The journey that filled the Beatles with the spirituality of India

Paul McCartney, John Lennon y Ringo Starr observan a George Harrison mientras toca el sitar durante una visita a la India en 1968.
Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Ringo Starr watch George Harrison as he plays the sitar during a visit to India in 1968. cordon press

All It started with the Beatles at an Indian restaurant in London and ended with a retreat in India three years later. It was running 1965 and the band, in full swing, would dine near Twickenham Studios, where they recorded the album Help !, George Harrison listened absorbed to the music of a sitar, an iconic Indian string instrument, and began to soak up a culture That ended up interesting the four from Liverpool, who in February 1968 traveled to the former British colony. This phase of meditation and artistic reflection marked the evolution of the training and for John Lennon it meant no longer feeling like “monkeys in a cage”. Then they started a strong relationship with Ravi Shankar, a virtuoso who enlightened them in Indian spirituality and fascinated them in such a way that he ended up influencing their music.

All this can be seen in the exhibition The Beatles and India, that can be seen free of charge at the Casa de la India in Valladolid until November 7. The exhibition collects photos, instruments, books, letters and records loaned by entities related to the Beatles and even by people like the photographer Pattie Lloyd, Harrison’s ex-wife, or Sukanya Shankar, widow of the mythical Indian musician. During the tour, visitors hear current versions by Indian authors of themes by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr.

Guillermo Rodríguez, director of the Casa de la India from Valladolid, explains that these compositions “close the circle” opened in 1968, which influenced his later creations. Many of them were included in one of his latest albums, The Beatles , known as White Album . Rodríguez highlights that this time shared between the artists and various people around them in a ashram , a retirement home spiritual, it was “a turning point” towards the dissolution of the whole. Meditation and friction resulting from so much time at the top, he details, led to the “sunset” two years later.

The four Beatles, in India with guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1968.

The tour of the three floors of the only museum in Spain dedicated to India begins with the details of the arrival of the Beatles to the Rishikesh region to be baptized in transcendental meditation. A year before, Brian Epstein, the band’s representative and nicknamed The Fifth Beatle, had died, whose absence left “a void” in the artists that was another reason that pushed them to travel to the Asian country. There they got the Anglophile urban youth, detached from the United Kingdom after the independence of 1947, to meet again with the Western culture, driven by radio and incipient television.

Blanca de la Torre, curator of the exhibition, emphasizes The value of this stay more in the “metaphorical” than in the “physical”, since the “dialogue between East and West” that derived from that stage of meditation could only be achieved by a phenomenon like Beatlemania. India’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Culture, Meenakashi Lekhi, praises by email how the Beatles brightened up the culture of their country and transformed mainstream Western thinking that reduced cultural capacity to that of “a few aesthetes.” . He also comments that the musicians spread indigenous symbols such as sitar, yoga or clothing internationally. “The colonial powers presented India as an impoverished nation that, suddenly, was the answer to the identity crisis of the most coveted gang in the West,” he defends.

Los Beatles reciben en Gales al gurú indio Maharishi Manesh Yogi, con millones de seguidores en todo el mundo.
The Beatles host Indian guru Maharishi Manesh Yogi in Wales, with millions of followers worldwide. AP

The images, sounds and a documentary that collects audiovisual content from the time illustrate the expectation generated by the musicians. This exhibition will be complemented during the Valladolid film festival, the Seminci, which in October will hold a film marathon on those from Liverpool that coincides with the 60 th anniversary of the group’s first concert. The visitor can also access an “immersive” part featuring a replica of a baiano, a typical Indian tree whose branches reach the ground and can be mistaken for roots. White banners hang from it, referring to the White Album , with the songs that show the Indian influence at this stage . An example is Dear Prudence , composed by Lennon for actress Mia Farrow’s sister, two of the people who They accompanied them to the retreat, encouraging her to leave the room where she meditated for hours.

The impact of the experience was different in each member of the band. Ringo Starr, which lasted alone 10 days there and complained bitterly about the food and the flies, and Paul McCartney, who held out for five weeks, were the first to leave. George Harrison was enthusiastic about the discovery and later undertook another journey through South Asia with Shankar, a key figure for him and who stars an entire floor of the gallery. Lennon then began a more political phase, criticizing the Vietnam War, and it was in Rishikesh where he wrote the anthem Revolution . Another of the iconic Beatles songs, Across the Universe (1968), included the Hindu relaxation mantra Jai Guru Dev Om . Interest in this culture flooded Harrison, who even affixed the spiritual symbol of “om” to his planes.

Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison y John Lennon, junto al gurú Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, durante su visita a Gales en 1967.
Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and John Lennon, along with guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, during their visit to Wales in 1965. cordon press

One of the unique objects in the exhibition is the gold record obtained in 1971 for the concert held in New York in favor of Bangladesh, considered the first international charity in history, to denounce the famines and hardships of this nation. “It is invaluable,” Rodríguez describes. Several of the artists who have reproduced the musical thread that sounds in the rooms, confirms the director of the Casa de la India, will attend Valladolid to perform at the film festival. There is still “a surprise” pending to arrive, slide, but everything will depend on the customs that hold it. What did not bother in India, ditch, was that misinterpretation of “we are more famous than Jesus Christ” that Lennon pronounced in 1964: “They have up to 30. gods, they weren’t too worried about that. ”

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