapeutic efficacy of continuous mobility, adapted ashtanga vinaya yoga to the breakneck mayhem of the fin de siècle years which celebrate motion for its own sake and which link growth to velocity. You can, if you want to be turn to the times, call ashtanga yoga a victim of the West’s postmodern retro craze, where demand for novelty in the marketplace as well as in spiritual disciplines marries content and form into a seeming oxymoron, “contemporary tradition.”
According to Jois, Sheer physical strength and the capacity to endure protracted punishment distinguishes ashtanga yoga from its more lenient cousins-which is why a handful of people-among the hundreds and thousands who are doing yoga at any given moment-go from student to practitioner and practitioner to teacher. Jois used to say that Samadhi will happen when it has to; all he can do is cover the potholes on the road through practice, practice, practice and being practical, practical and practical.
A sincere practice and hard work will lead to enlightenment. However, Jois never guaranteed the bliss. According to him, it is a matter of individual predisposition and is between the student, God and nobody else.
Success kissed the feet of Pattabhi Jois but he never let the success turn over his head. Jois remained the simple dhoti clad man of South Indian community till his last breath in the fascinating blitz of the western world. He is always remembered for his simplicity, sincerity, honesty and dedication towards the art of yoga.
It was around 2 pm on May 18, 2009 God in his high heavens, in his most infinite and unfathomable wisdom, took the final decision to allow an old man to just exhale for the one last time in his 94 years on the planet, and not inhale that most vital whiff of air, the breath of life.
The man who made millions of people wake up at 4 am in the morning and adhere to the tenets of Yam (restraints), Niyama (Observances), Pranayama (breath control), Asanas (Yogic postures), Pratihara (withdrawl of senses), Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation) – the eight limbs of Patanjali Yoga called Ashtanga Yoga, is no more. Millions of his students and followers across the world are left over in grief and sorrow leaving behind a rich tradition and heritage of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. Guru Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois always remains alive in the hearts of millions who follow, admire and adore him.
R. Sharath the grandson of Guruji has now taken over the job unfinished by his grandfather and touring all parts of the world teaching yoga. Sharath is now conducting the classes at K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Institute in Mysore.
This is it for now. Hope you like the article on the great guru of Yoga Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Keep watching the space for more updates.