The Beatles in India

Something of a Beatles and India theme has emerged in 2018, with this year marking the 50th anniversary of the time the band spent six weeks in an ashram in Rishikesh learning about Transcendental Meditation (TM), and along the way writing a prolific amount of fabulous songs.

Last week the George Harrison estate announced the creation of a new record label to mine the rich Harrison archives and re-issue many of George’s musical projects with Indian artists. His visits to that country changed his life and his art forever.

Prior to that announcement there was the release in February of a beautiful book (in three different editions) called The Beatles in India

These books are to be followed up with a documentary film bearing the same name later this year.

There’s also another book called Across the Universe: The Beatles in India by Ajoy Bose:

And a further book, Maharishi and Me – Seeking Enlightenment with The Beatles’ Guru, by Susan Shumsky:Let’s look at each of these releases in some more detail.

The Beatles in India. The books. These are a photographic record of the time a 23 year-old Canadian, Paul Saltzman, traveled to India in search of himself. To his great surprise he discovered that The Beatles were also in India, studying at the same ashram in Rishikesh. Saltzman spent a magical week with them, learning meditation and hanging out with John, Paul, George and Ringo. Fifty years later, the photos he took at the time are being published once again* in a book called The Beatles in India. It is available in three versions: as a standard hardback (see cover image above); as a special limited edition (signed and numbered and only 1968 copies produced): 

And in a larger format super deluxe edition (signed and numbered and only 350 copies produced):

* It should be noted that is is not the first time that Saltzman has published these photographs. He first released them along with his memories in a book called The Beatles in Rishikesh, published by Viking Studio in 2000. So, what you get here isn’t totally new information.

The Beatles in India. The film. This is a documentary also being made by Paul Saltzman, who is now an Emmy Award-winning Toronto-based director-producer of over 300 film and television productions. As we already know from his books, in 1968 he learned meditation at the Maharishi’s ashram in India, an experience that changed his life. There, he photographed The Beatles, Jane Asher, Cynthia Lennon, Pattie Boyd Harrison, Maureen Starkey, Mia Farrow, Donovan, Mal Evans and Mike Love. The film will detail “….Saltzman’s return journey to India, The Beatles stay and the songs they composed at the ashram, as well as meditation as it applies to creativity, the divine inner journey and the healing power of love and music.” The film is scheduled for it’s world premiere on September 9, 2020 through Gathr Films.

Across the Universe: The Beatles in India. “What we do know is that their stay in Rishikesh resulted in an astonishing creative burst of song-writing – the most prolific in their entire career.”

Ajoy Bose was a teenage fan when The Beatles visited India. His book is an in-depth celebration of what it meant, especially the creative impact their stay had on the band: “I believe that the real reason why they managed to write so many songs in India was because it was the first time since they became the Beatles they were allowed to be individuals and not just a band that needed to perform or record in the studios.”

“So a sabbatical did change the Beatles, at least temporarily, and particularly the songs they wrote in the ashram, because these were all individual pieces and were not created with an album in mind. That is why the ‘White Album’, which contains most of these songs, is considered so unique in the Beatles discography,” says Bose.

Amazon has a ‘Look Inside‘ link for more, and you can read a lovely review of the book here.

Maharishi and Me – Seeking Enlightenment with The Beatles’ Guru. Author Susan Shumsky lived and studied in the Maharishi’s ashrams for 22 years, and she served on his personal staff for seven of those years. Many books have been written about the guru, and (as we’ve seen above) about the time The Beatles travelled to India, but this is the only one to offer an insider’s view of what it was really like to live in Rishikesh. Yes, it includes chapters about the time that John, Paul, George and Ringo came to learn at the feet of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. But this book is about much more than that.

Shumsky says that it’s “….a way of sharing a few glimpses into my spiritual journey, and hopefully will help you make your own spiritual connection.” There’s a lot more information here about TM, what it actually is, and it’s impact not only on The Beatles but on people seeking spiritual enlightenment across the west.

Shumsky has some very good detail about how The Beatles found out about the Maharishi, how they first got into TM in London and Wales, and how as a result of a Beatle connection the rest of the world found out about TM too. She also writes in detail, across a number of chapters, about the India visit in early 1968. Here we discover what the day-to-day life and activities for the band would have been like.

On the way to the ashram, George Harrison told a reporter, “A lot of people think we’ve gone of our heads. Well, they can think that—or anything they like. We’ve discovered a new way of living.” But, as we know, it all ended badly, with The Beatles leaving the ashram disillusioned – especially with the Maharishi. Shumsky has a theory as to why this occurred, and devotes a chapter to the falling out. It makes for interesting reading.

If you’d like to get a taste of Susan’s story there’s also a ‘Look Inside‘ link on the Amazon site. Marharishi and Me is published by Skyhorse Publishing.

A New Beatles Documentary in the works?

Will 2012 be the year that renowned Indian-born filmmaker Mira Nair’s documentary film about the Beatles time at Rishikesh finally gets a release?

It’s certainly a great idea for a documentary, and if anyone could pull it off it is Nair.

Known primarily for her popular and successful feature films (Salaam Bombay!, Mississippi Masala, Vanity Fair, The Namesake), she has for the past thirty years also been forging a parallel career making short films, both fiction (Migration, How Can It Be?, The Day the Mercedes Became a Hat) and documentaries (So Far from India, India Cabaret, The Laughing Club of India).

Nair has been talking about making a documentary on the connection between the Beatles and her country India since about 2006. But so far it’s failed to see the light of day. Here’s a response to a question she got about it back in 2009:

Have you ever wanted to make a documentary feature?  Yes, a feature documentary on the Beatles in India. The Beatles wrote twenty-three songs when they went to the Maharishi’s ashram in 1968. And I think the impact of India on the Beatles and vice versa would make for a very cool film. I went to the ashram myself and photographed it—it’s all abandoned. I made a very evocative photo portrait of what is there now. So I mixed that with archival footage and made a twenty-minute piece, to let the producers preview it. The producers couldn’t get the rights to the songs, but we have to keep trying. One day I really hope to do it.  (from The Criterion Collection)

Things have been a bit quiet since, but could the recent focus on George Harrison and his spiritual journey be a new catalyst? The Martin Scorsese documentary “Living In The Material World” certainly has the influence of India on George as a central theme….

I got an email from fellow blogger Beatlindia quoting another 2009 article which appeared in the Sunday Pioneer newspaper in New Delhi. That article has since been republished elsewhere on the web, prompting speculation that Mira Nair’s film may be closer than we think:

Renowned film director Mira Nair is making a film on The Beatles and their inspirational stay at Rishikesh to learn transcendental meditation. The 90-minute “docu-feature” will capture the band’s experiences at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram, which led many celebrities and youngsters to travel to the East in search of peace.

Rishikesh lies in the Doon Valley in the foothills of the Himalayas, some 200 kilometres from the Indian capital of New Delhi. It’s just near the city of Dehradun, which is the subject of a song written by George Harrison and recorded by the Beatles – but never released. Sharad Kukreti, a Doon Valley-based IT professional, produced a short video film using the song as the soundtrack to various sights and scenes of the city:

The article continues:

For the Beatles, their stay in India was said to be their most creative period. When they were in Rishikesh (for several weeks in February, March and April of 1968), they wrote many songs, most of which were included in their White Album, one of their best known. “Dehra Dun” missed getting included in the album. This song is seen now as a rare gem of the Beatles. With their iconic long hair and necklaces of marigolds, The Beatles came to the ashram when they were at the height of their fame. They were looking for an escape from the pressures that came along with the fame. “It was through one of my neighbours that I could get this rare song,” says Kukreti. The video made by Kukreti matches the words of the songs and captures the beauty and tranquility of the valley. However, it is this beauty and calm that the city is fast losing and one wonders whether the Beatles could have been inspired to write a song had they visited it in this day and age. “The song captures the past simplicity of the valley and is very special for Doon’ites, especially those who have seen the days when the Beatles came here,” Kukreti says. He has placed the clip on the net and has received a lot of appreciation for it. “The nostalgia in this song and the fact that it was sung by Harrison makes it unique and I feel it should be highlighted more,” he says.

I hope Mira Nair keeps plugging away at her film project.