A tribute to Sir TKV Desikachar
by Dr. Kausthub Desikachar
It is with a heavy heart that I write this article honoring the passing of my father, Sir TKV Desikachar, or Sir, as he was fondly called by millions of people around the world. After living an extraordinary life of service, he transitioned into the unknown domain on 08 August 2016 at 2.45 am Indian time.
His professional and personal life have been an example of living and teaching with integrity, and his last days on this earth were no different.
Although born in an extraordinary family of Yogis, with a continuous ancestry tracing back at least to the 9th century AD, Desikachar was a relatively late starter in the journey of Yoga. His eyes opened to Yoga when he observed an extraordinary incident between his father and a New Zealander, Mrs. Kay Malvenan. Back in the 1960s, when India was even more conservative, Desikachar witnessed one morning this Kiwi woman rush to hug to his father, the legendary T Krishnamacharya, an orthodox Brahmin man. Having access to all the best medical facilities available at the time had not helped Mrs. Malvenan overcome her insomnia. However, Yoga Therapy, under the able guidance of T Krishnamacharya had completely cured it, and it was this joy that made her display this affection to her teacher.
Sir Desikachar recalled this inspiring incident many times over the years as his first real eye-opener to the greatness of his father and the healing power of Yoga. Desikachar decided at that moment to quit his career as an engineer and dedicate his life wholly to the transmission of Yoga.
His achievements in this field are so extraordinary they fall out of the scope of this article. A series of articles are planned to highlight the same and will be shared in the course of time.
In this piece, I would like to focus on the last part of his life to put to rest many confusing messages that are shared on the internet about him and his transition. Those who have used his (and his family’s) silence to promote such inaccuracies must place their hands on their hearts and genuinely reflect on their motivations. Others who have read these articles and believed it to be the truth must consider opening their hearts and ears to know the facts and set aside untruth.
The truth is the best way to honor this great man.
Back in 2010-2011, Sir Desikachar displayed slight aberrations from his normal behavior. But these were not so deviant that it was a cause for concern. The family doctor who attended to him, until his final passing, revealed that it would be because of age-related atrophy in the brain. When family and friends raised it with Sir Desikachar, he too would brush it away, suggesting to them not to worry too much about it. Given his stature as an amazing healer, no one ventured further, giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Sir continued teaching up until late 2012, and his final teaching engagement was teaching chanting to a group of French students visiting the Krishnamacharya Healing & Yoga Foundation.
He withdrew from public life towards the end of 2012, as he himself started to notice the changes in his capacities. He confided to his wife and me that he did not want to be engaged publicly, and did not want to meet and interact with too many people.
It was evident that he wanted to withdraw and dedicate the remainder of his life to sustaining himself and preparing for his journey beyond. He had offered over four decades of his life to the public welfare, and he knew now that it was enough. He also consciously reduced talking as he was aware that he was making some errors in speech.
Over the next years, the atrophy would eventually worsen to the degree that Western medicine would call 'Dementia.' My own feeling about his journey is entirely different.
Even in his withdrawn state, he was quite the teacher, up until his last breath, and even beyond.
In Western Medicine, doctors like to put people and symptoms into boxes, so that it is easier to categorize and standardize. Desikachar was no ordinary man. His end-of-life journey taught me, and those intimately involved, that there is so much more to life than just rigid containers.
Though he lost his mind gradually, he never lost his heart, and the wisdom of consciousness. He was acutely aware of the most significant things that were going on around him, and he responded beautifully to them. He confirmed Patanjali's teachings that when the mind is silenced, a deeper wisdom arises.
Here I share two examples that confirm his heightened state of consciousness. And towards the end of the article, you will also realize that he was fully aware and connected even when he took his last breath.
On one occasion in early 2015, my dear mother had to deal with a conflict involving a few different people. Each of these individuals would call her separately and talk about the conflict with her and put her in an awkward situation to make a judgment call and side with each of them. Not surprisingly this greatly disturbed my mother. Casually Sir Desikachar walks into the living room that evening, takes a paper and pen and scribbles the following "Call for a meeting. All will be okay."
On another occasion, also at the beginning of 2015, my wife and I had a disagreement on some issues, and we were discussing this intensely between us. The discussion lasted quite a while, and we both were sticking to our points of view, a clear sign that we were disconnected to our hearts at that moment. It was a time when Sir would normally have his afternoon nap. Out of the blue, he appeared in our presence and sat between us and took our hands, almost as if to make us reconnect. Despite the fact that he did not speak a single word, his message was clear. Instantly the discussion stopped, and we could see each other's point of view.
Instances like these and many others taught me to look beyond the rigid structures of modern Medicine and challenge the conventional ways of understanding health and illness. I was grateful that my father was continuing to educate me, despite withdrawing from formal teaching.
He was perfectly aware of who came to our house, and who did not. Acutely sensitive of those who honored him despite his condition, and those who did not. He woke up and came to sit with those he felt were sincere in their interest in him. He walked away from the living room and acted as if he was going to sleep when those who called on him did so just for the sake of a formality.
Starting in July 2015, on the recommendation of his doctor, we recruited a nursing agency to look after his needs, as his mundane capacities deteriorated. They would send a nurse home each day to take care of him.
Towards the end of August 2015, Desikachar slipped and suffered a fall in the living room of his home. Luckily he suffered no fractures. However, a few days after this incident he would not walk and was confined to his bed. Perhaps it was the shock of his fall, or perhaps it was a choice to remain bedridden. An airbed was arranged for him immediately, thanks to his students Jyotsna and Praveen, so that he could be comfortable and have minimal bedsores. The family also placed the bed in such a way that he could always look at Acarya Krishnamacharya's sannidhi from there.
From this point on, his medical parameters continued to decline gradually. He would often get bed sores, which had to be tended to from time to time. His legs would get swollen from lack of circulation, which also had to be taken care of frequently. He also suffered from coughs and colds often. His metabolism was also weakening. All signs that his immune system was getting weaker by the day.
On the advice of his physician, the family was encouraged to restrict the number of visitors seeing him, so that he would not be vulnerable to infections. Despite this, the family was always happy to welcome his close students and associates to visit him and be in his presence.
Regardless of the deteriorating medical conditions, I could only see the expansion of his consciousness even during this time. Each time someone would chant for him, he would open his eyes and try to join in silently. When some visitors would bring some bad news to the family, he would close his eyes and withdraw into himself. When someone who needed healing visited him, he would reach out and hold their hands softly. It was beautiful to see all of this.
In the modern era, we continually reject the notion of consciousness and the wisdom of the heart. When the brain fails, we are told that the person is useful no more. However watching my father so closely during this period, enlightened me on the more subtle aspects of human life that are profoundly intangible, yet deeply significant. Very often I would get the feeling that my father was in a state of Nirbija Samadhi, the highest state of Yoga.
It is my profound and sincere conviction that Sir knew his time was coming to an end. Early in January 2016, the doctors confirmed that the end was nearing and that perhaps he would last a month. I informed some of his close students of this situation and suggested to them that they should come and pay the last respects.
Although a few of them did come to do this, Desikachar had his own plan. He needed to see the remainder of his family before he left. His son Bhushan had already visited him once in November 2015. But his daughter Mekhala had not seen him in two years. She was supposed to have visited him in December 2015. But owing to the floods of Chennai, her flights were canceled and she could not make it. She eventually visited him in June 2016 and was here until mid-July. My father greatly appreciated her presence, and that of her children.
On his birthday, the 21st June 2016, even as the world celebrated the International Yoga Day, many students came to pay respects to him. His energy was calm and peaceful. Later in the day when a couple of my students came to seek his blessings, it was so clear that he was fully conscious of their presence and opened his eyes to look at them and offer his benediction.
A week after Mekhala left, it felt as if it was time to let go. Sir Desikachar's bodily functions started to shut down slowly. His bed sores would not heal. He developed Pneumonia and his bladder functions failed. At some point, the breathing became very strained. It was clear that the end was near. On 02 August 2016, the family physician thought that he had a maximum of 24 hours. To ease his pain, he recommended a non-narcotic pain killer that was safe and had the least side effects possible.
All close relatives started to gather around him to be with him in the last days. It felt that my father wanted to see a few more people before he passed. We summoned my brother, who lives in an another town, to be by his side. I requested my ex-wife to come and be with him. A few of his old students from the 1980s and 1990s visited him often. My wife Evelyn placed a beautiful picture of his parents by his bedside. When he saw this picture, he had tears in his eyes.
Yet, he endured on. He knew that my mother had not yet given permission for him to go. It felt like he was waiting only for this. On the 07 August 2016, after doing her morning prayers, my mother brought my grandfather's sandals and placed them on Sir Desikachar's head and chanted. She cried profusely at the end of it. And then gracefully and quietly she left the room. My father finally had permission from his partner of 49 years to move on.
His body responded accordingly. We could see he was letting go. All members of the family chanted for him that day. Before my mother's gesture, Evelyn and I had chanted for him at the start of the day. Later my daughter and I chanted for him. Then my brother Bhushan. Later in the evening, my sister called on the phone, and I put her on speaker phone. She also chanted for him. Two of my students Philip Rigo and Ruth Diggins were also there that day. Ruth chanted for him in Maori. Philip joined my brother chanting.
Still, he endured on despite his deteriorating condition. Philip has a heart condition, from which my father had helped him greatly. I told him that I had the feeling that my dad would only depart after Philip left. I said that my father was aware of his sensitive heart, and would be compassionate towards it. Philip was due to travel back to Belgium that night. Philip left our home around 6.00pm and took his flight at 10.00pm that night.
My wife said that the 08 August 2016 would be an auspicious date, known as Lion's Gate. It is an extraordinary planetary alignment in which the brightest star Sirius B aligns with Orion's belt and is closest to the earth. It has been seen as an ascension portal since ancient times and is so significant that the Egyptians, as well as the Mayans, celebrated it as a day of ascension. It is seen as a gateway to the higher realms, as a time when people could return to the higher realms and stars and not come back. Perhaps my father knew of this intuitively. After all, he was also born on a fantastic day, the Summer solstice.
That night Evelyn, Ruth and I kept vigil by his bedside. My former wife Lakshmi also stayed with us until almost midnight. It was so symbolic that a Kiwi woman would be at his bedside when he departed, considering that a New Zealander inspired his yogic path in the first place.
We consider it a great privilege that we were with him when he took his last breath. Our family felt honored to have taken care of him at home in the last years of his life. I especially bow to my mother for her full devotion to her husband and how attentive she was to his every need. My father was indeed a very lucky man to have her as his wife.
On 08 August 2016, at 2.45 am, my father breathed his last. The Lion passed through the Lion's Gate.
Following our Vedic injunctions, the last rites had to be done on the same day, and they began at 8.30am on the same day. Hundreds of his students had already flocked to our home, and many followed him to the crematorium. It was touching to see how many had been touched by his life and teachings, and how much he meant to them.
While many imaginary stories have been written about my father and his health in the past years, the family chose to remain silent, as we felt the need was to keep our focus on him, rather than the gossip. Some blogaholics claimed that my father was in a hospital, in a comatose state, or even that the family had even given up on him. Nothing can be further from the truth. We are glad that those who are indeed sincere respected our need for family privacy and reached out to clarify and enlighten themselves about his condition.
My father's life was one filled with humility. He always chose to attribute his many accomplishments to his teacher. His simple message was that he was nothing but a medium for his father's teaching. He also saw the infiniteness of the divine spirit. It is for this reason that he always bowed to his father, and honored greatly the person in front of him, no matter who they were.
Even Sir Desikachar's parting gesture proved to us that he was conscious right until his last breath and that the wisdom of the heart trumps the rigid structures of the mind. His last act was a parting message to humanity that we must honor those who are behind us and those who are in front of us.
As he took his final breath, his hands came together onto his heart and folded into a gesture of Namaste.
Namaste Sir TKV Desikachar.