Across the Universe Into the Jungle
What happens when music icons venture to an ashram in India to study meditation, write some of their most famous songs, and unwittingly inspire a radical shift in western spirituality? The holy site becomes wholly forgotten.
In 1968 The Beatles put Rishikesh on the map, and om on the lips of the world. Their stay at Chaurasi Kutia, also known as the International Academy of Meditation, drew international attention and awakened the western world’s continuing fascination for yoga and meditation.
Astonishingly, today the Maharishi’s 14-acre compound is not a lucrative tourist attraction or a flourishing spiritual center, but an abandoned ashram swiftly being consumed by the thick Himalayan forest. There are no site maps, brochures, or local touts eager to earn a few rupees off the back of the world’s most famous band. The closest thing to a tourist trap you will find is a local squatter kindly demanding a modest gatekeeping fee.
Armed with a map hand-drawn on a paper napkin and directions from an American tourist I met on the shores of the Ganges River, I finally found the ashram in the cooling late day sun. The meditation huts where the Beatles once pondered the mysteries of life (and wrote about 30 of their songs) were blanketed by a thick patchwork of vines and jungle flowers, and shrouded in a silence all too eerie for India. My presence seemed somehow illicit, even in this riotous country where anything goes.
The luxurious, teak-furnished compound was abandoned by the Maharishi in 1970 due to apparent tax evasion; the beginning of a lifetime of accusations of corruption and spiritual misconduct that would continue until his death in 2008. The compound was finally deserted by the state government 20 years ago, and has most recently been proposed as the location for a sanitarium.
Like the eventual disillusionment felt by the fab four for their guru (due to allegations of indecent sexual behavior), the ashram has dissolved into a meagre shadow of its former grandeur. The main lecture hall and dormitories have long since been looted and vandalized with sad attempts at forged Lennon signatures, and the meditation ‘hives’ are crumbling. In its abandonment, the Beatles ashram has become a graveyard of memories and secrets. Once the source of profound musical inspiration, all adventurous fans should visit, before there’s nothing left to see.
Mara Munro is a Kripalu yoga teacher and freelance writer still waiting on the magical inspiration for her own billion dollar albums. Contact her and she’ll send you a hand-drawn map to lead you to the lost Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh.