This interview with Guruji was conducted by Sharath and I in Guruji’s ancestral village, Kowshika, in 2006-7. It is posted on the occasion of Guruji’s 100th birthday.
Sharath: Appa (Grandfather), in which year were you born?
Guruji: I was born in 1915.
S: What was your father’s name?
G: My fathers name was Krishna Jois, K. Krishna Jois.
S: What was his job?
G: He was an astrologer and a priest.
S: Where was he a priest?
G: Right here, in this village. He had all the 16 villages around in which to do his priestly duties.
S: Was he only not a priest at the temple here?
G: The rituals at the temple where being conducted from the time of my grandfather. My grandfather was Subba Jois, and as I said from his time the prayers at the temple were being conducted. The rituals at the Ganapati temple here were also part of our duties.
S: How many brothers did you have?
G: There were 4 brothers and 5 sisters. Even my uncle’s family was with us. It was a large joint-family. It’s only after they began to work at cross-purposes with our family were they sent out.
S: How was life 75 years ago? What kind of an environment did you have?
G: Oh, we all young boys. We lived here happily.
S: How many Brahmin families lived in this village?
G: There were 60 Brahmin families living here. They were all very well educated in vedic studies. They were adept in the Vedas and the shastras, there were great scholars living in this village.
G: People from other parts of Karnataka would come with a lot of awe and respect, because there were so many scholars living here. But as the years passed by, the scholarship around has diminished. Now you have a lot of doctors and engineers.
S: Do you remember any great scholars as a young boy.
G: There were many of them, as I had seen them.
S: What kind of environment did you have in the house?
G: It was good. We brothers would go to the local primary school. The eldest one was never studious. In fact, he would attempt to beat up the teacher himself. Among all of them, I finished my fourth grade here, and then went to Hassan for further studies.
S: How would you go to Hassan?
G: I would walk. There was this friend of mine called Keshava Murthy… you know Dr. Keshava Murthy of T Narsipur who died… and the others… we would all go to Hassan together. Reaching Hassan some would go to the middle school and some to the high school. We would all walk to Hassan.
S: How far was Hassan from here?
G: It was five miles from my village. They would pack snacks for us, which we would eat; attend classes, and return after 5:30 in the evening. That’s how it was. I would go with the Sanketi boys [Sanketi is Guruji’s lineage name]. As days went by it became difficult for my family to pay the school fees. My mother felt that there wasn’t anything great to achieve on my part by going to school. She felt that I would be better off taking care of our farmlands. My father was a very nice person who would never in anybody’s affairs. He was a quiet sort who would hardly talk to anyone. He would say yes to everything. That’s I how I went to middle school.
S: How many friends did you have here?
G: Oh I had lots of them. All the boys here were my friends.
S: Can you recall a few names?
G: They’re all dead now! There was this man called Keshava Murthy in T Narsipur who passed away… another fellow… Benki Pura Gunda, he passed away too… by and large… my boys… there’s nobody around. The ones who are around now are their grandchildren.
S: So how was it those days then?
G: It was good, I had good friends, we would hardly be at home. They would all scold us at home. At times we would not return home for 2 or 3 days. We would keep playing… sleep in some temple for the night… all this. But after we joined school in Hassan, it used to be just a routine of home and school. We couldn’t do much. But they would make us play games in school itself.
After reaching Middle school… Krishnamacharya had moved into Hassan some two years ago. I didn’t know this. One day he gave a demonstration… a deputy commissioner who was a Muslim… I can’t remember his name…good man, good man, he had a good samskara, and he encouraged yoga a great deal. At the Jubilee hall in Hassan he gave a lecture [Krishnamacharya]. Along with the lecture he also demonstrated yogasanas. Our boys, some of them, after school, said that there was some game… some asanas… wrestling… something like that that was being held at the hall. So some of us went there. When we reached there he was in the midst of demonstrating asanas. I liked it so much that I decided to learn it. We returned home in the evening but that thing was going on in my mind. The next day after a bath I left for school as usual. But before going to class we found out where his house was. After school we went to his house and found him giving a lecture… some Purana I guess… Bhagavad Gita, or something. There were so many Shastris there. There were many scholars in Hassan anyway.
He saw us and… he asked who I was. I introduced myself. He asked me why I was there. I asked him if he could teach me yoga. He once again asked me who I was and where I came from. I told him everything and also that I came from the neighboring village of Kowshika. I said my father’s name was Krishna Jois who was a priest and an astrologer.
S: And then what happened?
G: He agreed to teach me, and we started from the next day. By the time he taught us ten asanas… sometimes we couldn’t do them… he would beat us. And the beating was unbearable, that’s how it was. We were about 10 or 15 boys who didn’t care. We carried on unmindful of the beatings we got from him. We learnt for one or two years, he taught us certain asanas. Then my father conducted my thread ceremony towards 1929/30. I hadn’t yet gone through the ceremony, you see. After the ceremony every time I opened my books to study they would sarcastically comment that I was some scholar in Ramayana or Mahabharata… ‘Go tend to the cows’, they would say.
I was fed up, listening to all this and left for Mysore. I had never seen Mysore. I was a small boy who had never seen Mysore. I was imagining all kinds of things. Two of my brothers had spent a fortnight in Mysore. They would tell me all kinds of stories about Mysore… about some Chatra (free pilgrim house). I had heard of these things but had never seen anything. So, I decided, I am going! There was a railway station here in our village.
But then I was apprehensive that the stationmaster would inform my family if I boarded the train here – and so, I decided to walk to Ambuga, the neighboring village. I got on the train in Ambuga and arrived in Mysore. I had heard that there were some two or three railway stations in Mysore… you had to get off only at the main station and not anywhere else… I had heard such things being said. At Mysore I remained in the train even at the so-called big station.
A porter who saw me asked if I had a ticket. Of course I do, I said. Then what are you waiting for, he asked. I said I wanted to get off at the main station. This is it, boy, he smiled. I got off the train and started walking along with the crowd. This is what happened. I knew nothing about the [Sanskrit] Patashala… nothing. I simply started walking down the Sayyaji Rao Road. I had a box and a bundle. What did the box contain? A few books, some clothes, and copper panchapatre [ritual cup] and uddharane [spoon] for my sandhya vandana [obligatory prayers].
As I was walking down I bumped into this man called… Chadirange. He was from North Karnataka…he had gone to someone’s house for lunch. I asked him, ‘Swami, where is the Patashala?’ ‘Just keep going straight, you’ll see a board, and that’ll be it. Behind the palace office.’
So I kept walking, it was around noon, hadn’t eaten anything, it was the day of ekadashi. I reached the place… there was a man called Hassan Ramakrishna Shastri who was studying there. He was from Hassan. This man was walking down the road after the puja and lunch at some house he had been to. I accosted him and asked, ‘could you please tell me where the patashala is?’ He said, ‘this is it. So, where are you from?’ I replied, ‘I’m from Kowshika and want to join the patashala.’ He said, ‘come on in.’
He took me to his room, and made me comfortable. He then asked me how I was going to manage my food for the day. It was the day of Ekadashi (11th day after the full/new moon fast). So, there was no food. He gave me a bit of pounded rice to eat.
He then told me that there was food to be had twice daily, from the following day for 3 days, at the free meals center run by the Maharaja. I went there the next day to be confronted by a supervisor named Venkat Subbaya. He was an unscrupulous man who was misappropriating food-stuffs at the chatra. He would hardly feed anybody. The palace rules said that visitors had to be fed at this place for 3 days. But this man would hardly feed anybody even for a day. Looking at me, he simply shooed me away.
I was a small boy who didn’t know what to say. I just walked away from there. Ram Krishna Shastri asked me if I had eaten there. I said no and explained to him why. Rama Krishna Shastri explained, ‘Look, that fellow is a crook, he’s known for such things. Don’t get intimidated. Shout him down.’ I was just a small boy, and how could I take him on.
Anyway, the next day I was accompanied by another man who gave that supervisor a mouthful. ‘Who the hell are you to deny this boy food when the Maharaja himself has made an allowance for this? He has come to the Patashala to study. You better give him food, or else…’ I ate for the first time at the chatra, and also went back for dinner. The next day I met an acquaintance called Venkat Subbaya. I asked him what arrangement he had made for his food here. He said, ‘Bhikshanna.’ [Practice of begging for food at Brahmin houses]. He said there was lots of food to be had. ‘You don’t need to go to that chatra anymore.’ So, that’s how I got started.
S: When you were in Kowshika and learning yoga from Krishnamacharya, did you ever perform in front of your parents?
G: No way. If I had done anything like that they would have hammered me. That’s why I never told them anything.
G: Because they would say, ‘Are you going to study or indulge in such stupid acrobatics?’ They didn’t know anything about yoga. Nobody knew. Scared that they would berate me, I never told them anything. Every time they asked me why I was late, I would lie to them saying that classes were delayed. After my thread ceremony… my brothers Puttani and Doddamagu had been initiated… I had learned the mantras… I knew the mantras of the Sandhya Vandana…. Anyway, I had carried the copper panchapatre and uddarane… I would perform Sandhya Vandana… morning, afternoon, evening, three times a day… madhyanika… I became Rama Krishna Shastri’s favorite… here was a boy who did sandhya vandana he felt…and then I was doing bhikshanna. It went on for one or two years.
And then, it was time for the annual day celebrations of the Patashala. Some did wrestling, some others dumbbells, horizontal bar, parallel bar. There were such displays … and then Sanskrit plays. Watching all this even I felt I should do yoga demonstration… I was doing it in my room. There was a man called Ganapati Shastri who asked me to perform during the celebrations saying that there were prizes and cash to be won. A few of my friends knew yoga too… I would perform Vrschikasana and rest of the postures with ease…
You know these friends who were part of the bhikshanna group… you know I used to bring food and offer the excess portions to some of these guys who would eat? You know, those friends. They said that I should request the principal for a chance to perform on stage. The principal was H Yoganarasimaiah, nice man.
I went and met him at his office. I told him that I wanted to perform yogasanas at the annual day celebrations. Surprised, he asked me if I knew yogasanas. I said, yes. ‘ Let’s see how you do it’. I performed a couple of asanas right there in his office. He said I could show it on stage and assured me that he would make a note of my name in the list of performers.
On the day of the celebrations, after the play and the dumbbell presentation and all that… I got my chance. During the interval, to do the asanas.
I knew the asanas in the physical sense but knew nothing about their relevance. Paschimatanasana… marichasana.. baddhakonasana.. bakasana… I did all these and then I did vrishikasana and mayurasana… they were all thrilled… amazed. There was this man called Srikanta Shastry, the brother of AR Krishna Shastry. He came up and touched me and said, ‘Hey, how is this? Your body doesn’t seem to have bones at all’.
The next day, there was this man called Siddiah, an office assistant, who was more stiff and rigid than the principal himself, who came to me and said gruffly, ‘ you are wanted by the principal in his office.’ I was scared. I stood in front of the office door. Siddiah said, ‘ go in. He wants to see you.’ I imagined that I had done some grave wrong.
I went in, and the principal asked, ‘ so what are you studying?’ I said, ‘the Vedas’. In fact I was studying Yajur Veda at that time. ‘Do you get a scholarship?’ ‘No sir’. In fact the exams hadn’t yet been held. ‘What arrangements have you made for your food?’ ‘I do bhikshanna, sir’. Yoganarasimaiah then pulled out a five rupee note from his pocket and gave it to me. ‘ Keep this’, he said. He also wrote a note to the chatra where there was free food to be had. ‘ You eat at the chatra from now on.’ Even more, he also sanctioned the scholarship!
S: Appa, there were so many friends with you. Nobody else took to yoga seriously?
G: No they didn’t want to. They were not interested I guess. They would casually come along with me. I would go to my Guru’s house to learn. In fact, my friends would hang around in my house. Once, one of them told my mother that I was busy learning yogasana at some place. When I returned home, all hell broke loose. ‘ You shall not go to school, if this is what you are up to. You don’t need to study…’ Every time I took out my books to study, there would be sniggers in the house, ‘ So the big man is up to his great study of the Ramayana and Mahabharata now, eh’. ‘ Hey, you, go out and tend to the cows.’
The harassment became too much. They wouldn’t allow me to study… they made me do all the house chores… abuses… too much. That’s why after my thread ceremony, I left for Mysore.
S: None of your friends came to look you up in Mysore?
G: A few of them came to see me. But none of them came to do yoga.
S: How many boys were learning with you.
G: There were some hundred boys to start with.
S: In Krishnamacharya’s house?
G: At the Jagan Mohan Palace. There were some hundred fellows. But one wrong move, and there would be severe beatings. All of them quit unable to take the beatings. The last man standing was Keshava Murthy and of course, me.
In Mysore, there was this man called NS Subba Rao. He was greatly interested in yoga… the director of public instruction… Krishnamacharya approached him and sought his help saying he wanted to propagate yoga. He saw Krishnamacharya perform and got some money sanctioned from the government. Krishnmacharya was asked to go to every district headquarter and popularize yoga. He was a man who would wear an old or tattered dhoti… like me. He was like that. He went to all the district head quarters and spoke about yoga.. he got a good name…and came to Mysore too. I saw him after I went to Mysore.
Back home… when the harassment became too much, I’d leave home and go away. Sometimes I’d spend time on the coconut tree… drinking the coconut water… loitering around for three days. I’d never return home. And these people would never know where I was. I’d do such things.
We were a little wayward, you know. The bunch of boys that we were… we’d have fights among us… when my mother smeared oil on my body in preparation for an oil bath, I’d run out and dive into a pond near our farm…and then I’d rub my body with mud… can you ever rid yourself of the oil on your body by doing this…and they’d ask me if I bathed in cold water… once in total exasperation flung she a stone at me… it hit me on the head…the scar is still there.
S: Who flung the stone?
G: My mother. There was a house in the banana plantation.. it was there.. the water was being boiled for the oil bath… I waited for some time and jumped into the pond.. and will you be able to rub off the oil by scrubbing mud over your body…? Upon returning home… that’s when my mother flung the stone at me… I ducked to escape the stone but it hit me on the head… it started to bleed. My father took my mother to task saying that she was out to kill me. This is the kind of childish pranks I’d do! And finally after it grew increasingly difficult to stay at home, I decided to go to Mysore.
S: Would you not work in the fields?
G: I would work on the banana plantations. Putani and I. The other brother Doddamagu was always a bit of a wastrel. And this fellow Chitamani… he was a small boy and he wasn’t all that up to work anyway. So it was Putani and myself. We would work on the plantation together… we’d grow bananas, betel vines… tending to the coconut trees.. for 3- 4 years. But ultimately, I left.
S: What was the extent of property that your father had?
G: In this village itself, he had lands to the extent of 25 acres. Plantations…agricultural lands.. farm lands.. I got one and half acres each of plantation and agricultural land and two acres of farm land. And we also had lands in the neighbouring villages. We had agricultural lands (where normally rice is grown) around but not plantations really. You know my father had a priestly jurisdiction of 16 villages. He had leased it out to various farmers who’d give us a portion of the produce during harvest time. They’d bring all the grains and fill up the granary. You know, there was a granary to the back of the house which could take some 75 khandaga ( a unit of measure) of paddy… One khandaga meant… some .. I don’t remember… but the house would be filled with grains of various kinds. Yet I didn’t find any joy living here.
S: What kind of social activities happened here in the village? There were so many Brahmins here.
G: Well, there would be weddings and thread ceremonies… food being served, that’s it. After lunch.. they’d chant the Vedas in unison. For how long? One and half hours…two hours. What loud voices they’d have… it could be heard for miles. For two to three miles around, you could hear them chant. That’s how good they were. Other than this there wasn’t anything much really. They’d celebrate ramothsava… rama bhanjane… they built a rama mandir… and the various festivals… Ugadi and the rest of it. That’s all. Nothing else. No other activities. They would not have anybody coming from other places and giving discourses or any such thing. During my times. Only this.
And then, there was a man called Souguna Avadhani from whom I’d learn Aruna Prashna [Surya Namaskara Mantras]… that was after my thread ceremony.
But once I got upset and left, I did not take anything from the house… nothing at all.. my two books.. and two dhotis- one to wear and one to drape over my shoulder- and the panchapatre and uddharane, that’s all. I didn’t take anything… left everything. After I left, nobody knew where I had gone.
They looked around for me all over the place… in all the wells around… we would do another thing.. every time they’d ask us to draw water from the well… you know, there used to be big wide well inside our house. Not outside.
We’d deliberately drop the vessel into the well. We would then jump into the well ourselves saying that we were going to retrieve the vessel. You know, the well used to be 15 –20 feet deep. And then we’d come up with the vessel. Bathing ourselves in the process. So we’d drop the vessel and then go after it into the well! This is what we’d do. Especially me. Not the others really, Puttani and the others.
But amidst all this, it was my great desire to study the Bhagavad Gita and also Veddanta. My Guruji would recite it. In Hassan, we had a teacher by name Gangadhara Shastri. Listening to all this repeatedly, a desire had grown in me that even I should get to learn Sanskrit.
One of my uncles said that he would send me to the town of Periyapatna, where his grandfather lived, if I so wished to learn Sanskrit. So saying, he took me to the coconut farm. He made me climb the tree and made me pluck a whole lot of coconuts. This was my job. I was disappointed and upset. I didn’t even eat. I decided to leave. I left through the back door, not even from the main entrance. What if someone saw me go through the main door? I went away to Mysore where things began to work for me. I liked it. The manner in which Yoganarasimaiah helped…
S: When did they conduct your thread ceremony? What age were you?
G: I think it was in 1929. I was perhaps 13 or 14 years old. But within 15 days I was gone.
S: Where did you get the money to go to Mysore?
G: Well, you know, the gifts I got during the ceremony… four annas.. 8 annas… small change… all that amounted to 3 rupees. That I had preserved carefully without showing it to anyone. That came in handy. Three rupees… three rupees.
S: Did your parents not know that you had received gifts?
G: Neither did I tell them nor did I give it to them. Well, those were gifts given to me. So I had kept them with me.
S: Had they not seen it during the ceremony?
G: I was supposed to give it to them but I didn’t. That’s it. They did not ask me about it and I did not give it to them. That’s it. It was those three rupees that helped me.
S: Your mother….
G: Well, my mother wasn’t all that amiable. But then… my mother…my mother.. she wasn’t a bad person… but… you know… they say bad children could be born but not a bad mother. All that she did was for our own good. It is because of her abuses that I left for Mysore. And good happened to me. If she hadn’t done that, I’d have remained here.
S: How do you think was the situation here after you left?
G: Well they looked around for me. My father, I was told, was very worried. Whether I was alive… where had I gone… if I had fallen into a lake or a well and died.
S: What was going on in your mind after you got into the train at Ambuga to Mysore?
G: I just wanted to reach Mysore. And join the Sanskrit college.. study Vedanta… the Bhagavad Gita. But when I actually joined, it was at the primary level.. Amara Shabda, not the Vedanta class.
G: After Amara it was Raghuvamsha..and then the second class and then the third .… and how much scholarship amount do you think there was? Two rupees. But for Veda studies, it was three rupees. So I smartly opted for that class. I did vedic studies for 2 years and after Yoganarasimaiah asked me if I was receiving any scholarship…how was it that I could learn Sanskrit shlokas if only I was chanting the Vedas all the time… I didn’t know. At that time, Mahadeva Bhatt and I had demonstrated yoga in Bangalore. The Maharaja had sent us on a tour of Mysore state to propagate yoga.
S: How did you feel after you got off the train in Mysore?
G: The moment I got off, I was not intimidated. In fact I was happy that I had come to the big city. I told myself that I had to get along here and started walking. I wasn’t scared of anything.
S: Sitting in the train, what were you thinking?
G: In the train, a few of them asked, where I was going and what I was doing. I ended up telling them that I was going to do my studies at the Sanskrit college. Where was it they asked: I said, ‘near the palace’. And where would I eat? At Purnayya’s Chatra. And where was that? Near the big clock tower! I didn’t even have a clue as to where all this was. But I had to keep up appearances, you see! So till we reached Mysore, this was the kind of conversation that happened.
S: No body asked you to show you the ticket?
G: I had a ticket. Why would anyone question me? I had bought a ticket for 4 annas. Half ticket.
S: Were you scared that somebody would see you in Ambuga? [The village that Guruji got on the train in]
G: It was for that very reason- fear- that I boarded the train in Ambuga. I feared that someone would see me if I got on the train here. But in Ambuga, there was nobody to be feared. The teachers there had no relation with our village. There were no acquaintances either. So I decided to get on the train at a place where I was anonymous. I got on the train there and no body saw me.