Dhirendra Brahmachari: The rise and fall of India’s first celebrity Yoga guru

- June 21, 2024

Dhirendra Brahmachari had shot to fame thanks to access to ex-PM Indira Gandhi but his fall was equally drastic after her death

LAST RITES: Yoga guru Dhirendra Brahmachari stands next to the dead body of Sanjay Gandhi, son of ex-PM Indira Gandhi, after performing his last rites in 1980

The A-50 bungalow in posh Friends Colony, which hardly attracts anyone’s attention now as the doors of the house remain shut more often than not, used to buzz when Dhirendra Brahmachari lived there.  

Powerful people from different walks of life would descend on the house to spend just a few minutes with arguably the first celebrity Yoga teacher of the country. 

“His (Dhirendra Brahmachari) imposing personality had a profound impact on anyone who met him. With his tall stature and captivating presence, Dhirendra Brahmachari was a sight to behold,” recalls journalist Rakesh Thapliyal, who met him in his house a couple of times.

Brahmachari was the Yoga guru of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, visiting her almost daily. 

His shishya, Bal Mukund, also frequented Prime Minister’s house at 1, Safdarjung Road. 

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Brahmachari hosted a Yoga programme on Doordarshan from 1978 to 1983. In the programme, he would instruct Mukund to perform various asanas. A lady host, Dolly, used to ask questions from viewers and Brahmachari would answer.  

Now retired from his job as Yoga teacher in a government school, Mukund lives in Mahipalpur. 

He has so many happy memories of his guru. 

“Guruji was reticent and his knowledge of yoga was phenomenal. He was very helpful to even unknown people though later he started avoiding people who came to seek his help,” recalls Mukund.

Amitabh Pande, an ex-IAS officer of Punjab cadre, says, “In 1958, my father was Chief Secretary Delhi Administration and we lived at 221, Rouse Avenue (now the Gandhi Peace Foundation). My father’s personal secretary brought a then unknown Yoga guru to our house to introduce our family to the art. 

“He would come regularly to our house to give us lessons for a few months. I used to suffer from chronic sinusitis combined with deviant septum which seemed incurable. Brahmachari introduced me to Jal Neti and taught me the exact position to squat, the correct way to breathe through my nostrils among other things. Little did any of us know how famous he was going to be just a few years later. I think I still have a Sukshma Vyayam book given by him somewhere. He was a very striking character and a great model for the craft he practiced,” adds Pande.  

Brahmachari was devastated by the assassination of Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984. He oversaw her last rites, just as he had overseen the funeral arrangements of Sanjay Gandhi. With the passing of Indira, his stars began to fade as he confined himself to his home, rarely venturing out. His programme on Doordarshan that had earned him national recognition was discontinued by Rajiv Gandhi. 

According to KM Azhar Husain, former minister of state, Maharashtra, “Sanjay Gandhi used to give appointments to youth Congress delegations in the wee hours even in freezing December and January. Naturally, we always reached the PM’s house in time to meet. When we’d wait at the reception area, we used to see Brahmachari coming there with Dhoti and a Pallav on his shoulder.  When we wished him, he always replied with a smile. He had a striking personality.”

Brahmachari was India’s Rasputin. Though many in the then Congress did not like him, nobody in Congress dared to speak against him as he was a close confidant of Indira. He was a native of Madhubani, Bihar, and arrived in the Capital in 1958. 

He was an incredibly ambitious man. He managed to gain access to the Teen Murti House, the official residence of the then Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru. There, he began to teach the nuances of Yoga to Indira.

After the demise of his mentor, time seemed to slip away from him. The heartless Delhi distanced itself from him. Only a few close friends would visit him. He held a grudge against the media for publishing negative stories about him. But he would still invite some journalists to his home and advocate for Yoga to be recognised as a sport in the country.

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In his very gripping autobiography, Matters of Discretion, former Prime Minister IK Gujral writes, “When I was looking after Works and Housing Ministry in Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s cabinet, yoga guru Dhirendra Brahmchari put pressure on me to transfer a prime plot near Gole Dak Khana for his ashram. As I was not bowing to his pressures, one day he even called me and threatened me that if I did not act on his request, he would see to it that I am either dropped from the cabinet or demoted.”

When the Union cabinet was reshuffled after a week, Gujral was replaced with Uma Shankar Dixit. Even Dixit did not oblige him, though he eventually got the plot. That place was known as Vishwayatan Yogashram and he used to take Yoga classes there. 

“Thanks to his efforts, Kendriya Vidyalaya has started recruiting Yoga teachers across India. Thousands of yoga instructors got permanent jobs there,” informs Rama Kant Tiwari, former Principal of DAV School, Daryaganj.

Brahmachari, who loved to drive his blue-coloured Toyota car on Delhi’s roads, perished in a plane crash in Jammu on June 9, 1994.  

Although other Yoga gurus have emerged in India since his death, Brahmachari’s stature remains the tallest. 

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Many people still ask how a mere yoga guru could afford a mansion in Friends Colony and own a private plane, considering he had no other business?

Brahmachari’s family still resides in Friends Colony. Of course, the long lines of cars that used to be parked outside his abode are now a thing of the past. Even those who do Yoga in a park close to his house hardly know that the original yoga guru lived in this area.