The Story – Transformation
Was he a Scientist…a physical culturist, a social reformer Yogi?Kuvalayananda and his associates did not invent the kind of Yoga that became a transnational phenomenon, but their research made it possible for this kind of Yoga to be invented.
They had their microscopes, X-ray machines and blood pressure gauges to discover new laws of universal nature.
Their scientific focus on the human body enabled the translation of a obscure branch of Indian Philosophy into a form of practice that is free of cultural baggage.
Kuvalayananda started his career as an active nationalist but as his perspective expanded, he drifted away from nationalism to transnationalism.
His values changed. It was for all humankind and not just the mankind of India.
The result was that he made a typically Indian tradition, a mystical, secretive tradition, the basis for a global modernity rooted in the subtle body.
Today, Yoga practitioners, therapists and the worldwide yoga media in general, continuously refer to prana, nadis, chakras in reference to yogic practices. A lot of these influences come from the enormous amount of documented work that Swami Kuvalayananda and his institute produced – over the time span of almost 90 years.
Swami Kuvalayananda was born as Jagannath Ganesh Gune in the small town of Dabhoi, in Gujarat in the western part of India. His date of birth was August 30th, 1883.
His high-school education was in Pune. Sanskrit was his favourite subject. Under a master school-teacher called Vinayak rao Apte, Gune immersed himself in the study of sanskrit literature, poetry, drama, the epics.
Vinayak Rao Apte was the first major influence in Swami Kuvalayananda’s life.
This strong foundation would later help him to delve into the studies and analysis of the ancient texts of Yoga.
At the age of twenty he won a scholarship to study in the University of Baroda.
India was then under British colonial rule and there was a strong nationalistic movement. As a young man gune was influenced by the nationalist ideas of Bal Gandhar Tilak and Sri Aurobindo, who was then a young lecturer at the university.
Tilak, was an Indian nationalist, journalist, teacher, social reformer, lawyer and an independence activist.
He was the first leader of the Indian Independence Movement.
Gune wasn’t political but it was almost impossible for any young man living in that period in India to ignore the calls of the freedom movement.
Lokmanya Tilak was second major influence in Swami Kuvalayananda’s life.
Lokmanya Tilak’s clarion call was ” Swaraj or Self governance is my Birthright and I shall have it”.
Young Gune was among the first to respond to that call.
As he became more and more active in the freedom movement, he came under the lens of the Colonial government and had to go underground for a while.
For a brief period after 1910, this young man, charged with the idealism of Tilak, took to the traditional mode of spreading ideas in the villages through Kirtans – devotional songs where the central theme was the home-rule movement. Songs to spread the idea of Indian Self-Governance.
Soon, in about 3 years Gune decided to return to his college in 1907.
However, the values and his nationalistic fervour remained.
The desire to be in the vortex of the freedom struggle was still strong.
But a nagging question troubled him.
What kind of a physique should one possess and what kind of weapons had to be mastered to be able to fully participate in the movement?
Gune was not looking at throwing bombs at the colonial regime but an inner voice was telling him to fight from a position of strength.
A strong body accompanied by an iron will.
He started looking around critically, but could not find a master or any sign of the science of weapons.
The british thought that any schools teaching martial arts or the use of weaponry were breeding grounds of young freedom fighters. So most traditional schools teaching the use of weaponry were banned or forcibly closed down.
Then, as if by coincidence, he chanced upon the news of a master known as Professor Rajaratna Manikrao.
Manikrao was an expert in handling traditional weaponry.
His training center, or gymnasium was known as Jummadada Vyama Mandir. It was in the independent princely state of Baroda, not directly under the british rule.
Manikrao was an expert in wrestling, stick fighting, sword fighting, spear fighting along with rope climbing, horse riding and dozens of Indian traditional exercises like Malkhamb and Binnot – the art of disarming an armed man.
The professor was also a bone-setter and a practitioner of unani medicine.
It was on 7th July 1907 that Gune formally accepted discipleship under Professor Manikrao.
Gune was a lodger in the gymnasium itself, staying as an inmate of the hostel.
Manikrao would not accept payments from his students but ran his gymnasium like a monastery or ashram where students would be allotted specific tasks in return for their tuition.
Swami Kuvalayananda, Gune at that time, was placed in charge of the gymnasium’s correspondence.
This is where, Gune, developed and fine-tuned the art of writing. He would later become a prolific writer of letters and yogic books.
At Jummadada Vyam Mandir he would write and reply to magazines, periodicals and journals.
Gradually Gune’s skills of articulation improved.
The daily routine at the gymnasium would be rigorous for both the teacher and the students.
Manikrao would rise by 4 am in the morning, give lessons to individual students till about 8 a.m.
Then after a bath and breakfast the work of bone-setting for patients from outside would start.
Afternoons were devoted to visiting army personnel. Teaching them to wrestle and fight while the students observed and helped.
The daily routine of the students was a cycle of practice and observation, practice and observation, practice and observation.
Any theory teaching was combined with the practice, and it would be different for each student, depending on their level of understanding and background.
It was the ideal gurukul, where a certain amount of time was allotted to each individual student.
Manikrao was not only a warrior par excellence but a legendary healer as well.
Part of the warrior training was yogic vyama exercises….yogic asanas to stretch the body and make it supple.
Gune saw countless people being prescribed yogic asanas for treatment of their ailments.
Gune was impressed. This was his initial empirical evidence in favour of the efficacy of Yoga as an instrument for medical intervention.
There were many first hand direct experiences experiences as well.
Gune himself suffered frequently from cough, cold and flu and had unbearable migraine headaches.
His family doctors had warned him and asked him to take care of constitutional problem.
Now, Manikrao assured him that if he performed the yogic exercises regularly, he would be completely healed.
It was true. Soon he started feeling well and his body was capable of receiving the strenuous weapons training.
The once fragile Gune could do a hundred push-ups and could run a few miles everyday.
The moulding of the student through observational inference and direct personal experience had begun.
Warrior or Healer…what do I want to be? … was a question Gune asked himself repeatedly .
If you remember, he had gone to Manikrao to learn the science of weapons and to be able to fight for the motherland from a position of strength.
Gradually he found himself practicing Yogic asanas intensively and yearning to do a thorough and analytical study of Yoga.
The process of transformation of Jagannath G Gune had begun.