I stumbled upon this old article yesterday, went looking for it again today to share it and of course found it on my friend Paul Harvey's excellent resource, Centre for Yoga Studies
Questions on T Krishnamacharya – Answered by TKV Desikachar
answered by T.K.V. Desikachar
KYM DARSANAM NOVEMBER 1993
Though familiar with some well known details of his early life,
the students of the Mandiram were keen to know more about their
teacher, T. Krishnamacharya. T.K.V. Desikachar answers a wide range
of questions giving us details that were not known before. It covers his
views on subjects as diverse as his early orthodoxy, Mahatma Gandhi,
the qualities he respected, his diet and entertainment.
He was earlier very strict and followed Sastric
injunctions very faithfully. In his later days
he relaxed his orthodoxy and began to teach
vedic chanting to women. How did this transformation
One of my father's earliest students was a
woman, my aunt. We even have her photograph
in the Yoga Makaranda. This was in 1934. My
aunt, my mother's sister, is still alive and living
in Bangalore. She would accompany him when
he went to the Mysore Maharaja's palace to
teach the royal family. In 1937, there was a
foreign lady who was the guest of the Maharaja.
Though sceptical, my father accepted her as a
student on the urging of the Maharaja, subject
to her following certain disciplines. She went on
to become a very famous yoga teacher and she
too is alive today. Her name is Indra Devi. In
addition, he used to visit Hyderabad to teach the
family members of the Nizam of Hyderabad who
It may seem silly to mention these instances
but in the context of those times it was quite
unorthodox to teach yoga to women leave alone
foreign women. This was all the more so because
my father was otherwise a very orthodox man
who lived his life strictly in accordance with the
sastra-s and was widely respected for his mastery
of the scriptures.
However he was very firm in his belief that vedic
chanting was to be taught only to men and that
too, to those belonging to the first three castes.
He also held the orthodox beliefs regarding the
marriage of women before puberty and the
ineligibility of widows for remarriage. He was
in fact called upon by the orthodoxy to defend
the sastra-s against the progressive reformers
of those days, people like the Arya Samaj and
So though he would teach yoga to all who sought
to learn, he was very firm in his orthodox beliefs
in other areas.
It was in the 60's that he began to change. He
saw that the cumulative wisdom of the ancients
which had been handed down from generation to
generation through the traditional practices was
in danger of extinction. The persons who were
traditionally the torch bearers of this tradition
were abandoning it in favour of modern occupations.
It was then that he decided that, in order
to help preserve the teachings, he would teach
anyone who came to learn, provided they were
sincere and they followed certain preliminary disciplines.
We have heard that he played the Veena very
well. From whom did he learn to play the instrument?
He was once challenged to learn and play the
veena. He accepted the challenge and went to
a veena teacher, Veena Seshan of Mysore. In
a short while he learnt to play the veena and even
gave a public performance.
The Sastra-s say, 'brahmano veena gatinah'.
A brahmarna, learned man, must be able to play
the veena. When chanting the Veda-s there are
certain mantra-s that need to be played on the
veena. Similarly, during the simantam of the
expecting mother there are mantra-s to be played
on the veena. These vibrations arc good tor the
What did he think of Mahatma Gandhi's role
i) acquiring independence for India
ii) uplifting the harijan-s and working for
their temple entry.
Though we have no official record of the event,
my father has mentioned that he once met
Mahatma Gandhi in Bangalore, in the pre independence
My father was the official teacher of the Maharaja of
Mysore and enjoyed his patronage. The
Maharaja was a part of the British system and so
my father was, in a way, against independence
and Gandhiji's efforts. He felt that India, which
had always been ruled by kings, was not ready
for this modem concept of self rule and democracy.
Power in the hands of people unprepared
for it would be disastrous, was his opinion.
In relation to the other question regarding
Gandhiji's work with harijan-s, we must
remermber that my father was a Sri Vaisnava.
Sri Vaisnavites are the followers of Ramanuja
and Vedanta Desika who both were very liberal
persons. The original teachers of their tradition
were not brahmin-s, Nothing is known about the
origins of Namalvar and the alvar-s were from
all four castes. Being of this tradition my father
had the official sanction of the Parakala Math,
to initiate people into the mula mantra whereby
they accept Narayana as their Lord. He has
travelled widely teaching this mantra to people
of all castes. So the question of emancipation of
the harijan-s and working for their temple entry
was not new to my father or his tradition.
What was his association with the Parakala
The Parakrila Math is an old math started by
Vedanta Desika in the l2th century. The Parakala
Sami, the acarya of the Parakala Math holds
a position similar to that of the Sankaracarya. He
was the official guru to the Maharaja of Mysore
during the five hundreds years of their reign. My
father's great grandfather was a Parakala Swami,
Srinivasa Brahmantara Parakla Swami. He had
all his early education at the Parakela Math and
later when scholars would come to challenge the
Math it was my father who would represent the
Math in the debates. These debates would be on
a wide range of subjects, not just yoga. On the
(100th birthday of the Parakala Swami it was my
father who was responsible for the conducting
of the entire function. He was invited to become
the Parakala swami three times but he turned it
down on each occasion because his guru had told
him to lead a family life.
What did he think of the caste system as it
My father always used to say 'I want to meet
a brahmin. A brahmin who fulfils the six
conditions of the definition;
adhyayanam - one who regularly does vedic
adhyapanam - one who regularly teaches vedic
yajanam - one who regularly performs yagna,
yajanam - one who regularly helps others perform yagna
danam - one who earns properly and gives away
what he haas earned.
parigraham - one who receives only what is appropriate.
Further, the Bhagavad Gita 18.42 describes
a brahmin as one possessing the qualities of
serenity, self restraint, austerity, purity, forgiveness,
uprightness, knowledge and realisation.
He used to say that we are all not brahmin-s but
brahmabandhu-s. Brohmabandhu is a term used
in the Chandogya Upanisad to describe a person
who has not undergone the proper study and does
not follow all the proper practices. He can only
say 'my ancestors were brahmin-s'.
Among his contemporaries, who were the
people whom he held in high esteem as men
of learning and character?
He had the greatest respect for his teachers. He
had many great persons as his teachers for Nyaya,
Sankhya, Yoga, Vedanta, Mimamsa, Veda-s. He
also had great respect for some of the ghanapati-s
who were well versed in the recitation of the
He was a very learned man but for him the
essence of being learned was to practise these
principles in one's life. This he found was very
rare, even in those days.
He had a lot of respect for the Paramacarya of
the Kanchi Kamakoti pitham.
He also had a lot of regard for the Sankaracarya
of the Sringeri Math, H.H. Chandrasekarabharati.
This was the Sankaracarya two generations prior
to the current Sankaracharya of Srinigeri. He was
a yogi and considered eccentric by many people
but to my father he was a great man.
Being a native of Mysore, how is it that he
chose Madras as his place of residence?
Right through his stay in Mysore, other than
through the Maharaja, he did not find many
persons interested in learning what he had to teach.
Only a few showed appreciation for the knowledge
that he possessed. We moved to Madras
in 1952 and whenever I asked him to consider
moving back to our native place he would say
that Madras, now Tamil Nadu, was the only
place where culture and knowledge were still
respected. It was on the pleading of the people
of Madras that he came to stay here. The leading
citizens of Madras were eager that he spread the
knowledge that he possessed among their people
and offered him the facilities to do so.
What did he admire in the British and the
West which he felt India could emulate and
My father was not a political person. He
was a part of the 'other India' which has
through the ages been transmitting its teachings
from generation to generation unaffected by the
existing political situation, This he felt was
India's greatest treasure, Whatever may be the
economic plunder by the various invaders and
occupiers as long as this chain was continued he
felt that all else was of little consequence.
The fact that the British did not interfere in or
meddle with the religious life of India was for
him their greatest virtue. After independence,
this was not the case. He believed that the
decay in the various institutions was due to the
interference by politicians in religious life.
What did he feel about the rebellion of youth
against being bound by tradition anB the word
and authority of their fathers? Did he rebel in
A young person rebels when he is dissatisfied
with the explanation given to him for an action
required of him. And when he is given no explanation
at all but ordered, the tendency to rebel
is greater. My father would answer any question,
however unconventional or unorthodox it
may have been. He never considered the asking
of questions, a sign of disrespect or impertinence
but rather, an essential aspect of the process of
In his youth he was independent and unafraid of
challenging even the most well-established orthodoxy.
During his stay in Benares he was well
known for the fiery debates he would have with
the great scholars of that city. He never accepted
a point of view with which he was at variance
unless it was validated to him in the light of the
Sastra-s. His enormous knowledge of the sastra-s
and his interpretations of them earned him high
respect from the pundits of that city.
Could you describe some aspects of his personality
and the qualities in a person that would
Straightforwardness. He could not stand
hypocrisy. You could tell him something unpleasant
straight to his face and he would accept
it and still accept you but he would see through
insincerity easily. Till the end, he was extremely
alert to all that a person was saying and would
make gentle fun of any inconsistencies in ideas.
He had a very good and subtle sense of humour
and was a great favourite with children.
Has he even been to the movies? What were
his other recreations?
One of the first movies I saw was one which he
took the whole family to see. I think the name
was Bhadracala Ramdas, a Telugu movie.
He didn't have much free time but, enjoyed
gardening and conversation with the family,
where he caught up on the daily activities and
news of all members. Whenever he had collected
some money and had some free time he would
go on a pilgrimage taking both the family and
his students with him. Tirupati was a favourite
What were his favourite foods?
You might be surprised to know that he relished
good food. He was from Andhra and so, relished
food that was hot and spicy. He was very fond
of sweets and would eat them in great quantities.
With all this he would always have ghee.
Ghee formed a very important part of his diet
and whatever the food, it would be accompanied
with large quantities of ghee. Of course, he
was also doing asana-s for three to four hours
daily in addition to his pranayama His practice was
extremely rigorous and that may account for
his being able to handle these large quantities of
spicy and sweet foods.
There was one golden rule, that food should always
be fresh and eaten right after being cooked.
The food of the morning was never eaten in
the evening. He was a very good cook himself
and could make difficult preparations quite artistically.
The Maharaja of Mysore would eat the
same food that my father ate. My mother would
cook for both in the manner my father required,
using herbs and special ingredients.
What was the state of the Sanskrit language
in his early days? What did he think of its
In his days Sanskrit was still reasonably widely
spoken among the scholars. At the Parakala
Math, during the debates there would be forty
or fifty scholars present and they would all be
fluent in Sanskrit.
With the coming of Independence, my father felt
that there would be a shift to Western life styles.
Simultaneous with this, there would be a resurgence
of the regional languages and Sanskrit
would die a natural death. This came to pass in
his own lifetime and he accepted this as a natural
consequence of the changing trends. He must
have been deeply pained at this but never showed
or gave expression to it. Sanskrit, he would say,
was a 'sampurnabhasa' (complete language).
He was overjoyed when he came upon anyone
who could speak to him in Sanskrit, however
What did he think of yoga as a means to
awaken the kundalini?
The main goal in yoga is vairagya, being detached
and, brahmacarya, seeing truth. The
practices that do not help in these goals are
vamacara, practices worth condemning. He
called kundalini yoga, vamacara. He has studied
all the sastra-s and yoga texts and even written
his own articles on kundalini but never referred
to anything called kundalini yoga. The pursuit of
powers is contrary to the goal of vairagya and
therefore not classifiable as yoga.
Similarly, tantra yoga, where sex is used as an
aid to yoga is contrary to the goal of brah'macarya,
This too, he did not consider yoga and
What were the most important pilgrimage
centres in India, according to him?
In India, pilgrimages are undertaken to places
mentioned in our mythology, as having been
made holy by Cods. They are also undertaken
to places associated with holy men. A pilgrim
embarks on a pilgrimage with a feeling of
devotion. In India there are thousands of such
pilgrimage sites and each person will have a
few places to which he is attracted and drawn
towards. In the case of my father, the important
pilgrimage sites for him were:
Tirupati, Srirangam, Badrinath, Kanchipuram,
Koppal, Alwar Tirunagari, Benares, Mukti
Narayana Ksetram, Gaya and Melkote.
Whenever he could, he would undertake
pilgrimages to these Places.
In addition, there are rivers mentioned in the
Sastra-s in which one must bathe in the course
of one's lifetime. Here too, it is the association
with the Gods that makes these rivers holy and
especially so at a particular place where the river
is associated with the God.
These rivers are Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari,
Triveni, Naramada, Sindhu, Kaveri and Pushkar
He had also undertaken pilgrimages to these sites
and bathed in these rivers.