B.K.S. Iyengar Biography (17) 

(17) Ramamani remembered

BKS Iyengar’s influence on his chosen subject can be measured by the sea change in attitudes to it that have occurred around him. When he arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport on his first visit to the West, at Menuhin’s invitation in 1954, Customs and Immigration asked him if he could chew glass, drink acid, swallow razor blades, or walk on fire. When he admitted he could do none of these things, they then asked him what kind of a yogi he was, and did not really believe his continuing protestations. And when he went on to give a demonstration at the 1954 World Trade Fair in Lausanne, the Indian Embassy had to declare—in writing—that he would wear only his swimming trunks; would not be carrying either a razor blade or a matchbox; and that his hands would be in full view at all times. He was also checked and vetted before being permitted on stage to address his waiting audience. Iyengar’s main concern, in writing Light On Yoga was therefore to cast light on his subject. His most famous of all his books got its title because he wanted to counter the woeful ignorance he saw around him, and to dispel illusions about it. He also wanted to spell out the benefits and—above all else—demonstrate their ready accessbility to one and all. Light On Yoga succeeded in its aims. It has been translated into a score of languages, and remains the best-selling of all yoga books. He has admitted that he would write the book very differently if he were to write it today … but this is mainly because of its success. Knowledge of yoga is now so widespread that he would have a luxury he did not have at the time: that of presenting many of the other aspects of a now well understood subject.

When Iyengar married Ramamani in 1943, she may have known nothing about yoga, but she soon became the unwavering source of all his strength, inspiration, and dedication. She bore him five daughters—Geeta, Vanita, Suchita, Sunita and Savita—and one son, Prashant. It was she who introduced them all to yoga. Their marriage was joyful, becoming particularly deep when they both had their dreams about the future upon the same night. This confirmed to them a shared destiny. She was still alive when Light On Yoga was published, and she both contributed to and enjoyed its success.

When a group from South Africa travelled to Pune to study with Iyengar in 1972–73, he had to hire a local school hall to hold the classes. Ramamani then suggested that they procure their own hall to accommodate future groups. Thus in mid-1972, using some of the proceeds from Light On Yoga, Iyengar purchased the land he needed to realize her vision. Through the rest of ’72 and into ’73, various students made donations. On 25th January, 1973, the traditional purificatory puja, or ceremony, to bless the land was conducted. And then … three days later … BKS Iyengar’s beloved Ramamani suddenly sickened and died. Plans proceeded, and the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute was dedicated to her memory on January 19, 1975.

As Iyengar`s influence has spread from the Institute named in his wife's memory and knowledge about his subject has grown, so has he been able to highlight different aspects of his subject. His life, as an author and teacher, has in many ways been that of extending the necessarily abridged introduction to Light on Yoga. The essential principles he elucidated there were certainly easy to grasp. The depth and profundity of the real subject he addressed—the human mind and spirit—remained evident, but he nevertheless devoted increasing attention to those topics as his life as an author progressed. His interests also broadened as he, for example, established a charitable foundation to alleviate poverty in his home village of Bellur. But possibly the greatest testament has been that, both inside and outside India, nearly every teacher who stands in front of a class to teach yoga has been influenced—sometimes unknowingly—by the contributions made by BKS Iyengar.