This February marks the 75th birthday of musician and Beatle, George Harrison, who brought Paul, John, and Ringo on their first journey to India. This journey, which culminated in the iconic photo below, caused a massive reaction in pop culture, leading Westerners to take up meditation and explore “the inner light”. We took a closer look at the Beatles’ iconic trip in 1968, and found seven facts that not even the most avid Beatle-maniac would know.
#1 This year marks the 50th anniversary– The Beatles first traveled to Rishikesh together in 1968, fifty years ago. After Paul and the others heard the great spiritual leader, Maharishi, speak at a meditation conference in Wales, they all decided to travel to India together. The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, had recently passed away and a trip to the Maharishi’s ashram to study meditation was exactly the kind of spiritual healing they needed.
#2 Mia Farrow, Donovan, and Mike Love went, too– Along with The Beatles, a number of other celebrities made a voyage to the Rishikesh ashram at the same time, including musicians Donovan Leitch, Mike Love, Paul Horn, and actress Mia Farrow with her younger sister Prudence. When Prudence Farrow refused to come out of her room one night after she had spent all day meditating, The Beatles played her a little ditty, ‘Dear Prudence’ that managed to coax her out of isolation.
#3 They stayed in Rishikesh, a location widely known as a Hindu pilgrimage site– The Beatles certainly weren’t the ones to first put Rishikesh on the map. The town, bordering with Nepal, was actually a popular location for Hindus to meditate long before The Beatles arrived. The religious importance is in part attributed to its location on the banks of the Ganges River, which is extremely sacred.
#4 Almost the entire White Album was written there– Along with ‘Dear Prudence’, other songs from the soon-to-be White Album (titled “The Beatles”), like ‘The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill’ and ‘Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da’, were conceived at the ashram in Rishikesh. The Beatles’ prolonged stay in India provided some long-sought-after leisure time when Paul, John, George, and Ringo could simply convene and write music.
#5 It was George’s second time visiting- George Harrison had actually visited India once before the group went to Rishikesh. It was during this first visit that George began studying the sitar as a pupil under the greatest sitar player of all time, Ravi Shankar. The instrument helped forge a lasting friendship between George and Ravi, later culminating in their co-produced live performance and album, The Concert for Bangladesh.
#6 Donovan taught Paul and John his trademark folk-strumming techniques at the ashram– The Beatles had a good amount of down time between meditations to relax and hang out with the other visitors there. It was during that time when Donovan, a close friend of The Beatles, taught John and Paul some of the folk finger-picking techniques that he employed in many of his popular songs, like ‘Colors’ and ‘Catch the Wind’. John would go on to use the same techniques in a few of his songs for the White Album, mainly ‘Julia’ and ‘Dear Prudence’. Fun Fact: Donovan wrote one of his most famous songs, ‘Sunshine Superman’, about The Beatles.
#7 The Beatles were working on a film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings while they were were in Rishikesh- Yep, that’s right. Before Peter Jackson brought the Lord of the Rings trilogy to life, The Beatles were interested in creating their own interpretation for Apple Films. John even wanted to release a companion Beatles album to accompany the film. However, after discussing the project with their chosen director, Stanley Kubrick, the group decided to abandon the idea.
Learn more fun facts like these about the Fab Four’s journey with The Beatles in India, and listen to our Beatles in India Spotify playlist that features some of the hit songs that were written in Rishikesh!
Photos provided by Insight Editions from The Beatles in India © 2018 Paul Saltzman