For his part in popularising yoga in India and around the world, the government in 1991 awarded Iyengar the Padma Shri.
Long before Baba Ramdev made Yoga mainstream, Yogacharya Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar had propagated the practice of yoga and the meaning of the yoga sutras.
One of the earliest students of the father of modern yoga – Tirumalai, BKS Iyengar founded his style of teaching called “Iyengar Yoga”. Today, there are 256 Iyengar Yogashrayas (Iyengar yoga centres) in India.
Iyengar Yoga teaches how the eight aspects of astanga yoga are integrated. It is distinctive for the emphasis given to precision and alignment in all postures; the use of self-designed props to help the practitioner achieve perfect postures; and the aspect of sequencing asanas in groups.
He also shared his philosophy through various books such as Light on Yoga, Light on Pranayama, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and Light on Life.
For his part in popularising yoga in India and around the world, the government in 1991 awarded Iyengar the Padma Shri. He was then awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2002, and the Padma Vibhushan in 2014. In 2004, he also featured on Times magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
In his honour, San Fransico declared October 5 as BKS Iyengar Day. In June 2011, the Beijing branch of the China Post presented him with a commemorative stamp. At the time 50,000 Chinese across 57 cities were students of Iyengar yoga.
Iyengar also had the distinction of being among the personalities to feature on Google Doodle in India, North America, Europe, Russia and Indonesia, on his birthdate in 2015.
Journey into yoga
Born to school teacher Krishnamachar on December 14, 1918, Iyengar was introduced to yoga at the age of 16 by his Guru and later brother-in-law Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. Capitalising on his knowledge of English, Krishnamacharya sent him to Pune at age 18 to teach and preach.
He married Ramamani in 1943 and had six children with her – five daughters and a son. Two of his children – Geeta and Prashant – still teach Iyengar Yoga.
Over the years, Iyengar taught many illustrious students from freedom fighters to industrialists and nation builders. In fact, it was a fortuitous meeting with violin maestro Yehudi Menuhin in 1952 that introduced Iyengar to the western world. One of them was the Queen of Belgium.
India’s first President Dr Rajendra Prasad was among one of Iyengar’s admirers, who included former Indonesian Vice President Mohammad Hatta and Pope Paul VI, novelist Aldous Huxley, film maker Mira Nair, Sachin Tendulkar and Kareena Kapoor.
Iyengar laid the foundation of the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune on January 26, 1973. Named after his wife, it was inaugurated two years later on January 19, 1975. It was during this time that his children Geeta and Prashant started teaching yoga alongside their father. Starting with a large batch of students, Iyengar laid emphasis on precision and alignment.
He officially retired from teaching in 1984 but continued to be active in the world of Iyengar Yoga. His dedication to the art was well known and interviews quoted Iyengar saying that, even at the age of 90, he continued to practise asanas for three hours and pranayamas for an hour daily. For his 80th birthday in 1998, Iyengar taught 800 students in Pune for a week, then in 2000, he conducted a special course for senior Iyengar Yoga teachers from 40 countries.
Iyengar's yoga philosophy was first published in Light on Yoga (1966), which has since been translated into 18 languages. He has since penned 14 books in all.
Apart from the RIMYI in Pune, the Light on Yoga Research Trust (LOYRT) is a public charitable trust whose prime objective is propagating and research on Iyengar Yoga. The LOYRT runs the Iyengar Yogashraya in Mumbai.
Other institutions include Youth's Offerings to Guruji (YOG), formed in 1996 with the objective of raising funds to propagate Iyengar Yoga; the Bellur Krishnamachar & Seshamma Smaraka Niddhi Trust (BKSSNT), and the Bellur Krishnamachar & Seshamma Smaraka Niddhi Trust (BKSSNT), which were formed to serve the village Bellur.
On August 20, 2014, Iyengar died at the age of 95 in Pune. He was cremated on the same day at Vaikunth Crematorium near his home. Despite his death, his legacy has lived on as has his belief: Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day-to-day life and endows skill in the performance of one's actions.