The King and the Young Man - by "Hastam"

in Kalaimagal, Pongal, 1984 (translated by Bert Franklin and S. Venkataraman)

Rajah: You must come with me to Mysore!
Young Man: Why? For what purpose?

Rajah: It is the duty of a Rajah to help bright young men who will bring fame to our country. Come to the Palace to live. I'll give you something to do to match your qualifications.

Young Man: Oh! You want me to work at the Palace? Why? It's not my way to work for somebody else and take pay! I hope to live free, not as a slave, Sire!

Rajah: You can live as freely as you want. Just come with me to the Palace.

Young Man: Money and status mean nothing to me. What I seek isknowledge. I will serve only my Guru. In this world I will be a slaveto nobody, work under nobody! The Rajah is impressed by the selfconfidence and self assurance of the youth, and promises, "You may livean independent life in the Palace". They go off together.

Sixty Years Later

The above incident occurred some sixty years ago. The youth has nowcompleted ninety-six years. Today he is at the heart of Indian culture,indeed, he is that heart. He lives quietly, like a full pot (empty potsare proverbially noisy), shines steadily like a bright lamp ofknowledge. Working daily at his pursuit of knowledge, he lives the lifeof a rshi of old, though he lives in his home with his wife and family.

After a lifetime of acquiring knowledge, today, at 96, his wisdomencompasses not only such subjects as Sastra, Tharkam, Vyakaranam,Yoga, but all aspects of daily life and how one can be constantly awareof the presence of God. He never learned how to earn a living in theordinary way, but sought wise men, pandits, on his own, to argue withthem, and arguing, learn, and become himself a pandit ofuniverse-encompassing Veda.

Today we not only feel his wisdom, but are caught and held by theconfidence and enthusiasm that springs from his knowledge. We areamazed, overawed by the fluency of his discourse and by the multitudeof illustrations and quotations from the Sastras. We sense how theguiding principle of his life, his independence from all but hisstudies, has grown along with his age.

Today his greatest pride lies not in the awards he received from theRajahs of Dharbanga, Dikkanghat, and Mysore; rather he is proud, thesemany years later, of the teachers he has had such as VamadevaBhattacharya and Rama Mohana Brahmacharya. He did his gurukulam withoutany of the usual ado as to where he was to study and who his masterswere to be in the various Sastras. He spent nearly twenty years inNorth Indian Vidya Peetams (places of philosophical study).

This sage of the Vaishnavas, Sri T. Krishnamacharya, lives in a house,a home, though traditionally sages have spent their later life livingin the forest, forsaking all attachments of Earth. His purpose is to bea living example of the principle that one can live with the familywhile still maintaining the tradition of the forest sages, just as theleaves of a lotus plant may live in the water yet never get wet.Because of his disciplined living, the signs of his great age cannot beseen on him. He makes good use of his education, his experience, andhis knowledge of Yoga exercises to cure the physical and mental ills ofhumanity. Let us hear the story of his youth in his own words:

Sri Krishnamacharya Speaks

"My father was my first Guru. He was known as Ganapati SrinivasaThathachariar. Kannada was our mother tongue. My father was a wellknown Veda pandit. I was invested with the sacred cord at age five.From then on I studied the Sastras with my father. He would wake me upat two o'clock in the morning and ask me to chant the Vedas by memory agiven number of times. If I didn't respond immediately, he would gentlydrip water in my ear to awaken me. He was very strict. If I made amistake, not only would he correct the error, he would punish mesharply. He would join me in the chanting. It is very sweet and movingto hear the deep toned chanting in the still hours of the night.

"In those times there was a college known as Chamaraj Sanskrit Collegein Mysore. I took the examination in Sastras and Purva Mimamsa at theVidvan level. I was sixteen years old. I made a practice of debating onthe subjects of the Sastras with the professors of that college andwith any pandits who came to visit. I would even argue with them! Thatwas how I found out that there were many things I still had to learn! Ibecame thirsty for more knowledge. All binding commitments andinvolvements such as family and parents disappeared before this thirst,this ambition. The desire arose in me to study other systems such asTharkam, Vyakaranam, Samkya.

"One day my father was giving a discourse on Patanjali's Yoga Sutra. Ashe was discoursing on Parinamatraya, Samyamath, Atheetha and AnahathaJnanen, I fell to wondering about these terms and asked him, 'What areAtheetha and Anahatha Jnanen?' In reply he suggested that I learnPatanjali's Yoga Sutra. That planted in me the hope that I might learnthe Yoga Sutra from a qualified yogacharya.

"After completing my Vidvan examination in Mysore, I studied VedantaKalakshepa (religious discourse on the Vedanta) and served in theParakala Mutt for two years. This was not at all what I wanted. Day byday as my thirst for learning grew I became more uncomfortable with mysituation. During these days, about 1905, there were good Vedic panditsin Kasi. The head of the Kasi Sansksrit Vidya Peetam was theMahamahopadyaya Ganganath Jha. My father, understanding my impatiencefor more learning, gave me permission to go to Kasi. About ten of mycolleagues at the Mysore College joined me there, but, to the best ofmy knowledge, none stayed for the full course. I learned Tharkam fromVamadeva Bhattacharya. I stayed for eleven years in Kasi where I metand became friends with many pandits. At that stage I knew nothing butstudies and the Gayatri Mantra. My acquaintance with MahamahopadyayaGanganath Jha formed a turning point in my life. A strong love grew upbetween us. Later he requested me to teach his own son, Amarnath Jha.

"At that time, there was a famous university at a place calledNavadvipam. The institution was completely staffed by learned pandits.They called it Nadiya University. I wanted to go there and graduate inDarsana Sutras. This would mean staying there for an entire year. Butmy teacher's son, Devendra Bhattacharya (a medical doctor in themilitary service) told me that it would be difficult to study whileliving there, and I would be better off studying in Kasi and taking theexam at Navadvipam. He made arrangements for this. When I was ready Iwent and stayed in Navadvipam eleven days for the examinations. I wasgiven the title Nyaya Ratnam, which means 'Jewel of Understanding.' Atthat time the throning ceremony of the Rajah of Dikkanghat (aprincipality within Darbhanga) was taking place. I received aninvitation, and attended. I had a public debate with a pandit namedBihari Lal and defeated him. The Maharajah of Darbhanga, impressed bymy exhibition of learning, invited me to his palace and gave me areward and honours."

Yoga: The Final Goal

It was surprising to listen as Krishnamacharya recalled these memoriesof names and places without the slightest hesitation. But how did hemaster the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali and the Yoga Rahasya of Nathamuni?How is it possible that still today he is a wonderfully expert teacherof Yoga? When asked these questions he answered simply, "For this alsoMahamahopadyaya Ganganath Jha has my lasting gratitude."

Ganganath Jha had the title of Yogacharya (Teacher of Yoga). WhenKrishnamacharya sought his guidance, Jha asked him if he was sure hehad a serious inclination to learn Yoga. Krishnamacharya was stillhungry and thirsty for more knowledge. He told Ganganath Jha that thisindeed was his ambition. It was, after all, his father who had firstadvised him to master the Yoga Sutra. He recalls today that GanganathJha said to him, "If you really want to master Yoga you must travelbeyond Nepal for that is where Yogeswarar Rama Mohana Brahmacharya isliving. In the Gurkha language there is a book called 'Yoga Gurandam'.In that book you can find practical information such as Yoga practiceswhich give health benefits. If you go to Rama Mohana you can learn thecomplete meaning of the Yoga Sutra." When he heard this,Krishnamacharya was eager to attain this new goal. He wanted to travelwith the speed of thought, but there was to be a delay.

It happened that at that time Lord Irwin was Viceroy. His Headquarterswere in Simla. Ganganath Jha wrote to the Viceroy recommending hisyoung friend Krishnamacharya for his proficiency, ambition andknowledge of the Sastras as well as for his personal qualities. Herequested the Viceroy's help in obtaining the necessary documents totravel into Tibet. But, as luck would have it, the Viceroy was ill withdiabetes. The military doctor, Devendra Bhattacarya, was in charge ofthe case, but could not bring about a complete recovery. This doctorwas, as we have seen, the son of Krishnamacharya's teacher at Kasi,Vamadeva Bhattacharya.

One day Krishnamacharya was surprised to be visited by an aide of theViceroy hand carrying a letter from the Viceroy to him, and requestinghim to come to Simla. He stayed in Simla for six months teaching theViceroy yogic practices. The diabetes was largely controlled. TheViceroy was extremely pleased and developed respect and affection forthe young man. He was happy to make all the necessary arrangements forKrishnamacharya to cross the Himalayas, out of India, across Nepal, andinto Tibet. Here is the story of that voyage as retained inKrishnamacharya's memory:

"The Viceroy sent three aides with me. This was some time in 1919. Theexpense of the journey was covered by the British government. Clothesof leather were made to order to protect us from the cold. On the trailwe came across a recluse named Pilmugi living in a cave. We stayed inthe cave with him for several days, and then continued on our journey.We reached Manasasarovar and from there went on to Mela Parvatham. Wehad dharsan of Thirayambaka Narayana and finally reached the dwellingplace of Rama Mohana Brahmacharya who was to be my Guru. We had beenwalking for two and a half months.

"On meeting my Guru I prostrated myself before him. It was evident thatGanganath Jha had written to him about me. He received me with greatlove and kindness. I noted that even though he was called'Brahmacharya,' he was living with his family. His eldest son,Ramachandra Brahmacharya, is still alive today, about eighty years old.Our food was puri (Indian bread), halwa (a paste of vegetables orfruits with sweetening and ghee) and tea. My period of gurukulam herein Tibet lasted for seven and a half years. Rama Mohana made mememorize the whole of the Yoga Gurandam in the Gurkha language. Thevarious stages of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra are dealt with in that book ina very precise but extensive commentary. That is necessary becauseSutras are by definition very concise. In the Yoga Gurandam, thevarious kinds of Yoga poses and movements are described with greatclarity. Only after studying this book can one understand the innermeaning and science of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali."

After Krishnamacharya's return to Kasi as an outstanding scholar andYoga expert, the Maharajah of Jaipur called him to serve as principalof the Vidya Sala (Centre for instruction in philosophy and Yoga) inJaipur. This situation, with its regular schedule of classes and therequirement of being answerable to various people, did not suit thefree spirited Krishnamacharya. The Sradha (annual homage) of his fatherwas approaching, so, with this pretext, he returned to Kasi. He enjoyedmeeting and holding conversations with the various pandits who hadstudied with him in Kasi. Impressed by Krishnamacharya's newly masteredtechniques, Amarnath Jha, the son of Ganganath Jha, introduced him tovarious monarchs and he was widely honored.

At this time the Maharajah of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wadiyar, appeared inKasi to celebrate the Shastiabdapurthi (60th birthday) of his mother.On hearing of Krishnamacharya, he invited him to come to the Palace atMysore. The Maharajah was greatly impressed by the young man'sdemeanor, authority and scholarship.

In Mysore, Krishnamacharya was given quarters within the Palace and, ashe desired, Yoga studios were constructed. He went to teach Yoga asanasonce or twice each week and within three years seven or eight studentswere ready to teach and the King built three more studios at a totalcost of two hundred thousand rupees, a great investment at the value ofcurrency in those days. Krishnamacharya became the Maharajah's mostvalued counsellor and was given the use of the Jayanmohan Palace. Atthe Maharajah's request, he wrote several books including YogaMagarondam, Yoganjali, and Yogasanalu. These books were all publishedby the Palace and by Mysore University. With the support of theMaharajah, the Yoga teaching continued with great success for aboutsixteen years, until 1946.

A Time Of Change

The Congress Party Movement got under way and when a temporaryMinistry, or Cabinet, was formed, K. C. Reddy became Chief Minister ofMysore. It was his responsibility to prune government spending inMysore. In his view, the Yoga School was not very important. By thistime Krishnaraja Wadiyar had died and his nephew, Jayachamaraja Wadiyarhad become Maharajah.

Chief Minister Reddy sent a message to Krishnamacharya asking him tocome to his office. Krishnamacharya sent back a message with the samemessenger: "I am independent. I am no one's slave. If you want to seeme, you may come to the Yoga School and meet me here."

The Chief Minister replied with an order: The Yoga school must be closed within three months.

But the students of Yoga would not accept this order. They staged ademonstration in front of the Chief Minister's bungalow. Rushing toreprimand the students, he fell down stairs and hurt himself badly,breaking several of his teeth. After hearing from various people aboutKrishnamacharya's expertise in the field of ayurvedic medicine, he senthis secretary, Venkatasami, to Krishnamacharya to make an appointment.The Maharajah was amazed at the success of the treatment, and awardedKrishnamacharya five thousand rupees. Krishnamacharya replied, "I donot work for money. I don't need money. Give it to the poor students ofthe Yoga school."

In 1937, at the time of the early fame of the Yoga School in Mysore,Krishnamacharya had been invited to give the Commencement ConvocationAddress at the University of Madras. That occasion marked the origin ofhis lasting friendships in Madras among whom were Alladi KrishnaswamyIyer, T. R. Venkatarama Sastry, V. P. Ramesan, M. K. Nambiar and otherimportant leaders. After Independence, when the power of the rajahs andmaharajahs was reduced, these friends invited him to Madras. On theinsistence of his friends, he immediately took over the Yoga classestaught in Vivekananda College in the evening.

Question: Does the Yoga Sutra contain specific asanas as remedies for specific ills?

Krishnamacharya's reply: "One must study carefully and ascertain thesource of the ailment. The ailment may come from a change in food.There are individual differences in karma. The Sastras mention therelationship between food and life style suited for each season. If youare prudent in your food habits, you will be free of disease. In theBhagavad Gita the Lord has admonished us to eat nothing but sattvikafood (neither too spicy nor too sweet). Vyasar, Shankara and othershave written commentaries to help us understand Patanjali's Sutra.Several of the asanas are accurately described in Nathamuni's YogaRahasyam."

Question: We cannot live the kind of life that is envisioned in theSastras. There have been too many changes in manner of life. In view ofthese changes, do you think the practice of Yoga asanas is out of dateor out of place?

Krishnamacharya's answer: "Whatever place, whatever time, the ancestorshave framed the Yoga practices to suit them all. Only the attitudes andcircumstances of human beings change. Time and space does not change.The same sun shines as always! The moon too! Remember the conversationbetween Rama and Sugreeva in the age-old epic of Ramayana? Vybushanacomes to Rama asking for asylum. Sugreeva and Hanuman urge Rama not toaccept him in the circumstances (the circumstances being that Vybushanais the brother of Rama's arch enemy Ravana). Rama replies, "Forget thecircumstances, forget the times, no one who approaches me for helpshall be turned away."

With the intention of preserving the benefits of Krishnamacharya'sexperience and achievements for humanity, T. K. V. Desikachar, his son,has established the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram. Yoga asanas aretaught here on a scientific basis. Many graduates of the Mandiram havefounded Yoga study groups and schools all over the world to helphumanity live in good health. As for the ninety-six year oldKrishnamacharya himself, his tuneful, steady, and authoritative voiceas he chants the Vedic mantras fills the listener with a strongresonance. The Government of Tamil Nadu (Madras State) has acknowledgedthe exceptional value of these exercises, and also the Minister ofHealth of Tamil Nadu, Dr. Hande, has ceremonially honoured the work ofthis new organisation, with special praise for the brilliantachievements of Krishnamacharya.

The life of Krishnamacharya serves as an example of the principle thatfamily living does not stand in the way of leading the true life of ayogacharya.

Krishnamacharya's wife, Srimathi Namagiriyammal, is over twenty yearsyounger than he. It is inspiring to hear her tell of his independentways, and the many debates he has won over great pandits.

For one really enlightened, the presence of the family will not be aburden. Krishnamacharya lives among us in the same state ofconsciousness that illuminates the sages who dwell in the Himalayas. Helives among us and not in some remote forest because of his principlethat the devout and healthy life that he lives should become a naturalmode of living to all humanity. Today he is the living example of thebright consciousness radiating from the ancient sages enriched with thewisdom of solitude and penance. To meet with him, to have his darshan,is to know the satisfaction of having seen the personification ofIndian culture.
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