Sep 10, 2017

Longing for Yesterday: Rishikesh, Liverpool to mark 50 years of The Beatles in India

The Hindu
SEPTEMBER 10, 2017

The Beatles had stayed at the Maharishi Mahesh Yoga ashram in 1968, where they wrote over 40 songs by the banks of the Ganges

“We can work it out”, they hoped as they headed to an ashram at the dizzying height of their fame, discovering mental calm, learning meditation and writing over 40 songs on the banks of the Ganges.

They were The Beatles, the quartet that won over a million hearts and still has listeners dreaming and dancing to their songs. And now, 49 years after they went to the Maharishi Mahesh Yoga ashram, preparations are on in both Rishikesh and their hometown Liverpool to mark the golden jubilee of that visit.

Situated at Swargashram after crossing the Ram Jhoola, the Chaurasi Kutia Ashram, or The Beatles Ashram as it came to be known, is quite rundown. But it will be repaired and spruced up ahead of the celebrations next year.

The retreat captured global attention when the four members of the legendary English band - John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr - visited it in 1968, just two years before they disbanded.

The ashram is different from other such retreats in this Yoga capital because of the graffiti work and paintings on its walls and 84 soundproof meditation huts.

This is where they wrote 48 songs, which were included in ’White Album’, ‘Abbey Road’ and ‘ Let it be’, including “Dear Prudence” and “Sexy Sadie”, described as a barbed tribute to the Maharishi.

The 15-acre ashram, which has a distinctive place in The Beatles’ history, falls in the Rajaji Tiger reserve and had been off limits for tourists since 2001. In 2015, it opened its doors to fans after a nod from the National Tiger Conservation Authority.

For the golden jubilee celebrations, the forest department is planning to involve Mahesh Yogi’s followers and local people.

“We are planning to open an information centre with a new brochure and maps as a lot of foreign tourists visit the place. We will also involve locals in the initiative as it will be a source of income generation for them,” Sanatan Sonkar, director of the Rajaji National Park, told PTI.

Rishikesh hosts an international Yoga festival in March every year and many of the late Yogi’s followers take part in that, he added.

“We will talk to them, too. The year-long celebrations will start around February next year,” he said.

Asked about the condition of the ashram, he said major renovation work was planned in the coming months.

“Repair work of the main hall, where they composed music, and of the lecture hall will begin soon. The wall of Maharishi’s then residence is also broken and sometimes elephants enter from there. We are renovating that, apart from clearing the bushes,” he added.

Liverpool is getting ready as well to mark the occasion.

The Beatles Story, a museum dedicated to the band in Liverpool, will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Beatles in India.

“We will be opening a new exhibition dedicated to the telling story of this key period and the subsequent influences on the music of The Beatles after their visit in 1968,” Diane Glover, marketing manager of The Beatles Story, told PTI from Liverpool.

Ms. Glover visited the ashram along with the customer service manager of the museum, Claire Ireland, to explore possibilities for promoting the events.

“We are currently in the process of designing a new exhibit at The Beatles Story which is due to be launched in February 2018 and we will also be hosting a launch event along with a year-long itinerary of events, Q&A sessions and Indian music and culture workshops in Liverpool to celebrate this anniversary,” she said.

They have also been speaking to Paul Saltzman, the photographer who was in Rishikesh at the same time as the Fab Four, and took iconic photographs.

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