Above: A photo album of the ashram The Beatles stayed in
The Beatles, led by George Harrison’s interest in the sitar and their own varied explorations of the mind, came to India in February 1968 to study Transcendental Meditation. They stayed at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in Rishikesh, arriving with an entourage of assistants, wives, and girlfriends. The group denounced drugs in favor of meditation upon their departure. The trip was met by widespread media attention in Britain, India, and around the world, and is considered an instrumental event in the spread of Indian spirituality and yoga to the west.
The Beatles met the Maharishi in London in 1967, and upon seeing him speak in Wales, decided to keep in touch. Following the shooting of The Magical Mystery Tour at the end of 1967, they left for India early the next year.
Harrison had already spent time in India with Ravi Shankar, learning the sitar, which he was committed to mastering. He was the first member of the group to arrive in 1968, going to what was then Bombay to record the single The Inner Light, which was heavily influenced by Indian classical music.
The Beatles found their stay at the ashram relaxing. They had grown weary of the media frenzy and scrutiny that followed them in the west, having chosen to give up touring and retire to the studio in late 1966. This change in the band led to greater introspection amongst the members, which eventually led them to India.
At a time when the group, once immensely uniform, had begun to individualize and grow apart, the Beatles’ stay at the ashram was marked by their closeness and unity. They were competitive and supportive of each other’s meditation, complimentary of any progress. This came to be one of the most productive phases in their career, as much of the stripped-down, minimalist White Album was written in these peaceful surroundings.
This was the last time all four Beatles traveled together before they broke up in 1970. Considering the influence the trip had on Eastern philosophies in the west and the sheer songwriting output the jaunt produced, it is fitting that the greatest band of them all had such a momentous final sojourn.