India has a ancient tradition of strength building. It also has the poverty, ignorance, and poor health that plague most third world nations. In spite of the many problems which beset the subcontinent, there have been many fine Indian strongmen who have brought glory to the land of their birth. One of the best of these was Professor K.V. Iyer.
The Professor attracted world acclaim when his photographs began appearing in British and American magazines in the mid-1930's. His physique studies were as muscular as they were dramatically posed. It was quickly obvious that Iyer possessed one of the finest, most symmetrical bodies of his generation. He was like a bronze temple god that had somehow come to life.
In his prime, Iyer was considered by several authorities to be one of the ten most perfectly developed men in the world. Although they might be judged unremarkable by contemporary standards, his measurements reveal a finely tuned, tight physique. He was 5 feet 7½ inches tall and weighed 160 pounds. He had a 44-inch chest and a 30-inch waist. His 23-inch thigh and 17½-inch biceps completed his well balanced body.
Although his pictures caused an immediate sensation in the West, the Indian athlete had not shown up magically on the world stage. He had, in fact, served a long apprenticeship in his own country. Iyer established the Hercules Gymnasium in Bangalore City about 1935, and soon had a membership that reached several hundreds. In its day this was the largest membership of any bodybuilding gymnasium in the world. Iyer was a pioneer in other fields, too. He Initiated India's first physical culture correspondence course which was reported to be one of the best in the world.
Iyer was a strict vegetarian, and he enjoyed explaining his nutritional theories to anyone who would listen. Like other Hindus, he refused to eat beef, but when queried on the subject of diet, he attempted to put a scientific reason behind his philosophy. The Professor's theory of nutrition proposed that meat in the diet includes too much fat and waste. Iyer suggested substituting beans or other vegetables since they contain all the protein with none of the fat associated with meat. Despite his personal doctrines, however, Iyer never tried to impose his ideas on others. "I am not a faddist," he wrote in 1939, "tolerance is the keynote of my outlook on life and the living world around me."
Ironically, Iyer must have been tolerant about the beliefs of others since his own son decided to put his faith in occidental medicine. The younger Iyer went to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and became a physician. It is almost a certainty that Iyer's son received much inspiration from his famous father. Iyer's own medical and nutritional knowledge helped him in more ways than one. Later in life, the Indian athlete was named one of the official physicians to the Maharajah of Mysore, ruler of the Professor's home state. This royal patent undoubtedly added to his already considerable prestige as a bodybuilding guru. Part of the reason behind Iyer's mystical outlook on life was because he was a staunch believer in the Hindu doctrine of Vedanta. The Professor summed up his rather cryptic beliefs this way: "You are only Myself and I am nothing but You, and we both are nothing but Him. So I am He and thou art He; thus there is no difference between us or anybody else." Got that?
Iyer attempted to blend Hindu mysticism, and conventional physical culture into something uniquely his own. He wanted to show bodybuilders that they could build something more than a hard, muscled body. Speaking at least for the Professor, he must have been successful, for his photographs reveal him to have had an excellent physique by the standards of any nation.
With grateful thanks to David Chapman for permission to reproduce this article and for the provision of the photograph from his private collection.
Text Copyright © 1991 David L. Chapman. All rights reserved
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