What happens when the world’s most famous rock and roll band descends on a small Indian village at the height of the hippie revolution?
Sex, drugs and rock and roll, of course — and inspiration, scandals and the creation of one of the greatest albums of all time.
John, Paul, George, Ringo & the Maharishi
Rishikesh was a sleepy hamlet in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas before the Beatles and their partners descended on the Maharishi Mahesh Ashram in 1968.
For a few months, the Fab 4 (minus Ringo, who left shortly after arriving) studied Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi.
They relaxed, meditated, wrote music and recorded much of what would become The White Album.
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Abandonment and Nature’s Interaction With Humanity
Abandoned since 1997, the Beatles Ashram is filled with scores of buildings slowly being overtaken by time and nature.
Crumbling roofs give way to vines, branches and trees while old hallways provide shelter for animals of all sizes.
Anything worth salvaging from the Maharishi Mahesh Ashram has long since been claimed; leaving only a shell of porous walls, shattered toilets, broken shelves and glassless windows.
Walking around wearing only a thin pair of flip flops, I was one misstep away from a nail in the foot and a tetanus shot; but that didn’t stop me from exploring every nook and cranny.
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I Am the Eggman
Coo Coo Cachoo
The Domes of the Beatles Ashram
Perhaps the most famous architectural features of the Beatles Ashram are the large white meditation domes located on top of the dormitories.
With a hollow bottom half that can easily be walked through, countless tourists have followed in John, Paul, George and Ringo’s footsteps and sat in the dome’s base for a jam session.
Fun fact: John Lennon wrote the lyrics “I am the Eggman” from the song “I Am the Walrus” about the ashram’s white domes.
The best acoustics, however, are found in the water tower occupying the top half of the dome.
Accessible only during the dry season, we had to climb up a curved ladder to the top of the “Eggman” and down another wobbly ladder into the inner chamber.
Channeling My Inner Fab 4
in the Maharishi Mahesh Ashram
It was there in the water chamber that Carrie, Lauren, Tara and I had Fab Four-minute long “om session.”
Summoning our best and longest oms, the sound reverberated off the walls and the vibrations shook our bodies and the entire room.
Music followed us throughout the Beatles Ashram, as we later sat down to enjoy a jam session in the large yoga/meditation hall/auditorium.
In that same hall, a few friends of ours from Rishikesh have recently started a paint-by-numbers public mural project.
Though we never got a chance to check it out, the Beatles Cathedral Gallery does have a great Facebook page.
You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello
Disillusionment at the Beatles Ashram
So why did the Beatles finally leave the Ashram?
Rumor has it that the Maharishi’s demands for money and his behavior towards female disciples disillusioned them all.
Fun Fact: In the song Sexy Sadie, John Lennon’s sings “you made a fool of everyone.” The “you” referred to is the Maharishi.
According to Wikipedia: John Lennon and George Harrison left abruptly; following financial disagreements. They also were concerned by rumors and public accusations of inappropriate behavior by the Maharishi.
Paul McCartney’s reasons were more simple: he had other commitments.
Harrison later apologized for the way he and Lennon had treated the Maharish;, and in 1992, he gave a benefit concert for the Maharishi-associated Natural Law Party.
Inspiring The White Album…
and Other Famous Songs
While in Rishikesh, I came across a list of songs written or recorded by the Beatles at the Maharishi Mahesh Ashram …or inspired by their stay there.
- Dear Prudence — (named after Prudence Farrow – Mia Farrow’s sister, – who would not “come out and play.”)
- Sexy Sadie — (originally named Maharishi, but changed to avoid a lawsuit)
- Back in the USSR
- Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
- Cry Baby Cry
- Don’t Pass Me By — (written by Ringo Starr)
- Mother Nature’s Son — (inspired by a lecture given by the Maharishi)
- Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
- I Will
- Wild Honey Pie
- Mean Mr. Mustard
- Dehradun — (written by George Harrison but never released)
- The Rishikesh Song — (also called the Happy Rishikesh Song, though it was never released)
- Look at Me — (released on the 1970 album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band)
- Child of Nature — (released as Jealous Guy on John Lennon’s Imagine)
- Spiritual Regeneration/Happy Birthday Mike Love — (recorded on tape in Rishikesh)
- Why Don’t We Do it in the Road — (inspired by monkeys having sex in the roads of Rishikesh and across India)
- Rocky Raccoon — (co-written with Donovan and inspired by Bob Dylan’s new album John Wesley Harding, which they heard for the first time at the Maharishi Mahesh Ashram)
- The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill — (inspired by the son of an American student who went tiger hunting)
Photography from the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh
That’s it for the story, but there are still some more photographs from the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh, India.
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For more photography, check out my Rishikesh Gallery.