Jan 21, 2021

Take a look at the abandoned ashram that The Beatles left behind in India

Pubali Dasgupta
Far Out
January 20, 2021 

Travelling is a common inspiration behind many artistic creations. Not only the change of scenery but also the exposure to different cultures and traditions rejuvenates the mind. The Beatles’ trip to India was one such creative stimulator that was marked by a hyper-productive phase in their decade long career. 

The quartet emerging during the crucial 1960s or what is known as the ‘counterculture movement’ rose to the pinnacle of success too quickly and too fast. Always a casual bunch, as Paul McCartney would later state in numerous interviews, The Beatles found themselves leading the cultural sector of the movement before they could process anything. It would be a lie to claim that they didn’t enjoy their wild popularity, of course they did, but fame has its demands, and the foremost among them is to compromise on privacy. Ambushed by paparazzi and constantly interviewed by the media, the group was gasping for some fresh air and peace of mind. 

The idea of an India trip came to them in a concretised form when in August 1967, they attended the spiritual guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s seminar on Transcendental Meditation in Bangor, Wales. George Harrison’s long-standing enchantment with India and its culture added a motive in favour of the trip. “We have all the money you could ever dream of. We have all the fame you could ever wish for. But it isn’t love. It isn’t health. It isn’t peace inside, is it?” Harrison said to Saltzman. A conditioned society indoctrinated with the stereotypical binaries associated with the West and the East typically didn’t approve of this idea. The group, however, desperate to find a leader/guru, as per Donavan, shut out all the noise and prepared for their journey. 

Travelling in two groups, the team was joined by John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr’s wives, McCartney’s girlfriend, Donovan Leitch, Mia Furrow, Mike Love, ex-road manager Mal Evans along with few other friends and family members. A huge team of reporters followed the band as well, intent on prying on their retreat, but was kept outside the ashram fences. According to Donovan’s account, the first meeting with the yogi was steeped in awkward silence until Lennon pulled one of his antics and patted the yogi on his head saying “there’s a good little guru,” which tickled everyone present to their core. 

Their days were dedicated to the practice of stage four of the seven steps of consciousness, which was “pure” transcendental meditation. Mystic as it might sound, the basis of this practice was more scientific than religious with the aim of building up concentration and alertness. Dressed in traditional clothes procured from the nearby Indo-Tibetan markets of Mussoorie and Dehradun they adapted themselves to the spiritual Indian way of life – a life that focuses on the non-attachment to the material world which is nothing but a Maya (illusion). The meditation practice sparked a healthy competition between the band members who would try to outdo each other. Their evenings were sometimes spent listening to the gurgling river nearby or the sitar cassettes which they collected and occasionally singing in Harrison’s room, who would sit with a harmonium."


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