18 Aug '16
Posted in Articles by Eric Shaw
Called the Last of the World’s four Great Teachers, T. K. V. Desikachar is dead at 78
Tirumalai Krishnamacharya Venkata Desikachar who was trained as an engineer but who became a world-renowned yoga teacher and leader in Yoga Therapy, died August 8th at 2:45am in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.
On some future Mt. Rushmore of Yoga, Desikachar’s face could be carved alongside three other celebrated teachers who did the most to make yoga popular in the present day.
TKV’s moderate age at his death seems to deny yoga’s promise, but his great colleagues (and their shared guru, Desikachar’s father, T. Krishnamacharya) all thrived past 90. They include K. Pattabhi Jois (1915 – 2009), the Latvian, Indra Devi (1899 – 2002) and Desikachar’s uncle, B.K.S. Iyengar (1918 – 2014).
Facing his father’s legendary ferocity as a boy, Desikachar was disinterested in yoga. In one story, he climbed a tree to flee his practice. But Krishnamacharya waited stealthily for him and rope-tied him in lotus pose—leaving him to stew a few hours.
Desikachar pursued mechanical engineering in school, planning a career in his chosen field, but he turned to his father’s guruship in 1961, becoming one of his most passionate advocates and long-studied apprentices.
In 1965, the spiritual teacher, Krishanmurti, approached Krishnamacharya for teaching, but he referred him to T. K. V. The relationship between the young teacher and the great philosopher prospered, and that same year, Krishnamurti sponsored Desikachar’s first teaching trips abroad—to the U.K. and Switzerland. Desikachar began regular trips to America in 1976, first hosted by Colgate University.
That same year, Desikachar founded the Krishnamcharya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai, partnering with two other longtime Krishnamacharya students, A. G. Mohan and Srivastsa Ramaswami. At KYM, he elaborated the practice of yoga therapy, integrating asana, pranayama and the principles of Ayurveda for patient care. His fame grew, based on his skill in healing, humility as a teacher, and practical attitude toward what yoga could offer the world.
Both local and international students flocked to the Mandiram, and numerous famous teachers acknowledged Desikachar is their primary guide in the practice, including Chase Bossart, Kate Holcombe, Leslie Kaminoff, Gary Kraftsow, Larry Payne and Mark Whitwell.
Like his father, Desikachar saw yoga as a science to aid all people in their push toward physical and mental health.
Among his eight books were two translations of the Yoga Sutras. There, he de-emphasized the lonely path of striving yogis, and steered the book’s message toward householder life. This interpretation, first offered by his father’s writing and teaching, was evident throughout his 1999 reference book, The Heart of Yoga—widely used in teacher training programs—and his moving Health, Healing and Beyond (2005) where he mixed his father’s life story with pragmatic messages about the yoga path.
Though he was a committed secularist, he was deeply interested in the interface between yoga and religion. He lectured and published on the topic and famously submitted to his father’s tutelage only on the condition that religion be left out of it.
In his last years, he suffered from dementia.
The immediate cause of his death is not yet known.
Among family members who have made their mark in the practice, he is survived by his son, Kausthub, who teaches worldwide and has published a biography of his father, and by his younger brother, Sri T.K. Sribhashyam, who teaches yoga in Europe and authored of The Emergence of Yoga (2014) a book on yoga’s history, philosophy and practice.