The Beatles are still in India.
“Dear Prudence” is the name of a Beatles song written by John Lennon. It appears on the Beatles’ November 1968 double-disc White Album. Lennon wrote the song earlier that year in India, inspired by a woman named Prudence Farrow, sister of actress Mia Farrow.
The Beatles and the Farrow sisters were part of a larger group who were then visiting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on a weeks-long retreat in Rishikesh, India. It was February-March 1968.
Prudence Farrow, then focused on learning transcendental meditation (TM), stayed in her room for long periods of time. Lennon, worried she was depressed, wrote the song “Dear Prudence,” inviting her — as his lyrics would say — to “come out to play.”
“All the people around her were very worried about the girl,” Lennon would later say. “…So, we sang to her.” Lennon and George Harrison were delegated by the group to help bring Prudence out, as she had held up in her room for some time. Farrow was intent on learning the TM technique well enough to be able to teach it herself.
“I would always rush straight back to my room after lectures and meals so I could meditate,” she would later explain. “John, George and Paul would all want to sit around jamming and having a good time and I’d be flying into my room. They were all serious about what they were doing, but they just weren’t as fanatical as me…”
Later, as the Beatles were leaving India, George Harrison mentioned to Prudence that they had written a song about her. Farrow, flattered at the attention, would not hear the song until it came out on the album.
The Beatles time in India was spent in the holy "Valley of the Saints", the International Academy of Meditation, also called the Chaurasi Kutia ashram, was a 14-acre (57,000 m2) compound. It stood across the River Ganges from Rishikesh, the "yoga capital of the world" and home to many ashrams in the foothills of the Himalayas, 150 feet (46 m) above the river and surrounded by jungle. The Maharishi's facility was built in 1963 with a $100,000 gift from American heiress Doris Duke, on land leased from the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department. The training centre was designed to suit Western habits and was described variously as "luxurious" and "seedy".
Starr later compared the ashram to "a kind of spiritual Butlins" (a low-cost British holiday camp). It was built to accommodate several dozen people and each of its stone bungalows contained five rooms. Each was equipped with electric heaters, running water, toilets, and English-style furniture. According to DeHerrera, the Maharishi obtained many "special items" from a nearby village so that the Beatles rooms would have mirrors, wall-to-wall carpeting, wall coverings, "foam mattresses" and bedspreads. She wrote that "by the standard of the other" bungalows, the Beatles' cottages "looked like a palace".
The Maharishi had arranged a simple lifestyle for his guests, which included stone cottages and vegetarian meals taken outdoors in a communal setting. The days were devoted to meditating and attending lectures by the Maharishi, who spoke from a flower-bedecked platform in an auditorium. The Maharishi also gave private lessons to the individual Beatles, nominally due to their late arrival. The tranquil environment provided by the Maharishi – complete with meditation, relaxation, and away from the media throng – helped the band to relax. Harrison told Saltzman, "Like, we're The Beatles after all, aren't we? We have all the money you could ever dream of. We have all the fame you could ever wish for. But, it isn't love. It isn't health. It isn't peace inside, is it?" Lennon was respectful of the Maharishi but not in awe of him. At their first meeting Donovan remembers that the Maharishi was "amiable but non-talkative", and during an awkward silence Lennon walked across the room and patted the Maharishi on the head, saying, "There's a good little guru" while the room erupted in laughter. Maharishi cancelled the formal lectures for a time and told students to meditate for as long as possible. One student meditated for 42 straight hours, and Pattie Boyd once meditated for seven hours. Boyd's sister Jenny meditated for long periods as well, but also suffered from dysentery (misdiagnosed as tonsilitis); she said Lennon also felt unwell, suffering from jet lag and insomnia. The lengthy meditation sessions left many students moody and oversensitive. Like the 60 other students at the ashram, the Beatles adopted native dress and the ashram had a tailor on the premises to make clothes for the students. The Beatles shopped in Rishikesh and the women bought saris for themselves and to be made into shirts and jackets for the men, which affected Western fashion when the Beatles wore them after going home.
In February 1968, the Beatles travelled to Rishikesh in northern India to attend an advanced Transcendental Meditation (TM) training session at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. John with Cynthia, George with Pattie and Jenny Boyd arrived on 15 February. Paul with Jane Asher, Ringo and Maureen arrived four days later.
A few days after their arrival was George’s birthday and they had a party.
The Maharishi celebrated George’s 25th birthday and Harrison played sitar. He gave Harrison an upside-down plastic globe of the world and said: “George, the globe I am giving you symbolizes the world today. I hope you will help us all in the task of putting it right.” Harrison immediately turned the globe to its correct position, shouting, “I’ve done it!”
The Beatles in India
Among others in a group attending the retreat in India around that same time were: American actress Mia Farrow (soon to be divorced from Frank Sinatra); Mia’s sister, Prudence Farrow; Mia’s brother John; Paul Horn, jazz flautist; Lewis H. Lapham, journalist, Paul Saltzman, film-maker (and later, author of The Beatles in Rishikesh), Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan of “Sunshine Superman” fame (1966); American actress Candice Bergen; Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones; British singer Marianne Faithfull; Mike Love and Al Jardine of the Beach Boys; John Densmore and Ray Manzarek of The Doors; and Patti Harrison, Jane Asher, and a number of others.
The gathering in India, with all its high-powered celebrity, attracted a press following and a share of newspaper and magazine stories, a number of which appeared in the U.S., the U.K., and elsewhere. The Saturday Evening Post, for example, ran a featured cover story on the trip in its May 4th, 1968 edition, having sent a reporter to go with Beatles to Rishikesh. “Here’s the Scene:,” began the headline on the Post’s cover story. “The Beatles, Mia Farrow and a Post Reporter All Gather in India to Meditate with The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.” This was actually a two-part story, with the conclusion running in the Post’s May 18th edition.
Soon after the Beatles' arrival, the Maharishi arranged for a group photo of all the students. In Lapham's description, the Maharishi began preparing for the shot early one morning and approached the task as if "the director on a movie set". Instructing his assistants, he oversaw the assembly of a platform of risers, the precise placement of flowers and potted plants in front of the raised stage, and the seating allocation for each of the students from his hand-drawn diagram. The students were then called down to take their allocated seat, surrounding the Maharishi; each member was dressed in traditional Indian attire and adorned with a marigold garland of red and orange. The Maharishi had a large picture of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati – the guru evoked by Lennon in "Across the Universe" – placed behind him.
The photo took half an hour to complete while the participants sat facing the bright morning sun. In 2009, The Hindu described the result as "one of the most iconic photographs in the history of rock 'n' roll". For the Beatles' public image, their attire contrasted with the modern, psychedelic clothing they had worn on arrival from London. The photo and others from the shoot were used in Lapham's cover article for The Saturday Evening Post, a magazine that, although in decline by 1968, was influential among America's suburban middle class. Saltzman, a Canadian filmmaker who was visiting the ashram after completing film work elsewhere in India, was one of the photographers at the session. His shots from this time were compiled in his book The Beatles in Rishikesh, published in 2000.
The arrival of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in Delhi was quite different from the journey taken by John Lennon and George Harrison a few days earlier.
The world's press was now aware of The Beatles' presence in India, and cameramen and reporters were on hand as they disembarked. The flight from London had lasted 20 hours, and the group was understandably exhausted upon their arrival.
They were met in Delhi by their assistant Mal Evans, and Raghvendra from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram in Rishikesh. Garlands of red and yellow flowers were placed around the visitors' necks.
Starr was suffering pain in his arm following inoculation injections, and the party set off for a hospital. Their driver, however, lost his way and drove down a dead end in a field, along with the press convoy. One local reporter eventually led them to the hospital.
Afterwards they began the 150-mile journey to Rishikesh. The Academy of Transcendental Meditation was situated 150 feet above the Ganges, and was surrounded by mountainous jungles.
There was an Indian driver and Raghvendra from the camp in front and me and Jane Asher in the back and it was long and it was dusty and it was not a very good car and it was one of those journeys, but great and exciting. I remember these Indian guys talking in what was obviously an Indian language and I was starting to doze off in the car in the back because once you were two hours into the journey the tourism had worn off a little. It was fascinating seeing naked holy men and the kind of thing you just don't see unless it's late-night Soho, and the ones you tend to see in Soho tend to be covered in shit and very drunk. I slipped into sleep, a fitful back-of-the-car sort of sleep. It was quite bumpy, and the guys were chattering away, but in my twilight zone of sleeping it sounded like they were talking Liverpool. If you listened closely, it so nearly slid into it. There was like a little segue into very fast colloquial Liverpool. And I was thinking, Uh, where the fuck am I? What? Oh, it's Bengali, and I would just drop off again. 'Yabba yabba, are yer comin' oot then, lad?' It was a strange little twilight experience. It was a long journey. (Paul McCartney)
Paul McCartney, his partner Jane Asher, plus Ringo Starr and his wife Maureen, flew from London Airport on this day. They were bound for Delhi, India, where John Lennon and George Harrison had arrived three days earlier.
On the flight over, we, Paul and I, decided to go the whole way, and become vegetarians. I shall still eat eggs, but that's it. That's about all in that line. I suppose it would be better to call us 'fruit-atarians' than anything else. We all think it is a lot healthier than eating meat, anyway. (Ringo Starr)
The 20-hour flight lasted through the night, and they touched down in Delhi early on 20 February.
Usually, I tell people I want to get somewhere quietly, and it turns out that everyone knows. A hundred people are in on the secret. I know what it is; the airline likes to get you photographed with the name. This time, we just drove into Delhi, got a ticket, and that was it. We stopped off in Tehran and this blog from the airline came up and said, 'Excuse me, are you one of The Beatles?' So I said, 'No,' and he just walked away and that was that. I guess we're not too big in Tehran. (Ringo Starr)