From Rishikesh to Bhaktivedant Manor – Beatles Spiritual Journey
A month after visiting Bhaktivedant Manor temple in England, which is the earliest amongst the 10,000 plus temples of ISKCON worldwide, we set out to unravel the spiritual quest of the 1960’s celebrity Rock band group member Beatle George Harrison who joined the ISKCON in Britain and donated this Manor to them. Beatles experienced transcendental awakening when the entire band visited the religious town of Rishikesh, India in the 60’s, my inquisitiveness was aroused by the sequence of events that led the whole Band to the Rishikesh Ashram!
Subsequently, we headed for a visit to the Chaurasi Kutiya ( 84 Huts) ashram spread over 7.5 hectares of forest land set up by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1961,often visited by famous personalities like Hollywood actors- Singer musician Donovan, actress Mia Farrow, Mike Love of the Beach Boys fame, ‘Magic Alex’ Mardas– electronic engineer, Ringo-Starrto cite a few! We were in one of the most hauntingly beautiful regions abundant in natural beauty that is totally rundown yet the peaceful ruins are mesmerising. We had already seen the several dome-shaped-pebble meditation-cave like Huts built around us, a personal Post office and two Photo galleries gathering information on Maharishi and Beatles- understanding their pursuit better!
I recalled reading that just before the pandemic the Beatles 50th anniversary was celebrated with these photo exhibitions that attracted tourists, Beatles fans and media attention all over the world only to be shut again for the pandemic hit years! It must have been a significant complex to have its own Post office, Printing Press and Kitchen to feed 500 persons!
We came across a beautiful deserted Shivalya and wondered at its creation in the ashram. Later, I found out from Acharya Raj Kishore of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Jalandhar Gurukul centre that it is an ancient Shivalaya which existed since unknown time and as prayers/Yagyas were performed regularly so Maharishi Mahesh Yogi decided to build a temple here. The Acharya fondly recalled his splendid childhood spent in Maharishi’s ashram for education, the Yagyas at the Shivalaya, the summer holidays at the other cool weather Panchgani Maharishi- ashram, the palace like look of the Reception office and imposing buildings around. What a contrast to the gloomy abandoned present look, approximately 60 years down the calendar!
500 guests Kitchen to Printing Press
Next we reached the once beautiful multiple-arches, large Kitchen made in 1960’s to cook vegetarian food, sometimes up-to 500 guests! On the other side of the road a now roofless, Printing Press existed that had large folk- look Wall mural outside, like the smaller ones on the Kitchen walls. I stepped into the Time machine to witness the first edition of the famous book The Science of Being and the Art of Living and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s commentary on the first 6 chapters of Srimad Bhagvad Geeta being printed, one after the other at the Printing press.
Spellbinding Wall Art of Ved Bhavan- Beatles Animated
Up ahead is a small simple entrance that gives no indication of the gigantic shed-look hall inside nor the stunning mammoth wall murals of Beatles on both opposite walls. It reads Ved Bhavan that was the Lecture Hall/ Classroom for conducting courses and was made years after the Beatles left in 1976.
More Graffiti and Wall art greeted our eyes in the passages – the remains of Sanskrit Gayatri mantra and slogans in English! We were totally unprepared for the huge spellbinding Murals of Beatles with Gurudev Mahesh Yogi from ceiling to floor, beginning one end of the dilapidated room to the other and dominated by the striking yellow background on one wall! The Beatles and Gurudev seemed to be alive, the eyes looking straight into one’s heart particularly Beatle George Harrison on whose trail we had been following from Bhaktivedant Manor in Britain, earlier!
The second large, similar dimensions Mural was on the opposite wall with four handsome Beatles painted as portraits on a sky blue background- very impressive! Tens of photos later we reluctantly moved out thinking of the year 2012 when street artist Pan Trinity Das tried to revive the Satsang hall or Lecture Hall by creating these Murals and naming them Beatles Cathedral Gallery but his efforts were cut short by the local authorities!
Throughout out the visit I had noticed graffiti and wall art all over the buildings by visitors or trespassers, as an accolade to Beatles!!
Gazing out of the large windows- frames and glass long gone; I could well imagine what a splendid picturesque view it would have been, from the rectangular spaces while the Maharishi lectured the students – of lush forests set against a backdrop of Himalayan mountain range with a variety of birds and monkeys perched outside on the window ledges!
The Ancient River and the Ashram
The artwork sadly seemed to call out for conservation, besides the maintenance of the once striking buildings and would be an added asset to tourists and Beatle fans visiting the Chaurasi Kutiya Beatles Ashram. We resumed our walk to the Anand Bhavan and Siddhi Bhavan with colourful paintings, rooftop meditation Domes, the Beatles bungalow and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s bungalow, wondering what remained of them? Far below the ancient river Ganga flowed –a silent witness to the creation and decay!!
Photos by Rakessh Anand and Seema Anand Chopra