Beatles Rock band- a Journey from Rishikesh to Bhaktivedant Manor Temple – Part 2
It was February 25th, Beatle George Harrison’s 80th birthday when I visited the Beatles Ashram at Chaurasi Kutiya in Rishikesh. For the rest of my life it shall remain the biggest co incidences of my life to be here.
I was on a Reverse trail of musician singer and guitarist Beatle George Harrison from Bhaktivedant Manor in Britain to Rishikesh India. The Bhaktivedant Manor is the earliest and the foremost temple of ISKCON worldwide. George Harrison not only joined the ISKCON in Britain but also donated this Manor to them! The 1960’s celebrity Rock band group Beatles experienced mesmeric transcendental awakening when they visited the religious town of Rishikesh which led to their quest of spirituality!
Beatles at Chaurasi Kutiya- 84 Huts
A bumpy dusty drive led us to the eastern bank of river Ganga where we parked. In the valley below the deep blue of the ancient river merged with the blue of the sky as we walked on the dusty, pebble ridden, uneven, dirt track towards the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh called Chaurasi Kutiya– 84 meditation Huts. I mused if that was a reference to 84 lakh births as per mythology? Did one have to meditate in each of them to get rid of being caught in the trap of 84 lakh rebirths cycle and attain enlightenment or liberation of soul? Was this the spirit with which the rock band Beatles joined the Transcendental Meditation movement led by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi years back in 1968 that was a huge media event! While in the queue I looked around at the dome shaped/half-egg look entrance and few domes behind me and noticed that they were all created from round whitish pebbles found in abundance in the river bed- ingenious idea!
Rishikesh- land of Spirituality
Far below rhythmic soulful tunes of a Ram bhajan engulfed the atmosphere, from a temple- one of the hundreds in the region. I recalled reading the meaning of Sanskrit word Rishikesh that can be broken into Hrishika and Isha meaning Lord of Senses! The other translation that I came across was that Saints or Rishis with Jataya/ Kesh or hairlocks did Tapasya on the banks of the sacred river Ganga and so it acquired the name Rishikesh!
Before we proceeded on the cemented uphill path we saw logos of Rajaji National park spread over a 1000 square kilometres; famous for elephants and tigers safari. The ashram was reopened in 2015 after being abandoned since years and is managed by the Rajaji National Park. I noted many foreigners and locals and wondered if they were all tourists or meditation seekers or history experts or nature /photography lovers!
Beautiful Ruins of peaceful Beatles Ashram
Past an attractive hand-painted Wall announcing – I love Rishikesh, scattered with Tiger-Butterflies we passed several more pebble-dome shaped huts to reach another entrance on the hilltop. All around me was a vast area of unmatchable natural beauty, totally rundown, the overgrown grass and weeds gardens roasted brown with dilapidated buildings around. There was an air of excitement and sadness in the beautiful Ghost town; yet so peaceful… What an impressive site it must have been when the Beatles band members arrived here about 55 years ago! It said that when the Beatles stayed here they created the Band’s best music and song albums especially the Beatles & White Album, as they found the peaceful environs most creative!
Of Planets and Yagyas
We studied the dusty tin map and proceeded to the single storey, now derelict personal Post-office made in 1960’s for the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his residential guests’ official mails. Wow! What a privilege. On my other side was the Nav Grah Vatika that explained in a most engrossing way the effect of other planets on humans on Earth and how Yagya/ havan can help to pacify their ill effects if any. Next was a list of dried Sameedhas– wooden herbal plants used in Yagyasaccording to Garud Puran. We excitedly set out in the weed grown garden to look for them and spotted most of them with their Hindi names like Supari, Plash, Peepal and more! From the Post office we turned to the photo galleries and Cafeteria as marked on the rusty map.
Beatles and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Galleries
The Photo galleries turned out to be a treasure of historic photographs of the Beatles visit to the Rishikesh ashramdisplayed on walls with peeling paints, ceiling tube-lights flickering away and most photographs damaged by mould!! Reading an engrossing brief on Beatles visit to Maharishi ashram in Rishikesh by Paul Saltzman, the 2 time Emmy-award winner photographer; we discovered that while he learnt Transcendental Meditation at the Ashram in 1968, he photographed the Beatles and even wrote the first book- ‘The Beatles in Rishikesh’ released by Viking Penguin in the year 2000!
Browsing through magazine covers of Time October 1975, June 1968 cover of Macleans- Canada’s national magazine, a happy group photograph of Beatles- George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney Ring Starr and their families with Guru Mahesh Yogi from winter of 1968, we moved to the next gallery.
Science and Meditation
We read songs inspired by Maharishi and his Transcendental Meditation including the Across the Universe!
I recall reading that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduced Transcendental Meditation in 1955 based upon ancient Vedic Tradition and in over 100 countries across the world with over 600 scientific research studies conducted at over 250 universities and research institutes in 33 countries that document the benefits Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation! They are published in over 150 Science Journals as an effective technique to gain relaxation, peace inner happiness and promote health!! That was what attracted the Beatles and many more international celebrities here!
The next Hall with more flickering lights held picturesque photographs and displays of Rajaji Tiger Reserve forests that has a proud figure of 34 Tigers, and we decided to undertake a Safari on another visit by booking beforehand.
Memories of Hollywood Actors at Deserted Ashram
Past a filthy Cafeteria and toilets I stepped into a stunning Jungle-book scene like area with sunlight filtering down the tall green trees and more deserted pebble dome-huts as far as I could see. So many cave like structures were constructed from round-stones from river Ganga for meditation by Sanyasis and Brahmacharis. I ruminated that they were part of Chaurasi Kutiya– 84 meditation huts; massive peaceful mystic ruins! So we decided to go back the path and look for the mammoth Beatles art at Ved Bhavan, walking past the galleries and Post office again.
Chaurasi Kutiya ashram spreads over 7.5 hectares of forest land set up by the Maharishi himself in 1961, often visited by celebrities’ like Hollywood actors and writers besides rich business persons!
Photography courtesy Seema Anand Chopra & Rakessh Anand