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Indra Devi

Actress-dancer who popularized yoga in America

Indra Devi, Russian-born actress-dancer who popularized yoga in America and taught numerous Hollywood thesps, died April 25 in Buenos Aires, where she had lived and taught since the mid-1980s. She was 102.

Born Eugenie Peterson in Riga, Latvia, to a Russian noblewoman and a Swedish banking official, she attended drama schools in Moscow but her academic career was derailed when the communists came to power in 1917. Her mother took her to Berlin, where she found roles as a dancer and actress with a Russian touring troupe. She became interested in India after reading poet Rabindranath Tagore and a book on yoga that had been translated into Russian.

In 1927, she traveled to India, and using the name Indra Devi, became a star in the Indian cinema. Three years later, she met her first husband, Jan Strakaty of the Czechoslovak consulate whose connections led her to yoga master Sri Krishnamacharya.

She moved with her husband to Shanghai in the late 1930s and began teaching yoga there to leaders and others. After World War II, her husband returned to Czechoslovakia and she returned to India, where she began teaching what are believed to be the first yoga classes taught in India by a Westerner. She also wrote the first of several books on yoga.

After WWII, she moved to Hollywood and taught such actors as Greta Garbo, Jennifer Jones, Robert Ryan and Gloria Swanson, who became a devout practitioner.

She married Dr. Sigrid Knauer in 1953 and for much of the next 20 years lived and taught at an 80-acre ranch in Tecate, Mexico, that he purchased for her. He died in 1984, and the next year she moved to Argentina, where she opened six studios holding 15 classes a day.

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