The Lineage of Bikram Yoga
Bikram Choudhury’s guru was Bishnu Ghosh, brother of Paramahansa Yogananda. It was Bishnu who told Bikram that he was to take yoga to the world, and specifically the west.
Bishnu Charan Ghosh was born in 1903, the youngest of eight. Bishnu’s elder brother was Paramahansa Yogananda.
In 1917, Yogananda took the first steps in what was to become his life’s work when he opened the Ranchi School for Boys (an ashram and “how to live” school). One of his first students was his youngest brother, 14 year old Bishnu. (This ashram still exsts today, the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India Retreat and is open to all)
At his brother’s school, Bishnu learned the Yogoda system, including the 84 asanas codified by Yogananda, which “combines the basic laws utilized by the ancient Yogis with the discoveries of modern physiological science.”
As a child Bishnu’s health had been poor but it improved considerably in his time at his brother’s school. He continued to train during his time at Calcutta University and developed a passion for physical culture as a means of preparation for spiritual growth. His ability to build his physical strength and control his muscles developed to such an extent that he was awarded a medal that gave him the impetus to “rise above the common level and become a source of inspiration.”
In 1923 Ghosh founded his College of Physical Education yoga program, while he was attending law school. The 84 asanas from the Yogoda system were the foundation of his unique and dynamic system of Yogic Physical Culture, synthesizing yogic Indian practices with Western for the health and fitness of body and mind. Muscle development, breath control, then muscle control completed his yogic physical culture program. He demonstrated the powers of yoga with amazing feats of strength to attract students and practitioners.
Bishnu practiced the law for a short while before devoting all of his time to yogic physical culture and its use in curing ailments and disease. He incorporated a community clinic into his College to enable members of the public to come along with ailments and diseases for which they were given appropriate asanas to practice to aid recovery.
Bishnu and his students became well-known known throughout India. They travelled to the United States and Europe to demonstrate the power of yoga. His students appeared regularly on American television demonstrating their incredible feats.
In 1920, his brother Yogananda travelled to the United States to serve as India’s delegate to an international congress of religious leaders convening in Boston where he delivered his well-received address on the “Science of Religion.”
When Yogananda returned to India, he instructed his younger brother, Bishnu Ghosh, to go to America and teach Americans how to practice hatha yoga. Though American’s were enthusiastic about the new science of yoga, they could not begin to learn the techniques for proper meditation until they got their bodies into shape. Yogananda said that the body is a temple but the Americans had not yet realized this. Their temple was empty. Bishnu Ghosh had to show them how to build up the body, the temple and fill it up before Yogananda’s teachings could be utilized.
So Bishnu Ghosh, Bikram’s beloved Guru, was the first person to bring the ancient science of Hatha Yoga to the West at the request of his older brother, Paramahansa Yogananda. Ghosh developed a Yoga regimen that provides a unique blend of spiritual inspiration and highly disciplined physical exercise. His view of the human body as the temple of a living God has been a major force in the renaissance of Hatha Yoga in the West.
In 1939, Bishnu travelled to the United States to educate people on the subject of yoga by giving demonstrations of amazing yoga feats. He lectured at Columbia University in New York, generating a great deal of interest in the field and was widely acknowledged and respected in the academic community. Bishnu returned to Calcutta to continue to run his successful College of Physical Culture, where in 1950, he first started training a four year old Bikram who came along with his older brothers to keep the spirited little boy from under his mother’s feet!
In the 1960’s, Ghosh asked his young disciple, Bikram, to carry on his work in the west by going to Japan and the USA.
Since then, Bikram has carried the message of the curative powers and benefits of yoga, and the possibility of a disease-free long life, around the world. He has trained thousands of teachers and has over 500 affiliated schools internationally.
This work is Bikram’s lifelong destiny because as Bikram says, his guru told him to take yoga to the west and work to spread knowledge and understanding of its benefts, but he did not tell him how long he was to do this for.
Ghosh’s College of Physical Education is still in operation in Kolkata. It is operated by the Granddaughter of Bishnu Ghosh, Muktamala.
Bishnu passed away unexpectedly on 9 July 1970, but his legacy lives on.