At the pearly gates in dhoti, vibhuti, pump shoes

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: Around 2 in the afternoon yesterday, god in his high heavens, in his most infinite and unfathomable wisdom, took the final decision to allow an old man to just exhale for the one last time in his 94 years on the planet, and not inhale that most vital whiff of air, the breath of life.

Yoga guru Pattabhi Jois had breathed his last.

The world of Ashtanga yoga is unusual. It’s esoteric, a strange world inhabited by men and women, so very different in thought and action from the rest of us, steeped largely in cryptic methodologies that trace their genesis back to aeons. To the time of the Puranas.

A form of yogic practice that can be assimilated and appreciated and followed only by the seriously interested and genuinely committed among the multitudes who have ever tried a hand at it. Or leg, if you will!

A world whose citizens unfailingly wake up at 4 in the morning and adhere to the tenets of yama, niyama, dhyana, dharana, pratihara, ashtheya, and aparigraha; to the precepts of individual and social discipline. Where the initiated achieve a state of mind where calm and soulful rumination tip-toe gently into their sub-conscious to dwell there for ever. Changing them and their perceptions of the world. For the better.

It is this world that Pattabhi Jois had the keys to.

The keys that he earned through years and years of resolute study and practice of ashtanga yoga, born of a inner calling, ever since he saw a yogic demonstration at the Jubilee Hall in the nondescript town of Hassan in Karnataka, by a man named Krishnamacharya, who went on to become his guru. Jois was all of 11 years old then.

It was with this very same set of keys that Jois opened the vast door of yoga to his students who came from all parts of the world; from Basavanagudi to Boston, as it were. He made them taste for themselves the pure, fresh and sweet waters of the fount of his yogic knowledge where most other teachers tended to only loftily pontificate on the existence of a spring in the distance, without as much as allowing their students to even experience a gentle splash.

In Pattabhi Jois, indeed, there was simply no hint of the ego; no unnecessary posturing; not a sliver of braggadocio; or any existence of swaggering self aggrandizement in the insides of his soul. No overblown or empty boasting that he knew it all.

It was simply amazing that Jois had mastered the rather arduous exercise of it all, the most difficult posture, if you will, of completely extinguishing that most persuasive of fires, the importance to the self.

In a world where one invariably comes across half-baked men and women of all hues, who think that they are the makers of the universe, the cat’s whiskers as it were; those who perambulate the labyrinths of an imagined sense of exaggerated self esteem, born invariably of greed, pelf and a rather pathetic lack of the understanding of life.

The equanimity of mind, the equipoise; the simplicity that Pattabhi Jois exuded; the warmth and friendliness in his smile that was so natural to his demeanour; the child in him that surfaced time and again; that wonderfully endearing way of greeting- ‘hello, hello, hello!’- all whispered to you that here was a man who was fresh and uninhibited of soul.

Ananth Ramiah, one of his classmates from the Sanskrit Patashala once gave the most perfect description of Pattabhi Jois’s nature as a man.

Ananth Ramiah quoted verses from the Ramayana pertaining to the appointment of Lord Rama as the heir to the throne of the great kingdom of Ayodhya and his subsequent banishment to the jungles for 14 years. The Ramayana records that Rama, upon hearing both news, was simply unmoved and unaffected. There was to him, the legendary scripture states, a certain detachment of the mind, a certain aloofness of thought that simply did not allow him to be affected in any way by either of the developments!

So also with Pattabhi Jois. Neither during the early times in Mysore when gut wrenching poverty snapped at his ankles like a persistent dog nor later when fame and the attendant riches came his way like damsels wanting to impress a handsome suitor, did Jois as much as blink at them!

The private jet planes of a few of his American students, the itinerant jet setting around the globe; the reverence and the fawning with which his students received him wherever he went; the ‘guruji’ that he had become to them all; the many trips, travelling First Class on British Airways,  to New York, which was as different from his ancestral village of Kowshika as pretzels are from that most Kannadiga of short eats, the ‘Kodu Bale’; classes with superstars Madonna, Sting and Gwyneth Paltrow; the dollars and the Rolexes; they all  happened.

But Pattabhi Jois was still, in spite of the flash bulbs and the bugles, a simple, god fearing Brahmin from Rajaram Agrahara and later Lakshmipuram of erstwhile Mysore, sacred thread firmly in place, the vibhuti smeared resplendently on his handsome forehead; always revelling in anecdotes dating back to unspoiled, royal Mysore of the 1940s, completely oblivious to the pomp and show around him, and all the adulation that stemmed from his status as an international yoga guru of such profound eminence.

I had seen him walk the long cavernous halls of airports in the west amidst the gloss, the glitter, the lights and the shrill crescendo of revved up jet engines taxiing for take off.  But he always his own self. In his white dhoti and shirt and pump shoes.

Jois neither understood the thousand reasons his co-passengers had to be on the same plane nor did he want to know why else the world moved. To him he was on his way to New York or Los Angeles or Encinitas or Hawaii because a student had invited him to be there.

And now, the good lord himself has invited him to be with him. For ever.

In my mind, I can see Pattabhi Jois climbing up the stairway to heaven, in his trademark white dhoti and shirt. As for the pump shoes, I don’t know whether they are allowed in the presence of the lord!

Photograph: courtesy The Shala

Also read: Yoga guru K. Pattabhi Jois is no more

Jois at work: “Bad lady, why forgetting Bakasana?”

The second-most famous Mysorean in the world

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11 Responses to “At the pearly gates in dhoti, vibhuti, pump shoes”

  1. SB Says:

    I respect the man for what he achieved. But I never understood why he used to charge as much as $500 a month which most Indians couldn’t afford? I’ve heard that most of his students were foreigners. Lodging and boarding business flourished around his Yoga “business” in Mysore, and these businesses used to charge exorbitantly which only foreigners could afford! If he was not after money, why didn’t he teach Yoga just for the love of Yoga? Why didn’t he see it as something he had to give back to society instead of making huge personal wealth out of it?

  2. MS Says:

    Good eulogy but a bit exaggerated. Before his launch into dollar territory and into the tinsel world of Sting and Madonna, he was not poor. The Patasala’s salaries were not generous but were sufficient to most Sanskrit and Vedic scholars that I knew. There were other perks in kind that went with it. His training under his Yoga guru was free thanks to the generosity of the Wodiyars. These poor students had free meals in the choultry near the elephant training ground (now JSS) and free room at the Patasala. When one starts talking about the Royals, one should acknowledge the reason why they supported poor students and the Patasala. They expected these trained men to carry on the tradition of free training to those who came to them, not looking at their wallet contents. The patasala’s yoga venue was generously large-a large hall with Jois in sole charge of it. Not even the senior vedic scholars had this privilege at that time.

    Even at Lakshmipuram he was charging about Rs 40+ per month which was not a small amount in 1960s. But that was different from the $500/month fee. His guru and the late Krishnaraja Wodeyar would have been turning in their graves seeing the dollars and rolexes pouring in and looking at the Calvin Klein short shot of Jois, the poor student who they supported. Jois for a long time wore a piece of loin cloth while demonstrating/performing yoga. What a change the mighty dollar brings about!!

    No one is saying that Jois should have remained modest charging Rs 40+
    per month. But Yoga is considered a part of Vedic culture. It helps to keep sound mind in a sound body. The rampant commercialism of Jois goes against this precept. Perhaps the govt of Mysore should have supported Jois with generous reirement benefits so that he carried on passing his knowledge as Wodeyars intended. But then this is only a conjecture. The lure of dollars was too much for a person who was trained to control mind and body.

  3. Cool Dude Says:

    Well said SB

  4. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Good article but a bad metaphor in the headline!

  5. sathya Says:

    Whatever one might earn they cannot carry anything -excepting good or bad, which again is relative in character. It is an irony that people who come up from utter poverty never likes to look back and help the poor. Whether it is Yoga or other fields.
    About the Pathashaala culture, the Maharajas started with a noble intention, they had even the Ayurvedic college under the same roof. Free accommodation was provided, little help in the form of scholarship was also given and above all the fees….you cannot compre with the present fee structures. Over the years it became a very ordinary institution because of lack of interest and it had gone into oblivion. Things seems to have changed now that the institution is brought under the control of Higher education and it may become a part of the Sanskrit University to be extablished.

  6. MS Says:

    I am only saying Jois should have helped a few not so rich not so white clients. Heard a few natives of Mysore mentioning that he turned all of them away despite offer of fees in rupees which they can bearly afford in favour of his Calvin Klein -clad dollar-bearing clients. Very rich and famous cardiac surgeons like Magdi Yakoub (UK), Debakey (US) had a list of poor patients who needed heart surgeries and did them for free.

    Not heard of any chairty Jois established or contributed to give something back to the society. I agree about Patasala which is close to my heart. i studied Sanskrit there. My father worked there all his life and we knew Jois very very well. Could not visit Mysore since a decade for various reasons. But have seen Jois in my Western neighbourhoods very often with pop star clients with questionable habits.

  7. Ravi Says:

    It is funny how a white skin with an American accent draws attention in India and these ” gurus” are not exceptions. In places like Mysore and Bangalore, my Western friend, a design engineer of my group of which I was the project leader (the fund holding boss)who often accompanied me on my business trip was always welcomed with respect and lsitened to. He and I used to laugh about it later as he struck meaner bargains ( compared to me)with native clients every time.

  8. tarlesubba Says:

    joisru teerkondra?

    whatever man, he gave mysore a good name. and gave something positive to the world.

    we guys always want others to do all the sacrificing. how much code have i ever written just for the love of C?

  9. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    Anthu Pattabhiramaayana odi mugisiddaythalla. Jaya mangalm.

  10. Pulikeshi the Last Says:


    Ninnakone vaakyada artha en guru?

  11. Yogi Bear Says:

    Maybe he wanted to leave something for his grandson to work with to continue his work. What’s wrong with that? Why are all spiritual souls expected to live in penury.

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