By Gaurav Sharma
The swinging sixties was an era of cultural revolution. The decade challenged social norms, customs and orthodox beliefs in order to establish greater individual freedom.
Music was the prime instrument that ushered in the fundamental transformation in social and mental outlook of people.
Leading the throng of 60s musicians, Beatles was the embodiment of what the sixties stood for; questioning, experimenting and experiencing.
What started off as a group of school friends playing music in local Liverpool clubs, eventually snowballed into an iconic band that took the world by storm, a British invasion equivalent to, if not surpassing the success of the East India Company.
The fabulous four, as the Beatles was popularly defined by the media back then, had their own individual musical styles which culminated into a bright, original sound filled with “ringing guitars and eclectic melodies”.
The swooning rock and roll was transformed into blues and psychedelic rock. The long, flowing hair carried by members of the Beatles became the emblem of rebellion for the disillusioned youth splintered with the bourgeois society.
The scale of the innovative uniqueness flooded in by the Beatles was so powerful that even legendary musicians such as Elvis Presley had to face a tough time maintaining their chart success.
After attaining the zenith of their success, the music and philosophy of the Beatles underwent a surgical alteration.
Between 1965 and 1968, the group started experimenting with traditional Indian instruments. The coincidental contact began during the shooting of their second film, Help.
“The only way I could describe it was: my intellect didn’t know what was going on and yet this other part of me identified with it”, George Harrison, the lead guitarist of Beatles had famously remarked after delving his fingers through the sitar.
Pretty soon an instrumental called Another Hard Day’s Night; a medley of A Hard Day’s Night, Can’t Buy Me Love and I Should Have Known Better was performed on a sitar, tablas, flute and finger cymbals.
Following the instrumental, three songs influenced by the Indian classical style were recorded by George Harrison, namely Love You To, Within You Without You and The Inner Light.
In 1967, Beatles had came into contact with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi after they attended a lecture given by the Indian guru at the London Hilton.
At the end of the lecture, the group had a private meeting with the master of Transcendental Meditation, following which they agreed to visit his ashram in Rishikesh.
An year later, the fab four travelled to Rishikesh in search for spiritual upliftment. Spending meditation seminars in Maharishi’s vast property perched on a hill, overlooking the majestic Ganges, the Beatles revitalized their minds in the natural solitudinal setting.
Soon however, the group had a bitter split-off with the Yogi. Rumours of misconduct with one of the women students supplanted by one of Beatles’ tiffed friends, Alexis Mardas led to the bitter downfall of their association with Maharishi
The meditation practice taught by Maharishi, however, continued to drive the Beatles.
The Beatles’ stay in India was the most productive periods for the members as songwriters.
Songs from The White Album and Abbey Road were particularly inspired from their tranquil stay in India.
Free for the first time from the influence of drugs, John Lennon, the co-founder of the Beatles wrote a string of songs such as Cry Baby Cry, I’m so Tired among others, finding himself unable to sleep.
Paul McCartney also wrote several songs--Back in the USSR, Wild Honey Pie and Rocky Racoon–after his spiritual discovery, although they had little to do with the stay with Maharishi.
Trio Depart, Harrison’s Odyssey begins
After a fortnight, the Beatles led by Ringo Starr made their way back to London. But by then, the Indian cultural roots had enveloped the heart of the lead guitarist, George Harrison in its mystical entirety.
Harrison took a flight to Madras to meet Indian sitar legend Ravi Shankar. Later that year, he learnt Sitar lessons in the hills of Srinagar under the umbrage of saffron flowers.
In the idyllic setting of the foot of Himalayas, Harrison became absorbed in the ancient teachings of India. He would continuously immerse himself in books such as Swami Vivekananda’s Raja Yoga and Paramahansa Yogananda.
“Through Hinduism I feel a better person, I just get happier and happier”, a joyful Harrison remarked in his days of self-discovery.
Mellows of Krishna
Indian theology excited Harrison and the devotion in his heart eventually led him to embrace Hinduism. After meeting the Hare Krishna devotees in London, Harrison became a lifelong devotee of Krishna.
Soon, chanting the Hare Krishna mantra and reading the Bhagavad Gita became an essential part of his daily routine.
On the material front, his songs also became a reflection of his new found perception of life. My Sweet Lord, a gospel classic released in 1970 encompassed words such as Hare Krishna and Hallelujah, and became symbolic of Harrison’s spiritual discovery.
All Things Must Pass, Harrison solo venture, reached the status of a critically acclaimed triple album and is till now rated as the best of all former Beatles’ solo album.
In 1996, Harrison flew back to Madras to record “Chants of India”, an album which he recorded with Ravi Shankar and considered to be his seminal work.
The Spiritual Beatle, as he is fondly remembered, George Harrison’s tryst with Hinduism, specifically with Krishnaism marked the defining moment of his life.
“I want to be self-realised. I want to find God. I’m not interested in material things, this world, fame–I’m going for the real goal”, a young Harrison had told his mother at the young age of 24.
Blessed with spiritual clairvoyance, Harrison’s death in 2001 fulfilled the prophecy of his past words, with his ashes spread across the Ganges in accordance with Hindu sacraments.