The Maharishi has left the building.
New Zealand discovered the Maharishi long before the Beatles. He visited here in March 1962 and it has to be said reactions were sceptical. Truth’s reporter walked out of the lecture in the Wellington town hall. The yogi said that meditation can release tension, he scoffed. The yogi said that tension is the cause of all diseases. And, said the yogi, to meditate a person had to have the word.
To get the “word,’ the Maharishi told us, one has to see him privately. Because everybody needs a different word. “Ridiculous,” somebody muttered. I agreed and left. So did others in the audience.
Next day, overcome by curiosity, I telephoned to find out how much it costs to get the “word”. “A week’s wages,” one of the Maharishi’s assistants told me.
Nevertheless the reporter, shoeless and gazing, fronts up to a personal session with the Maharishi:
I felt I should say something and asked if he used the Tantric system. “Do not speak to me of the Tantric system.” I asked him to tell me about the “word.” He pierced me with a look as sharp as a quaint oriental dagger and asked did I, or did I not, want to be initiated? “You come to my lecture tonight and hear me more,” he said. I didn’t get the word. But I got the message.
Just in case their readers didn’t get the message, Truth placed the story underneath another about a hairy recluse who had gone missing in the Coromandel:
The Maharishi also fronted up to a parliament of Wellington students. David McGill, then a student teacher, mentions the occasion in last year’s eccentric memoir The Treadmill Tapes: Confessions of a Compulsive Pop Picker:
I [was] one of the students packed into the Victoria University Little Theatre to hear him enlighten us. Instead, he was asking for money. One of us explained that we had none. “Ask your parents,” he chuckled.
Couldn’t they take out a student loan?
John Lennon was looking in some kaleidoscope mirror when he sang that the transcendental meditation guru “made a fool out of everyone.” I suspect that was why he wrote ‘Sexy Sadie’, about the Beatles’ time in India, rather than outrage at the twinkling Indian’s alleged groping of Mia Farrow’s sister Prudence.
Ringo left early because he didn’t like the food, although he had brought a suitcase full of baked beans with him.
The others brought their acoustic guitars – and probably suitcases full of jazz cigarettes – so they got a lot more out of the 1968 sojourn in Rishikesh, at least in the material world.
Lennon and McCartney composed many of the songs on “White Album” there. Among them was ‘Dear Prudence’ (“won’t you come out and play”), written about Miss Farrow when she wouldn’t come out of her ashram to join the celebrity karmathon: all four Beatles, Donovan, Patti Boyd and sister Jenny, Cynthia Lennon and Mike (Give Me) Love of the Beach Boys. Also in that batch of songs were ‘Julia’, ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ and ‘Blackbird’ (the latter written with Diana Ross in mind).
As it turns out the alleged groping of Farrow was a rumour spread by hippie opportunist Alexis Mardas, the in-house “inventor” at Apple Records, who wanted to undermine the Maharishi’s influence on the Beatles. I can hear “Magic Alex” manipulating his patrons: Why leave London, when I have a machine to make you levitate? Sadly, there were four vulnerable fools on the hill.
Left: the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi descends with Mia Farrow.
The Beatles – and especially Harrison’s – interest in India had a huge effect on future generations, in lifestyles, attitudes to Eastern religions and what became “world music”. For everything but chicken tikka, we can give thanks to George.