Legendary yoga guru BKS Iyengar passed away at 95 in August last year. Quite a miracle, when you consider his history — born in 1918 during an influenza epidemic, he was a weak, malnourished child, and suffered several illnesses including malaria, tuberculosis, and typhoid.
He started yoga at the age of 15 under the tutelage of his brother-in-law, the yogi Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (often referred to as the father of modern yoga), and eventually went on to establish himself as one of the foremost names in yoga — a reputation that still prevails across 70 countries. In spite of his popularity, Delhi-based photographer Aditya Kapoor, who was assigned to photograph Guruji's (as Iyengar was fondly called) yoga stances in March last year, didn't know much about him, and was in fact averse to the idea of yoga.
It took just one visit to the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute to change his perspective.
"When I reached his institute in Pune, I realised that everyone called him Guruji," remembered Kapoor who had been assigned the job to update a book by Iyengar (The Path to Holistic Health) out of the many he had already published. "And after a few days I started doing that too. Once he started performing his yoga asanas, it was unbelievable: I have not seen people my age do the exercises he was pulling off," said Kapoor. "And you could tell he was enjoying it: at certain times when people would applaud, he would crack a rare smile, and it was beautiful." Not many people know that this grumpy-looking man with bushy eyebrows actually had a good sense of humour, he added.
Kapoor also revealed that Iyengar lived a very simple life. Apart from an elevator, Iyengar's home (that is part of his institute) looked like a home from the 60's: old furniture, an old radio set, and he dressed simply and traditionally. "It was slightly surreal to see him in such simple surroundings when you consider the personalities he's trained (including violinist Yehudi Menuhin, Sachin Tendulkar, Madonna and the Queen of Belgium), and his reach all over the world," said Kapoor who also visited Bellur Krishnamachar & Seshamma Smaraka Niddhi Trust (BKSSNT) in the guru's hometown (Bellur) that focuses on education and yoga alike.
Kapoor spent three-four days photographing Iyengar and his family, and went back home only to encourage his (then) girlfriend who was suffering from a slipped-disc injury to join yoga. He even took it up himself: "There were people at the institute who doctors had given up on," he said. "People who couldn't walk, and were sick — yoga cured all of their ailments."
Both Kapoor and Iyengar seemed to realise the value of these photographs only after they met each other: "This was my last chance to photograph this legend. And he knew this was his last chance to do one final session. So he stretched his boundaries, only for me — at least that's what his patrons told me. Soon after I heard he was in hospital and he passed away."
Kapoor's photos turned out to be the last photo shoot the Guru would participate in.