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In February 1968, the English rock band the Beatles travelled to Rishikesh in northern India to attend an advanced Transcendental Meditation (TM) training course at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The visit followed the group's denunciation of drugs in favour of TM, and received widespread media attention. Led by George Harrison's commitment,[1][2] the band's interest in the Maharishi's teachings changed Western attitudes about Indian spirituality and encouraged the study of Transcendental Meditation.[3] The visit was also one of the most productive periods for the band's songwriting.

The Beatles first met the Maharishi in London in August 1967 and then attended his seminar in Bangor in Wales. They had planned to attend the entire ten-day session, but their stay was cut short by the death of their manager, Brian Epstein. Wanting to learn more, they kept in contact with the Maharishi and made arrangements to spend time with him at his teaching centre located near Rishikesh, in "the Valley of the Saints" at the foothills of the Himalayas.

The Beatles arrived in India in February 1968, along with their wives, girlfriends, assistants, and numerous reporters. They joined a group of 60 people who were training to be TM teachers, including musicians Donovan, Mike Love and Paul Horn, and actress Mia Farrow. While there, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Harrison wrote many songs, and Ringo Starr finished writing his first. Eighteen of those songs were recorded for The Beatles ("the White Album"), two songs appeared on the Abbey Road album, and others were used for various solo projects.

Starr and his wife left on 1 March, after a ten-day stay; McCartney left after one month to attend to business concerns. Harrison and Lennon stayed for about six weeks, but left abruptly following rumours of the Maharishi's inappropriate behaviour towards his female students. The influence of the Beatles' Greek friend Alexis Mardas, financial disagreements, and suspicions that their teacher was taking advantage of the band's fame have also been cited by biographers and witnesses as reasons for the Beatles' dissatisfaction. Harrison later apologised for the way that he and Lennon had treated the Maharishi, and said that the allegations of his inappropriate behaviour were unfounded. Harrison gave a benefit concert in 1992 for the Maharishi-associated Natural Law Party. In 2009, McCartney and Starr performed at a benefit concert for the David Lynch Foundation, which raises funds for the teaching of Transcendental Meditation to at-risk students.


The Beatles in a sequence from Magical Mystery Tour

The Beatles attended Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Transcendental Meditation (TM) seminar in Bangor in Wales, but their stay was cut short on 27 August 1967 after they learned that their manager, Brian Epstein, had been found dead in his London home. Eager to explore meditation further, the Beatles made plans to travel to the Maharishi's training centre in India in late October.[4][5] At Paul McCartney's urging, however, they postponed the trip until the new year to work on their Magical Mystery Tour film project, since he was concerned that, with the loss of Epstein, the band should first focus on their career.[6] The two most committed to the Maharishi's teachings,[7] George Harrison and John Lennon appeared twice on David Frost's television program in autumn 1967 to espouse the benefits of TM.[8]

Now publicised as "The Beatles' Guru", the Maharishi went on his eighth world tour, giving lectures in Britain, Scandinavia, West Germany, Italy, Canada and California.[9] When the Maharishi spoke to 3,600 people at Madison Square Garden in New York City, in January 1968, the Beatles sent a large flower arrangement to his suite at the Plaza Hotel.[10] Harrison introduced Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys to the Maharishi[11] when he and Lennon joined their teacher at a UNICEF benefit in Paris in December.[12] Wilson's bandmate Mike Love described the Maharishi's lecture to them as "awe-inspiring" and "the most profound experience I'd ever felt".[7][nb 1]

The Maharishi received considerable media coverage in the West,[13] particularly in the United States, where Life magazine devoted a cover article to the TM phenomenon[14] and declared 1968 "the Year of the Guru".[15][16] Many members of the mainstream press remained suspicious of the Maharishi's motives, however; the British satirical magazine Private Eye nicknamed him "Veririchi Yogi Lotsamoney". Lennon defended the Maharishi's requirement that his students donate a week's wages to his organisation, saying that it was "the fairest thing I've heard of". Lennon also said: "So what if he's commercial? We're the most commercial group in the world!"[17] The Beatles were nevertheless concerned that the Maharishi appeared to be using their name for self-promotion. According to Peter Brown, who had temporarily assumed Epstein's role following his death, the Maharishi was negotiating with ABC in the US to make a television special featuring the band.[18] In an effort to stop him from pursuing this venture, Brown twice visited the Maharishi in Malmö, Sweden – on the second occasion with Harrison and McCartney – only for him to "giggle" in response. In Brown's description, Harrison defended their teacher, saying: "He's not a modern man. He just doesn't understand these things.[18]

Harrison flew to Bombay in January 1968 to work on the Wonderwall Music soundtrack, expecting the rest of the group to follow shortly. When they were delayed he flew back to London. The group then spent a week in the studio, recording songs for a single that would be released while they were away on their spiritual retreat.[19] The song chosen as the B-side, Harrison's "The Inner Light", was mostly recorded in Bombay and featured Indian instrumentation[20] and lyrics espousing meditation as a means to genuine understanding of the world.[21] Although it remained unreleased until late 1969, Lennon's "Across the Universe" contained the refrain "Jai Guru Deva",[22] which was a standard greeting in the Maharishi's Spiritual Regeneration Movement.[23] Also in January, the Maharishi, Mia Farrow, Prudence Farrow and their brother John[24] flew from the US to London and on to India.[19]


The Beatles and their entourage travelled to Rishikesh in two separate groups.[7] Lennon, his wife Cynthia, Harrison and his wife, Pattie Boyd, together with the latter's sister Jenny,[25] arrived in Delhi on 15 February.[7] They were met by Mal Evans, their advance man,[26] who had arranged the 150-mile (240 km),[27] six-hour taxi drive to Rishikesh. McCartney, his girlfriend Jane Asher, Ringo Starr and his wife Maureen all landed in Delhi on 19 February.[28] Since the press were now expecting McCartney and Starr's party, after the arrival of the first group, their party was subjected to constant attention.[27] As soon as Starr arrived in Delhi he asked Evans to take him to a doctor because of a reaction to an inoculation.[29] As a result, Starr, McCartney and their partners stayed overnight in Delhi, and then travelled with Evans to the Maharishi's ashram early on 20 February.[30]

The Beatles arrived at the ashram three weeks into the course,[27] which was due to end on 25 April.[31] They were accompanied by a retinue of reporters and photographers who were mostly kept out of the fenced and gated compound.[32][33] The Beatles' associates Evans, Brown and Neil Aspinall were there for all or part of the time.[34] Alexis "Magic Alex" Mardas, the Greek electronics engineer who had been among the first to recommend the Maharishi to the band in 1967,[35] arrived four weeks later.[36] Denis O'Dell, who was the head of the Beatles' company Apple Films, also joined the band for a brief time.[37] In his memoir The Love You Make, Brown says that he only learned of the Beatles' intention to leave for Rishikesh that same month, despite the fact that he and the band were committed to launching their multimedia company Apple Corps. He adds: "The mastery of Transcendental Meditation, they hoped, would give them the wisdom to run Apple."[38]

Also there at the same time were Mia Farrow, her sister Prudence and brother John, Donovan, Gyp "Gypsy Dave" Mills,[39] Mike Love,[40] jazz flautist Paul Horn, film-maker Paul Saltzman, actors Tom Simcox and Jerry Stovin,[41][42] and dozens of others, all Europeans or Americans.[24][31] American socialite Nancy Cooke de Herrera was also present, in her role as the Maharishi's publicist and confidant.[43] Although members of the press were barred from the ashram during the Beatles' visit,[44] journalist Lewis Lapham was granted access to write a feature article on the retreat for The Saturday Evening Post.[34][nb 2] Despite speculation, Shirley MacLaine did not attend,[9] and Lennon, who had thought of bringing Yoko Ono, decided against it.[47]


Located in the "Valley of the Saints" in the foothills of the Himalayas, Rishikesh is a place of religious significance[48] and the "yoga capital of the world".[49] The Maharishi's International Academy of Meditation, also called the Chaurasi Kutia ashram,[50] was a 14-acre (57,000 m2) compound surrounded by jungle, set across the River Ganges from the town, and 150 feet (46 m) above the river.[49]

The facility was built in 1963 with a $100,000 gift from American heiress Doris Duke,[51] on land leased from the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department.[50] The training centre was designed to suit Western habits and was described variously as "luxurious" and "seedy".[52][53] Starr later compared the ashram to "a kind of spiritual Butlins" (a low-cost British holiday camp).[54][55] It was built to accommodate several dozen people and each of its stone bungalows contained five rooms.[56] The bungalows allotted to the Beatles were equipped with electric heaters, running water, toilets, and English-style furniture.[57] According to Cooke de Herrera, the Maharishi obtained many "special items" from a nearby village so that the Beatles rooms would have mirrors, wall-to-wall carpeting, wall coverings, "foam mattresses" and bedspreads. She wrote that "by the standard of the other" bungalows, the Beatles' cottages "looked like a palace".[58]

While the Beatles were there, the Maharishi was negotiating with the Indian government to use some nearby parkland for an airstrip for a plane which he had been given;[52] a deal which several thousand landless peasants objected to as they had been denied the use of the land for farming.[59] The ashram was surrounded by barbed wire and the gates were kept locked and guarded.[31][60] While the Maharishi kept the media away from his famous students, he himself gave interviews to the press.[31]


Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement, pictured in Amsterdam in September 1967

The Maharishi had arranged a simple lifestyle for his guests, which included stone cottages and vegetarian meals taken outdoors in a communal setting.[61] The days were devoted to meditating and attending lectures by the Maharishi, who spoke from a flower-bedecked platform in an auditorium.[62] The Maharishi also gave private lessons to the individual Beatles, nominally due to their late arrival. The tranquil environment provided by the Maharishi – complete with meditation, relaxation, and away from the media throng – helped the band to relax. Harrison told Saltzman, regarding the Beatles' motivation for embracing TM: "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?"[63][64] In Saltzman's description, Harrison had a genuine dedication to meditation whereas Lennon's approach was "more adolescent … He was looking for 'The Answer'. Well, there isn't The Answer."[65] At their first meeting with the Maharishi after arriving in Rishikesh, Donovan remembers that an awkward silence filled the room initially, until Lennon walked across to the Maharishi and patted him on the head, saying, "There's a good little guru."[66] Everyone in the room then erupted with laughter.[61] Harrison's nickname for their teacher was "the Big M".[67][68]

The Maharishi cancelled the formal lectures for a time and told students to meditate for as long as possible. One student meditated for 42 straight hours,[69] and Boyd said she once meditated for seven hours.[24] Jenny Boyd meditated for long periods as well, but also suffered from dysentery (misdiagnosed as tonsilitis); she said Lennon also felt unwell, suffering from jet lag and insomnia.[70] The lengthy meditation sessions left many students moody and oversensitive.[69] Like the 60 other students at the ashram, the Beatles adopted native dress and the ashram had a tailor on the premises to make clothes for the students.[71] The Beatles shopped in Rishikesh and the women bought saris for themselves and to be made into shirts and jackets for the men, which affected Western fashion when the Beatles wore them after going home.[72][73][74]

Vegetarian meals were eaten in a communal dining area,[75] where food was vulnerable to aggressive monkeys (Hanuman langurs)[76] and crows.[62][77] Accounts of the food vary, some calling it spicy while others said it was bland. Lennon described the food as "lousy",[78] while Pattie Boyd says it was "delicious".[62] Menu items included chickpeas mixed with cumin seeds, whole wheat dough baked over a fire, spiced eggplant, potatoes that had been picked locally,[79] and, for breakfast, cornflakes, toast and coffee.[80] Evans stockpiled eggs for Starr,[27] who had problems with the diet because of his past illnesses.[29] Starr recalled: "The food was impossible for me, because I'm allergic to so many different things, so I took two suitcases with me: one of clothes and one of Heinz beans."[81] After dinner, the musicians gathered on the roof of Harrison's bungalow to talk and listen to the Ganges river.[82] Sometimes they listened to records and played guitar or sitar[83][84] while their wives gathered in one of their rooms and discussed life as the partner of a Beatle.[85]

Donovan was one of the first musicians to follow the Beatles into Transcendental Meditation. In Rishikesh, he taught them a guitar finger-picking technique that they later incorporated in some of the songs on their 1968 double album known as the White Album.

Donovan taught Lennon a guitar finger-picking technique that he passed on to Harrison.[86] The technique was subsequently implemented by Lennon on the Beatles songs "Julia" and "Dear Prudence".[87] The latter was composed by Lennon to lure Prudence Farrow out of her intense meditation.[88] Lennon later said: "She'd been locked in for three weeks and was trying to reach God quicker than anyone else".[89] Another inspiration was hearing for the first time Bob Dylan's newly released album, John Wesley Harding.[34] The stay at the ashram turned out to be one of the group's most creative periods. According to Lennon he wrote some of the "most miserable" and some of his "best songs" while he was in Rishikesh.[90][75][91][92] Both Lennon and McCartney often spent time composing rather than meditating,[93] and even Starr wrote a song, "Don't Pass Me By", which was his first solo composition.[94] Plans were made for a concert in Delhi to feature the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Donovan, and Paul Horn.[95] While he also wrote several new songs in Rishikesh, Harrison complained that more time should be spent on meditating, since: "We're not here to talk about music. We're here to meditate."[82] The Beatles became competitive with one another in their dedication to meditation.[96] Lennon was complimentary about Harrison's progress, saying: "The way George is going, he'll be flying a magic carpet by the time he's forty."[82]

While Lennon was "evangelical in his enthusiasm for the Maharishi", according to his wife, Cynthia, she herself was "a little more sceptical". Cynthia later wrote that she "loved being in India" and had hoped she and Lennon would "rediscover our lost closeness"; to her disappointment, however, Lennon became "increasingly cold and aloof".[80][33] The Lennons' room contained a "four-poster bed, a dressing table, a couple of chairs and an electric fire".[80] Lennon played guitar, while his wife drew pictures and wrote poetry between their long meditation sessions.[85] After two weeks Lennon asked to sleep in a separate room, saying he could only meditate when he was alone.[97] Meanwhile, he walked to the local post office every morning to check for Ono's almost daily telegrams.[62] One of these telegrams read: "Look up at the sky and when you see a cloud think of me".[98]

Special events[edit]

The "world press" arrived at the ashram gate and the Maharishi asked them to come back after the Beatles had had "a little time with the course". According to Cooke de Herrera, the Beatles were "very happy at the way it was done".[99] De Herrara wrote in her memoir that the Maharishi gave "special attention" to all the celebrities despite her warnings not to feed their egos.[100] Mia Farrow wrote that she felt overwhelmed by the Maharishi's attention to her, including private sessions, gifts of mangoes, and a birthday party where he gave her a paper crown.[101]

Soon after the Beatles' arrival, the Maharishi arranged for a group photo of all the students.[102] In Lapham's description, the Maharishi began preparing for the shot early one morning and approached the task as if "the director on a movie set".[103] Instructing his assistants, he oversaw the assembly of a platform of risers, the precise placement of flowers and potted plants in front of the raised stage, and the seating allocation for each of the students from his hand-drawn diagram.[103] The students were then called down to take their allocated seat,[103] surrounding the Maharishi; each member was dressed in traditional Indian attire and adorned with a marigold garland of red and orange.[104] The Maharishi had a large picture of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati – the guru evoked by Lennon in "Across the Universe"[105][22] – placed behind him.[103] The photo took half an hour to complete while the participants sat facing the bright morning sun.[104] In 2009, The Hindu described the result as "one of the most iconic photographs in the history of rock 'n' roll".[106] For the Beatles' public image, their attire contrasted with the modern, psychedelic clothing they had worn on arrival from London.[96] The photo and others from the shoot were used in Lapham's cover article for The Saturday Evening Post,[107] a magazine that, although in decline by 1968, was influential among America's suburban middle class.[108][nb 3] Saltzman, a Canadian filmmaker who was visiting the ashram after completing film work elsewhere in India, was one of the photographers at the session. His shots from this time were compiled in his book The Beatles in Rishikesh, published in 2000.[110]

On 25 February, the Maharishi held a party to celebrate Harrison's 25th birthday. The event included communal chanting,[104] a sitar performance by Harrison,[75] and a firework display.[111] The Maharishi gave Harrison an upside-down plastic globe of the world and said: "George, the globe I am giving you symbolizes the world today. I hope you will help us all in the task of putting it right."[112] Harrison immediately turned the globe to its correct position, shouting, "I've done it!"[113] A dual celebration was held on 17 March for the birthdays of Boyd and Horn.[111] On 8 April, the Maharishi gave an Indian prince's outfit to the Lennons for their son in England on his birthday.[114][115]

An aviation company owner and patron of the Maharishi's, Kershi Cambata (K. S. Khambatta), flew two helicopters to Rishikesh to take the Maharishi and his guests for rides,[116] for the publicity value,[117] even though the flights required the transportation of fuel by truck to Rishikesh.[117] McCartney asked Lennon why he was so eager to be the one to go with the Maharishi on his helicopter ride, to which Lennon replied, "I thought he'd slip me the answer."[81] In early March,[111] an Italian newsreel company filmed the Maharishi and many students, including the Beatles and other musicians, going down to the river while the musicians sang standards such as "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "You Are My Sunshine".[118][nb 4]

One evening when the moon was full, the Maharishi arranged for everyone to cruise on the Ganges in two barges. The trip started with the chanting of Vedas by two pandits, but soon the musicians brought out their instruments. The Beatles sang Donovan's songs, while Love and Donovan sang Beatles songs, and Horn played flute.[119][120]

Early departures[edit]

Starr's wife had a strong aversion to insects[121] and McCartney recalled she was once "trapped in her room because there was a fly over the door".[122] Spiders, mosquitoes and flies were present at the ashram,[123] and when Starr complained to the Maharishi he was told: "For people travelling in the realm of pure consciousness, flies no longer matter very much."[67] Starr said in reply, "Yes, but that doesn't zap the flies, does it"?[124] Starr disliked the food, and he and Maureen missed their children.[125] The couple left India on 1 March, and Starr said on his return to the UK: "I wouldn't want anyone to think we didn't like it there."[32][126]

McCartney and Asher departed in mid to late March[127] as he had arranged to get back to London to supervise Apple Corps, and she had a theatrical commitment.[128] When McCartney left, he told Cooke de Herrera, "I'm a new man."[104][128][nb 5] However, McCartney was uncomfortable with the Maharishi's flattery,[130][124] including his calling the band "the blessed leaders of the world's youth".[34] McCartney later said that his intention had always been to stay for only a month, and that he knew he risked accusations from his bandmates that he was not sincere about meditation.[131] Mia Farrow, who had come and gone from the ashram before, left again and drifted around India before returning to the United States.[132]


Business arrangements and Mardas' arrival[edit]

According to author Jonathan Gould, Lennon and Harrison viewed their bandmates' departures as an example of McCartney and Starr "once again balking on the path to higher consciousness", just as the pair, particularly McCartney, had earlier held out before joining them in their LSD experimentation.[133] While Harrison and Lennon remained steadfast in their devotion to meditation after McCartney left, some members of the Beatles' circle continued to be distrustful of the Maharishi's hold on them.[134] Aspinall was surprised when he realised that the Maharishi was a sophisticated negotiator, knowing more than the average person about financial percentages.[134] According to Saltzman, Evans told him that the Maharishi wanted the band to deposit up to 25 per cent of their next album's profits into his Swiss bank account as a tithe, to which Lennon replied, "Over my dead body."[135][136]

Alex Mardas, whom Brown describes as the Maharishi's "most powerful critic",[134] arrived after McCartney had left,[137] either at Lennon's invitation or on his own initiative.[97][69] Mardas pointed to the luxury of the facility and the business acumen of the Maharishi[138] and asked Lennon why the Maharishi always had an accountant by his side.[32] In an attempt to silence his criticism, according to Mardas,[134] the Maharishi offered Mardas money to build a high-powered radio station.[139] Lennon later told his wife that he felt that the Maharishi had, in her words, "too much interest in public recognition, celebrities and money" for a spiritual man.[140] Cynthia Lennon, Cooke de Herrera and authors such as Barry Miles have blamed Mardas for turning Lennon against the Maharishi[141][142] but Mardas denied this.[137][143] Meanwhile, the weather, which had been quite cool in February,[80] was growing hot[144] and the Maharishi was planning to move the whole group to Kashmir, at a higher and cooler altitude, in a week.[145] This move was something that occurred every year during the annual retreats.[146]

According to Cooke de Herrera, the Maharishi had given the Beatles and Apple Corps the rights for a film about the Maharishi, his movement and his teacher, Guru Dev.[147] While their "people and equipment were on the way",[147] Charles Lutes, the head of the Maharishi's Spiritual Regeneration Movement in the US, arrived and signed a contract with Four Star Films.[148] The contract was negotiated by Horn and John Farrow was scheduled to direct the film.[120] Horn expected that Donovan, the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Mia Farrow would appear in it.[149] When some of the film crew from Four Star Films arrived around 11 April, Harrison and Lennon stayed out of sight.[citation needed] Horn said that the arrival of the Four Star crew was the catalyst for the two Beatles' discontent.[150]

Allegations of sexual impropriety[edit]

Mia Farrow, pictured in 1964

Before leaving the ashram, Mia Farrow told the Beatles that the Maharishi had made a pass at her.[132] Ned Wynn, one of Farrow's childhood friends, wrote in his 1990 memoir that she had told him in the early 1970s that the Maharishi had definitely made sexual passes at her.[151] In her 1993 autobiography, Cooke de Herrera wrote that Farrow had confided to her, before the arrival of the Beatles, that the Maharishi had made a pass during a private puja ceremony by stroking her hair. Cooke de Herrera wrote that she told Farrow that she had misinterpreted the Maharishi's actions.[142] Farrow's 1997 memoirs are ambiguous, describing an encounter with the Maharishi in his private meditation "cave" when he tried to put his arms around her. She reports that her sister Prudence told her that it was "an honour" and "a tradition" for a "holy man" to touch someone after meditation.[101]

In Pattie Boyd's account, it was allegations of the Maharishi's sexual impropriety that caused events at the retreat to go "horribly wrong".[152] Lennon became convinced that the Maharishi, who said he was celibate,[153] had made a pass at Farrow or was having relations with other young female students.[154][nb 6] According to Mardas, an American teacher named Rosalyn Bonas had told him and Lennon that the Maharishi had made "sexual advances" towards her. However, Cynthia Lennon said she thought Mardas had put the "young and impressionable" girl up to it.[157] Brown recalls that Mardas told him that a young blonde nurse from California had said she'd had a sexual relationship with the Maharishi.[158] Mardas arranged to spy on the Maharishi when Bonas was with him, and said that he saw the two of them in a compromising position.[159][160] At the same time, many of the people who were there, including Harrison, Horn, Cooke de Herrera, Cynthia Lennon and Jenny Boyd did not believe that the Maharishi had made a pass at any woman.[161] According to Cynthia, Mardas' allegations about the Maharishi's indiscretions with a female gained momentum "without a single shred of evidence or justification".[162][163][nb 7] Pattie Boyd also expressed doubt regarding the truth behind Mardas' claims, but in this atmosphere of suspicion, she had a "horrid dream about Maharishi" and, the next day, told Harrison that they should leave.[152]

Deepak Chopra, who was not present but later became a disciple of the Maharishi and a friend of Harrison's, said in 2006 that the Beatles and their entourage "were doing drugs, taking LSD, at Maharishi's ashram".[165][166][167] An article in The Washington Post reported that "others said the Beatles resumed drug use at the ashram".[168] The Beatles' group also violated the Maharishi's "no alcohol rule" when they consumed "hooch" that Mardas, who Cynthia thought was not an active meditator,[74] acquired from a nearby village.[158]

Lennon and Harrison's departure[edit]

On the night of 11 April, Lennon, Harrison and Mardas sat up late discussing their views of the Maharishi and decided to leave the next morning.[169][170] In Brown's description, the discussion resembled an argument, with Harrison "furious" at Mardas' actions and not believing "a word" of the allegations.[171] In the morning, the Beatles and their wives packed hurriedly,[172][171] while Mardas went to Dehradun to find taxis.[138] Lennon was chosen to speak to the Maharishi.[171] When asked why they were leaving, Lennon replied, "If you're so cosmic, you'll know why."[173] Paul Mason, a biographer of the Maharishi, later interpreted Lennon's statement as a challenge to the Maharishi's claim of cosmic consciousness.[174] Lennon said that his mind was made up when the Maharishi gave him a murderous look in response.[175] According to Mardas: "John Lennon and I went to the Maharishi about what had happened ... he asked the Maharishi to explain himself"; and the Maharishi answered Lennon's accusation by saying, "I am only human."[137] But Lennon said he was "a bit rough to him" and the Maharishi responded by saying "I don't know why, you must tell me."[146][176] According to Harrison, it was only himself and Lennon who met with the Maharishi, and Lennon "had wanted to leave anyway", to see Ono, and now had a "good reason to get out".[177][nb 8] With regard to his own position, Harrison said that he had already told the Maharishi that he would be leaving before the course relocated to Kashmir, because he was due to participate in the filming of Raga, a documentary about Ravi Shankar, in the south of India.[146][nb 9]

While waiting for their taxis to arrive, Lennon wrote the song "Maharishi",[179] which was later renamed "Sexy Sadie" because Harrison advised Lennon that was potentially libellous.[180] In a 1974 interview, Lennon said that they were convinced that the delay in the taxis' arrival was orchestrated by locals loyal to the Maharishi, and this paranoia was exacerbated by the presence of "the mad Greek".[129] According to Cynthia Lennon, when the group walked past the Maharishi on the way to their taxis, he looked "very biblical and isolated in his faith".[175] Jenny Boyd later wrote: "Poor Maharishi. I remember him standing at the gate of the ashram, under an aide's umbrella, as the Beatles filed by, out of his life. 'Wait,' he cried. 'Talk to me.' But no one listened."[154]

After leaving the ashram, the taxis kept breaking down, leading the Beatles to wonder if the Maharishi had placed a curse on them.[181] The car that the Lennons were in suffered a flat tyre and the driver left them, apparently to find a replacement tyre, but did not return for hours. After it grew dark, the Lennons hitched a ride to Delhi.[182] They then took the first available flight back to London, during which John drunkenly recounted a litany of his numerous infidelities to Cynthia.[183][184] Harrison was not ready to return to London and face running Apple and the band's other commitments. In her autobiography, Boyd writes: "Instead, we went to see Ravi Shankar and lost ourselves in his music."[152] Harrison said when he got dysentery in Madras that he thought it might have been due to a spell cast by the Maharishi, but he recovered after Shankar gave him some amulets.[70][nb 10]


The departure and split with the Maharishi was well-publicised. In Delhi, Lennon and Harrison merely told reporters that they had urgent business in London and did not want to appear in the Maharishi's film.[186] Once reunited in the UK, the band announced that they were disillusioned by the Maharishi's desire for financial gain.[187] On 14 May, when Lennon and McCartney, accompanied by Mardas and Derek Taylor, were in New York to launch Apple to the US media, Lennon used his appearance on The Tonight Show to denounce the Maharishi.[188] He told the host, Joe Garagiola,[188] "We believe in meditation, but not the Maharishi and his scene",[189] and, "We made a mistake. He's human like the rest of us."[169] Lennon went on to say: "I don't know what level he's on but we had a nice holiday in India and came back rested to play businessman [at Apple]."[129]

The trip to India was the last time all four Beatles travelled abroad together.[144] Cooke de Herrera, who remained a lifelong devotee to TM and an instructor to many celebrities,[190][191] felt the contract with Four Star and presence of the film crew was the reason for the sudden departure of Harrison and Lennon.[192] According to a 2006 statement by Chopra, the Beatles and their entourage "were doing drugs, taking LSD, at Maharishi's ashram, and he lost his temper with them. He asked them to leave, and they did in a huff".[165][167] Prudence Farrow stayed with the three-month programme and became a TM teacher, along with 40 other students.[193] Mike Love also became a TM teacher and travelled with the Maharishi to Kashmir later in the year.


Philip Goldberg, in his book American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation, How Indian Spirituality Changed the West, wrote that the Beatles' trip to Rishikesh, "may have been the most momentous spiritual retreat since Jesus spent those forty days in the wilderness".[3] Despite their temporary rejection of the Maharishi, they generated wider interest in Transcendental Meditation, which encouraged the study of Eastern spirituality in Western popular culture.[194][195] Chopra credits Harrison with spreading TM and other Eastern spiritual practices to America almost single-handedly.[196]

The Maharishi in 1973

After 1968 the Maharishi fell out of the public spotlight for a period and TM was described as a passing fad.[197] Mike Love arranged for the Beach Boys to tour with the Maharishi in the US during the summer of 1968. However, the tour was cancelled after several appearances and was called "one of the more bizarre entertainments of the era".[198][40] Interest grew again in the mid-1970s when scientific studies began showing concrete results.[199] The Maharishi moved to Europe in the early years of that decade and appeared twice on American television's The Merv Griffin Show in the mid 1970s, leading to a surge of popularity called the "Merv wave".[200] That was followed by the introduction of "Yogic Flying", a technique which offered the promise of levitation.[200] In a 1975 interview, Harrison said of the Beatles' association with Transcendental Meditation: "In retrospect, that was probably one of the greatest experiences I've ever had … Maharishi was always put down for propagating what was basically a spiritual thing but there's so much being propagated that's damaging to life that I’m glad there are good people around like him."[201] In 1978 Lennon wrote that he considered his meditation a "source of creative inspiration".[202]

In her 2005 book Gurus in America, author Cynthia Ann Humes comments that although the "public falling out" between the Beatles and Maharishi was widely reported, there has been "little mention" of "the continued positive relationship Maharishi maintained" with Harrison and McCartney.[203] During the 1990s both Harrison and McCartney were so convinced of the Maharishi's innocence that they offered their apologies.[204] Harrison gave a benefit concert for the Maharishi-associated Natural Law Party in 1992,[205] and later apologised for the way the Maharishi had been treated by saying, "We were very young"[206] and "It's probably in the history books that Maharishi 'tried to attack Mia Farrow' – but it's bullshit, total bullshit."[178][207][208] Cynthia Lennon wrote in 2005 that she "hated leaving on a note of discord and mistrust, when we had enjoyed so much kindness from the Maharishi".[209] Asked if he forgave the Beatles, following Harrison's public apology in 1991, the Maharishi replied, "I could never be upset with angels."[210] McCartney took his daughter, Stella, to visit the Maharishi in the Netherlands in 2007,[211] which renewed their friendship.[32][212]

Meditation caves of the former Academy of Meditation in Rishikesh in 2006

By the time of the Maharishi's death in 2008, more than 5 million people had learned Transcendental Meditation, and his worldwide movement was valued in the billions of dollars.[41] The ashram, built on land belonging to the Rajaji National Park, was reclaimed by the government in the mid-1990s after the lease expired in 1981,[50] and fell into disrepair.[49] After the Maharishi died, McCartney said: "my memories of him will only be joyful ones. He was a great man who worked tirelessly for the people of the world and the cause of unity."[213] Starr said in 2008, "I feel so blessed I met the Maharishi – he gave me a mantra that no one can take away, and I still use it".[32] In 2009, McCartney, Starr, Donovan, and Horn reunited at a concert held at New York's Radio City Music Hall to benefit the David Lynch Foundation, which funds the teaching of Transcendental Meditation in schools.[214] A 2008 article in Rolling Stone magazine reported Yoko Ono as saying: "John would have been the first one now, if he had been here, to recognize and acknowledge what Maharishi has done for the world and appreciate it".[208] Author Gary Tillery wrote in 2010 that Lennon "benefited from the experience" and "for the rest of his life he often turned to meditation to restore himself and improve his creativity."[202]

A 2011 article in The Telegraph reported Harrison as having said: "Maharishi only ever did good for us, and although I have not been with him physically, I never left him".[215] In 2007, a Canadian actress, Maggie Blue O'Hara, announced plans to renovate and convert the property into a home for the street children of New Delhi.[216] In 2011, a plan was announced by the state government to build an Ayush Gram on the site.[50] In 2003, Jerry Hall produced a series for the BBC titled Gurus, which included interviews with TM initiates, Jagger, and Cooke de Herrera, and a visit to the ashram in Rishikesh.[217] Saltzman's photographs at the ashram have subsequently been displayed in galleries worldwide, published in two books and in a permanent exhibition above the retail units in the departure lounge of Liverpool John Lennon Airport.[218][219] Mira Nair began work on a documentary film about the Beatles' visit to India;[220] although no date for the film release has been announced.



The Beatles wrote many songs during their visit to Rishikesh: 30 by one count,[221] and "48 songs in seven weeks" by others.[222][223] Lennon said: "We wrote about thirty new songs between us. Paul must have done about a dozen. George says he's got six, and I wrote fifteen".[224] Many of the songs became part of the album The Beatles (aka "the White Album"), while others appeared on Abbey Road, and solo records. Several of the songs contained Eastern musical influences.[225]

A mostly plain white album cover, with the words "the Beatles" towards the center and a serial number towards the lower right corner
The cover of The Beatles album

Recorded for The Beatles:

Recorded for Abbey Road:

Recorded for solo records and others:



  • "Happiness Runs"[249]
  • "Hurdy Gurdy Man" (Harrison wrote a verse but it was cut from the released recording due to concerns over the song's length)[250]
  • "Lord of the Reedy River" (later recorded by Kate Bush)[251]

The Beach Boys:


Before leaving London in February, the Beatles had considered making a documentary film about the Maharishi through Apple Films.[18][37] The idea gained traction once they got to the ashram, which led to their summoning Denis O'Dell to Rishikesh.[37] According to O'Dell, the band members lost interest after he mentioned a possible film adaptation of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings – a project that he had just been discussing with United Artists as a feature film starring the Beatles and to be directed by David Lean.[253]

A film crew led by producer Gene Corman – linked to ABC – did eventually arrive to film proceedings, but within a day of their arrival the remaining Beatles had left.[254] Upon returning to England, Lennon dismissed the idea that the presence of the film crew had contributed to the timing of his and Harrison's exit.[255]

Excerpts from the Italian newsreel footage filmed beside the Ganges in March 1968 were used in the 1982 documentary The Compleat Beatles.[111] Video footage of the Beatles' stay does exist, sourced from a 16mm silent handheld camera that was used by many of the guests during their stay there. Segments of this can be seen in the documentary The Beatles Anthology.


  1. ^ Love added: "And the process of meditation was so simple, yet so powerful. It seemed obvious that if everyone did it, it would be an entirely different world out there – relaxed and peaceful."[7]
  2. ^ Lapham was not permitted to probe the Beatles with personal questions, however.[45][46] Apart from his own observations, much of the information he gleaned about the proceedings came from the other students there.[46]
  3. ^ Writing in the late 1970s, author Nicholas Schaffner said that the Maharishi's most enduring success was in attracting people in "Middle America" to TM's benefits as a stress reliever. By promoting his cause through more conservative channels, the Maharishi won adherents in academia, politics, the military and NASA's Apollo space program.[109]
  4. ^ At the Maharishi's request, Donovan performed his composition "Happiness Runs", with Harrison, and then "Catch the Wind", accompanied at times by Lennon.[111]
  5. ^ Aspinall, who had come to India with O'Dell to dissuade the Beatles from making their film about the Maharishi, accompanied McCartney and Asher to London, having stayed in Rishikesh for a week.[129]
  6. ^ He later called the Maharishi a "lecherous womaniser".[155][156]
  7. ^ McCartney similarly said: "it was Magic Alex who made the original accusation and I think that it was completely untrue."[141][164]
  8. ^ Boyd also describes the allegations as Lennon's "excuse" to reunite with Ono, and says that they seemed to emanate from Mardas' desire "to get John away from Rishikesh".[152]
  9. ^ In Harrison's account, in The Beatles Anthology, the speculation surrounding Farrow and other female students "stirred up a situation" that Lennon was able to exploit. Harrison recalled that when the pair met with the Maharishi to tell him they were leaving, at which point Harrison reminded him of the plan to join Shankar, the Maharishi was unable to accept it. Harrison added: "That's when John said something like, 'Well, you're supposed to be the mystic, you should know."[178]
  10. ^ As a result of falling ill in Madras, Harrison was unable to take part in filming for Raga. He instead filmed his scenes with Shankar in June at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur in California.[185]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 30°06′35″N 78°18′46″E / 30.109745°N 78.312774°E / 30.109745; 78.312774


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