The iconic English rock band Beatles’ love for India is quite famous. It was fifty-five years ago, in the month of February, that the Beatles landed in India for the first time. Interestingly, it was around this time that the Westerners found the Indian culture fascinating and mysterious. However, the arrival of the legendary rock band from Liverpool was the reason why yoga became popular around the globe as a unique lifestyle and the holy city of Rishikesh began to be known as the capital of yoga. Soon, people from Western countries got addicted to cotton attires, bindi, rudraksha or prayer beads and herbal concoctions. Indian words like guru, mantra, yoga and Om even found a place in the Oxford English dictionary. Those who believed that India was a land of dingy slums and poverty began dreaming of exquisite holidays in the beautiful Indian countryside.
Youngsters around the world had immersed themselves in the Beatle mania when John Lennon, Paul MacCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr came to India in 1968. They were eager to follow the lifestyle of their favourite rock stars. The Beatles’ arrival in India grabbed worldwide attention and the press covered their stories with enthusiasm. The Beatles were accompanied by their wives, friends and a large group of media persons who were keen to report their lifestyle in India. They had come to the retreat of the great sage Mahesh Yogi, near the Rajaji Tiger Reserve in Rishikesh to learn the nuances of meditation. The Beatles were worried that their incredible popularity and luxurious lifestyle were affecting affect their private lives. They had met the sage at an event in London and arrived in Rishikesh following an invitation from the great man.
The Beatles who called themselves ‘More popular than Jesus’ were inspired by the spiritual energy that they experienced in India. Soon, the lines of their songs too began reflecting the spirit of mysticism. The spectacular beauty of nature and the lightness of selfless love often became the themes of their songs. The White Album, Let It Be, Dear Prudence, Martha My Dear, Happiness is a Warm Gun, Black Bird and Mother Nature’s Son are some of the songs that the Beatles had written during their stint in India. Interestingly, they were amazingly prolific and produced more than 48 songs at that time. Experts of the Western music industry call this period the Beatles’ most creative phase. Researchers in music consider the countless handwritten postcards that the Beatles had sent from the retreat in Rishikesh as a valuable treasure.
However, it is still a mystery why the Beatles abruptly left the retreat. In the initial days, they used to write, in the postcards, about the serene atmosphere of the retreat that sprawls in 14 acres on the banks of River Ganga. They opened up to the media persons that they had become vegetarians and became good friends with sitar maestro Pandit Ravisankar. Popular American actress Mia Farro too reached the retreat after reading about the Beatles’ experience there. The pictures in which the Beatles and their wives are seen posing with Mahesh Yogi are still viral. In the photos, they sport saffron hues clothes, garlands and sandal paste on their foreheads.
Later, the Beatles left India after accusing Mahesh Yogi of many serious offences including rape. John Lennon, one of the most popular members of the band, stood by these accusations until his death. However, some people in the group, including his then-wife Cynthia Lennon had hinted that those accusations may be wrong. Interestingly, John and Cynthia had visited India when they were on the verge of separation. Even though Cynthia believed that the relaxing atmosphere at the retreat would help her get close to Lennon, the singer eventually left her for his Japanese lover Yoko Ono. Cinthia says in the Beatles Anthology that John may have accused the Yogi as the latter didn’t approve of his relationship with Yoko. The famous song ‘Sexy Sadie’ was borne from the allegation that the Yogi had tried to rape Mia Farro. The actress too had confirmed the allegations. The song was initially called ‘Mahayogi; but, it was later changed to ‘Sexy Sadie’ when it became controversial. Lennon had penned this song along with George Harrison. In the Beatles Anthology, they alleged that the great sage was overwhelmed by his own fame and incredible wealth and revealed his double standards.
The Beatles and Ravi Shankar
Pandit Ravi Shankar’s close friendship with the sitar maestro had earned him global fame. Harrison, who was the lead guitarist, had met Ravi Shankar as the former was curious to learn more about sitar. They had met in 1966, in London, and their friendship grew when the Beatles visited India. In the song, ‘Within You, With Out You’ which narrates the band’s Indian experience, the sitar has been used in the background. Harrison invited Ravi Shankar to move abroad to explore more about music. The duo played a major role in introducing Indian music to the global audience. The concert that Harrison and Ravi Shankar organised at Maddison Square in order to collect funds to help the poor refugees of the Bangladesh war attracted widespread media attention.