Abandoned: The Beatles in Rishikesh

Beatles in Rishikesh / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2012
Beatles in Rishikesh / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2012


Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as oneImagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one
– John Lenon, lead singer and song writer of Beatles, 1971

The Beatles visited Rishikesh in India, in February, 1968 to attend an advanced Transcendental Meditation ( TM ) training session, at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Pepped by the  widespread media attention, their stay at the ashram was one of the band’s most productive periods. Their adoption of the Maharishi as their guru is credited by some as changing attitudes in the West about Indian spirituality and encouraged the study of Transcendental Meditation.

The Beatles had first met the Maharishi in London in August, 1967 and then attended a seminar in Bangor, Wales. Although this seminar in Wales was planned to be a 10-day session, their stay was cut short by the death of their manager, Brian Epstein. Wanting to learn more, they kept in contact with the Maharishi and planned to attend his ashram in October, but their trip was rescheduled due to other commitments.

Finally, The Beatles arrived at the ashram in February 1968, along with their partners, girlfriends, assistants and numerous reporters. They joined the 60 other TM students, including musiciansDonovan, Mike Love of the Beach Boys and flautist Paul Horn. While there, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison wrote many songs ( Ringo Starr wrote one ), of which eighteen were later recorded for ‘The Beatles ( White Album )’, two for ‘Abbey Road’ and others for solo works.  The trip to India was the last time all four Beatles travelled abroad together.

In the year 2012, I had taken a road trip to Himalayas and on my way back I went to Rishikesh. The off season rains and intense cold didn’t stop my explorations. As a lover of The Beatles, I wanted to visit the ashram in which they had stayed. Going by the knowledge I had of the historical visit, I thought that finding the ashram will be an easy task. Preparing myself for a short walk, I started inquiring people about the ashram, the famous ashram that was visited by the Beatles. To my surprise, not many knew about the ashram and I had to walk more than ten kms, going in rounds to locate the now abandoned ashram… I was shivering in cold when the lone guard of the ashram stopped me from entering. He thought that I was a wanderer looking out for a place to spend the day. Not wanting to enlighten him of my purpose of visit, I bribed him and entered the ashram. My small pocket camera poses no threat to anybody.
The Maharishi’s compound is across from River Ganga, located in the holy “Valley of the Saints” in the foothills of the Himalayas. The ashram was abandoned in the year 1997 and has been under the control of the forest department. The forest undergrowth is what’s left of the original Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram. The remnants of the sprawling ashram buildings, meditation cells and lecture halls could be found, including Maharishi’s own house and the guest house where the Beatles had stayed….

( Continued )

Contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad is noted for his maverick experimental photographic works. Overall, the corpus of Azad’s work can be seen to have a thrust towards an archive of local micro-history at the level of personal memory and in that sense, his works add up to a kind of social anthropology of his land and its people, though not necessarily in the line of tradition of the objective documentary.His works are predominantly autobiographical and expose the areas of politics, culture, contemporary history, gender and eroticism. His works attempts a re-reading of contemporary Indian history – the history in which ordinary people are absent and mainly provided by beautiful images and icons. Using the same tool, photography, that chisels history out of a block of ‘real’ human experiences, Abul makes a parody of it.

Abul Kalam Azad is the visionary behind EtP (Ekalokam Trust for Photography) and serves as the Director of Project 365, the public photo-art project that collectively creates and preserves photographic visuals of the fast vanishing culture, divergent landscape and pluralistic culture of ancient Dravidian society. In this series of memoirs, Abul shares interesting anecdotes and information about his photographs and the people in his photographs.

Miniature ART notebooks_promo images_Leo James (8)
Beatles in Rishikesh / Miniature PHOTO Notebook

Ekalokam collective, a firm set-up to merchandise art in every day life has published a miniature photo-notebook titled ‘the Beatles in Rishikesh’. The Beatles in Rishikesh has been exhibited by Apparao Galleries and United Art Fair II curated by noted photographer and art curator, Ram Rahman.




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