Last week, I was in Hrishikesh and I visited The Beatles Ashram located by the Ganga. The place evoked mixed feelings, for it was unkempt, and the walls have been covered with graffiti. I couldn’t help recall the scandal that had occurred in this premise around four decades ago, which made The Beatles leave India in a huff.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, or the Giggling Guru, introduced the Beatles to Transcendental Meditation. He was nicknamed because of his high-pitched laugh. In the summer of 1967, Maharishi caught the fancy of The Beatles. The spiritual leader was already popular in the West and celebrities, such as Mike Love of the Beach Boys, folk singer Donovan, actress Mia Farrow, and actor Clint Eastwood were his followers.
Enchanted by his cosmic lectures, the group arrived in the Maharishi’s Hrishikesh ashram in February 1968. It was the era of Flower Power, and like true hippies, all the four, Ringo, Paul Mc Cartney, John Lenon and George Harrison arrived with their partners, and joined by a veritable array of mantra-chanting stars, including Mia Farrow and her sister, Prudence.
The initial weeks at the ashram went well; they would meditate by the day, and compose songs by the night. But comfort took over the need for spiritual awakening for Ringo and his wife Maureen after two weeks. They left the ashram on the pretext of spicy Indian food, the unbearable heat and insects.
Five weeks into the meditation course, and the remaining members of band had an uneasy feeling that the Maharishi was using them to seek publicity. The ashram received a massive economic boost from the world’s biggest pop stars. Also, their guru had a strong leaning towards the Farrow sisters, and he preferred to remain close to the two women in the meditation sessions. Disgusted, the next to leave was Paul McCartney and his partner.
John Lenon and Cynthia, and George Harrison and wife Patti stayed back, with John and George writing many songs which would later appear on the White Album. Most of the thirty-plus songs on that album were composed in the Maharishi’s ashram.
They continued with their routine, till one day their friend Mia Farrow run from the Maharishi’s cave with tears in eyes, claiming that the “celibate” man held her in arms and tried to make advances towards her.
Outraged, Lenon and George packed their bags and confronted the guru. When he asked them why were they leaving, Lenon, mad with anger, retorted, “If you’re so f**king cosmic, you’ll know.”
That was last time both the parties met each other in person. The Beatles left the ashram, and went back, claiming all the spirituality was a mere sham. “Sexy Sadie” was later composed, detailing the idiosyncrasies of the Maharishi.
The Maharishi on the other hand, became a household name all over the world, for his brief alliance with the band. He always negated the turn of events on that day in 1968. He stated in public that The Beatles were “too unstable and weren’t prepared to end their Beatledom”.
The incident only made the guru a more known name; he travelled the world in a pink aeroplane as his followers grew. He went on to feature on Time magazine cover in 1975. Like George Harrison had penned down the song “All things must pass”, based on the Maharishi’s pet dialogue, no malice really could keep the guru’s empire from expanding.
Maharishi passed away in February 5, 2008, in his vast spiritual mansion, located in Vlodrop, Netherlands.