Leaving India

The first of the party to leave Rishikesh were Ringo Starr and his wife Maureen, who lasted until 1 March 1968, less than a fortnight after their arrival in India.

The couple missed their children, and Maureen couldn’t stand the insects which were seemingly a constant presence. Additionally, Ringo found the spicy food disagreed with him – an intolerance caused by a childhood bout of peritonitis. He had brought a consignment of baked beans with him, and feasted on especially-prepared eggs while in Rishikesh, but found it not enough to entice him to stay.

Paul McCartney and Jane Asher also left early, on 26 March.

Paul was keen to get back to London and Apple, the business the Beatles were about to launch. The Apple shop had opened just before we left but there was an office to find and a new manager to replace Brian. He had always been more interested in business than the others and I guess a month of meditating was enough for him.

The last of The Beatles to leave Rishikesh were John Lennon and George Harrison, who exited the compound on 12 April. With them were Cynthia Lennon, Pattie Harrison, and ’Magic’ Alex Mardas.

A couple of weeks before we were due to leave, Magic Alex accused the Maharishi of behaving improperly with a young American girl, who was a fellow student. Without allowing the Maharishi an opportunity to defend himself, John and George chose to believe Alex and decided we must all leave.

I was upset. I had seen Alex with the girl, who was young and impressionable, and I wondered whether he – whom I had never once seen meditating – was being rather mischievous. I was surprised that John and George had both chosen to believe him. It was only when John and I talked later that he told me he had begun to feel disenchanted with the Maharishi’s behavior. He felt that, for a spiritual man, the Maharishi had too much interest in public recognition, celebrities and money.

Cynthia Lennon

Mardas arranged taxis to take the party to the airport in Delhi. They planned to stay the night there, but managed to catch an overnight flight back to London.

There was a big hullabaloo about [Maharishi] trying to rape Mia Farrow or trying to get off with Mia Farrow and a few other women, things like that. And we went down to him and we’d stayed up all night discussing, was it true or not true. And when George started thinking it might be true, I thought, ‘Well it must be true, ’cause if George is doubting it, there must be something in it.’ So we went to see Maharishi, the whole gang of us the next day charged down to his hut, his very rich-looking bungalow in the mountains. And I was the spokesman – as usual, when the dirty work came, I actually had to be leader, whatever the scene was, when it came to the nitty gritty I had to do the speaking. And I said, ‘We’re leaving.’

‘Why?’ Hee-hee, all that shit. And I said, ‘Well if you’re so cosmic, you’ll know why. He was always intimating, and there were all his right hand men intimating that he did miracles. He said, ‘I don’t know why, you must tell me.’ And I just kept saying, ‘You know why’ – and he gave me a look like, ‘I’ll kill you, bastard.’ He gave me such a look, and I knew then when he looked at me, because I’d called his bluff. And I was a bit rough to him.

John Lennon
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

As they waited to leave, Lennon began writing the song that would become ‘Sexy Sadie’.

That was written just as we were leaving, waiting for our bags to be packed in the taxi that never seemed to come. We thought: ‘They’re deliberately keeping the taxi back so as we can’t escape from this madman’s camp.’ And we had the mad Greek with us who was paranoid as hell. He kept saying, ‘It’s black magic, black magic. They’re gonna keep you here forever.’ I must have got away because I’m here.
John Lennon, 1974

Lennon began singing the song as he and George Harrison travelled to Delhi.

John had a song he had started to write which he was singing: ‘Maharishi, what have you done?’ and I said, ‘You can’t say that, it’s ridiculous.’ I came up with the title of Sexy Sadie and John changed ‘Maharishi’ to ‘Sexy Sadie’. John flew back to Yoko in England and I went to Madras and the south of India and spent another few weeks there.
George Harrison

George and Pattie Harrison visited Ravi Shankar in Madras, where they remained until 21 April 1968.

Of The Beatles, only George Harrison kept a significant spiritual connection with India. He visited the country a number of times after the 1960s, consolidating his interest in Indian spirituality and music.

He retained a keen interest in Indian music and philosophy throughout his life. Among his close friends and collaborators was the great sitar player Ravi Shankar, with whom Harrison collaborated on several live shows and record releases.

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Harrison died in 2001. His ashes were taken to the family’s home in Hawaii, before being scattered in the River Ganges in a private ceremony. His family issued a statement, saying: “He left this world as he lived in it, conscious of God, fearless of death, and at peace, surrounded by family and friends. He often said, ‘Everything else can wait but the search for God cannot wait, and love one another’.”

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