In the north Indian city of Rishikesh lies a curious abandoned ‘ashram’ that perhaps triggered the western fetishisation of India as the mystical, magical land for them to embark on a spiritual journey. On the foothills of Himalayas, by the banks of the beautiful Ganges River, lies what is known as The Beatles Ashram. An ashram is traditionally a monastery or a spiritual hermitage mostly from Hinduism or Buddhism. The Beatles Ashram or originally known as the ‘Chaurasi Kutia’ was the retreat of the famous spiritual leader Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who is accredited as the founder of the Transcendental Meditation Technique. During the 1960s and 1970s, the ashram served as the International Academy of Meditation.
The teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on Transcendental Deep Meditation started spreading across India, and by the late 1950s already gained some international recognition. The ashram in Rishikesh was already an eminent centre for people seeking new forms of spiritual insights. Rishikesh, even though frequently visited by the western hippies, was not yet the epicentre of enlightenment. In 1968, the cultural geography and ethnological landscape of this town, that until then only served as a holy site for the Hindu pilgrims, transformed radically. The Beatles, led by George Harrison, along with their wives and girlfriends arrived at the ashram in Rishikesh in 1968, seeking spiritual guidance from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
The Beatles' arrival in the late 1960s made the Maharishi world-famous as the spiritual guide for The Beatles and, subsequently, for other celebrity figures. This also put the humble town of Rishikesh under the global spotlight. The Beatles decided to visit Maharishi after attending his seminar in Wales, a year earlier, to dwell further into the techniques of meditation. Their short stay at the ashram led to their transformational denunciation of drugs, causing extensive worldwide media coverage. This triggered a revision of the western perception of Indian spirituality and mysticism. Somehow this phenomenal visit of The Beatles, for five short weeks, for their spiritual, healing inner journey has its reverberations on the contemporary précis of the city. It appears to be a reasonably harmonious fusion between an old religious town of Hindu pilgrimage with a flux of hippies seeking to find their inner spiritual selves in this far away strange land.
The ashram in Rishikesh, even though long abandoned and pretty much in ruins, is still worth a visit. The ashram is hidden nicely, almost reclaimed by the surrounding forest showing itself to only those who really seek to find it. The ashram that once stood in all its glory, equipped with all the necessities for the disciples seeking to embark on a spiritual journey, had a special arrangement for the privileged guests like The Beatles. George Harrison renovated one of the bungalows in the ashram into a music room, filling it with instruments the band ordered to bring in from all around India. There were regular music sessions along with other disciples and students of the ashram during what many believe to be the most creative period of the Beatle’s songwriting. Even though most of it can not be witnessed in what is left of the ashram, the old lecture hall has now been turned into an art project called the ‘Beatles Cathedral’. The hall holds the testimony of The Beatles staying in the ashram with the lyrics and pictures of the band painted all over the walls.
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