Tuesday, November 1, 2016

George Harrison in India - 1966

Through Hinduism, I feel a better person. I just get happier and happier. I now feel that I am unlimited, and I am more in control…" ~ George Harrison (1943-2001)

Harrison's spiritual quest began in his mid-20s, when he realized that "Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot..." This search led him to delve deep into the mystical world of Eastern religions, especially Hinduism, Indian philosophy, culture, and music. Harrison’s 1966 trip to India, two years before The Beatles' publicized journey, was a major catalyst in the development of the Beatles' sound, and pop music was forever changed by his sitar tutelage under Ravi Shankar. It's hard to believe that we are coming up on the 15th anniversary of the death of George Harrison. For me, and for so many others, his legacy remains as fresh and as vibrant as 50 years ago.

By most accounts, George first became interested in Indian music when he picked up a sitar during a break in the filming of The Beatles’ second film, Help!, in 1965. The film featured an absurd plot with cartoonish Indian villains and imagery. His curiosity in the sitar, which made its wobbly Western music debut in the song "Norwegian wood" later that year, led to a meeting with Indian musician/virtuoso Ravi Shankar, which in turn led to George's infatuation and immersion into Indian culture, food and Hinduism. These chance events would ultimately make a significant impact upon The Beatles and Western culture.

By the late 1960s, The Beatles were wearing Indian-style clothing, spouting religious and philosophical aphorisms that seemed borrowed from Eastern thought, and in 1968, visiting India for a highly-publicized Transcendental Meditation training with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. For John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, their interest in Indian/Hindu culture was fleeting, though it  led John and Paul to become vegetarians. Ringo just went along for the ride, wearing colorful clothes for a moment, but remained an ordinary, unpretentious Northern English lad who embraced his working-class attitudes and customs.

For George, India overhauled his life and philosophies. He learned to play the sitar, he read Hindu texts, he meditated, he chanted, he frequently visited India, he dressed in Indian-style clothes, and he became deeply involved in the Hare Krishna consciousness movement. His thoughts and activities influenced millions around the globe. Indeed, tens of thousands of Westerners became interested in India, learned about yoga (which itself, ironically, metamorphosed into a billion-dollar industry), all due to a poor Irish-Catholic boy from Liverpool with no education and a vocal range. George Harrison had a ready-made global audience of hundreds of millions due to The Beatles immense fame and popularity, and the instantaneous power of global mass media. Handsome, smart and charming, George was the ideal P.R. man for the subcontinent and Hindu culture.