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24th February, 2023

George Harrison’s 25th birthday bash at The Beatles Ashram, India

25th February 1968: It was a normal day for George Harrison at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram in Rishikesh, India. After devoting time in meditation, socialising, walking around the campus, interacting on spiritual issues and other routine stuff, the boys from Liverpool took dinner. Another routine day in the spiritual camp in the Indian Himalayas. But…it concluded dramatically. 

A day to remember 
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and other Beatles group members had made big plans to surprise birthday boy George Harrison. As the dinner finished, everyone headed for the big assembly hall of the Ashram. George had no idea about the celebration, and he was kept in the dark till the last minute. Only after entering the assembly hall, Harrison realised that the guests had gathered to celebrate his 25th birthday. It was a pleasant surprise for him! 
Maharishi and other Beatles group members had minutely planned the event and even the five-pound cake came all the way from Dehradun, located 45km from Rishikesh. A small group of musicians were invited from Dehradun to perform. All this was done secretly. The Beatles and Maharishi sat cross-legged on the stage and a portrait of the Maharishi’s Guru Shankarachrya Brahmananda Saraswati was placed in the middle of the stage. The hall was decorated with colourful balloons and flowers that day.
The birthday bash was a mix of traditional Hindu rituals and western culture. It started with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi applying sandalwood ‘Tilak’ (a mark) on the forehead of the birthday boy and George garlanding the Guru. The atmosphere inside the hall was special with George Harrison, Pattie Boyd, John Lennon, Cynthia Lennon, Jane Asher, Paul McCartney and others looking stunning in traditional Indian clothes.
Photographer Ram Panjabi covered the birthday party for an Indian newspaper and on the event he said, “About six dozen participants from ten different countries were in the hall. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi presented a plastic globe as a birthday gift to George Harrison. The mood of the hall was very special.” Panjabi died in 2015 and was the only local photographer to attend the event at Maharishi Ashram in Rishikesh.

Photographer Ram Panjabi (Photo: Abhey Rajan)


Each member of The Beatles, their wives and their friends garlanded Harrison and very soon the birthday boy was overloaded with marigold garlands. Musicians from Dehradun including Ajit Singh (Vichetra Veena), Vasudev Deshpandey (vocal) and Sunder Shrivastava (tabla) gave a short performance. George played sitar for about 20 minutes to enthral the crowd. It was followed by The Beach Boys’ Mike Love singing a hymn on meditation. Maharishi gave a talk on ‘philosophy of action’ and the party ended with a firework display outside the hall.
The erstwhile spiritual camp of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh is no less than a pilgrimage for Beatles and music fans. Walking inside the Chaurasi Kutiya, the official name of the campus, takes the visitors on an epic journey into 1968 when the world-famous Beatles were here. Leading a simple life by eating pure vegetarian food and wearing Indian clothes, the tour created worldwide curiosity about Rishikesh, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Transcendental Meditation, Yoga, Hinduism, and spirituality. 

The present condition of the hall 
The hall where George Harrison celebrated his 25th birthday still exists. But, the present condition of the building will shock the visitors. In fact, most of the buildings inside the campus are in a bad shape. The structures were vandalized and damaged by miscreants after 1999 - turning Chaurasi Kutiya into ruins of 200 odd buildings. The hall with a completely damaged roof is unlikely to provide you any protection from rain and scorching heat. The stage where the boys from Liverpool sat cross legged with their Guru is still intact. Graffiti with words ‘Let it be’ is painted on the platform where the portrait of the Maharishi’s Guru Shankarachrya Brahmananda Saraswati was placed that day. Ajit Singh, who played Vichetra Veena at Harrison’s birthday party, visited the former Ashram of Maharishi after 3-4 decades in 2019 and admitted, “I was in deep pain after watching the damaged buildings. My feeling was natural as I had seen the lively Ashram, with vibrant activities taking place.” Ajit Singh was working as music teacher with the Doon School. He supplied musical instruments and even repaired a guitar of John Lennon during his stay in the holy township. He died in 2021, and was a source of information about the 1968 tour of the Fab Four. 

Assemby hall where George Harrison's 25th birthday was celebrated (Photo: Anil Rawat)

Beatles bungalow

The bungalow that housed The Beatles (Photo: Raju Gusain)

The bungalow where The Beatles, their wives and their friends stayed is located near the back gate of the spiritual camp. The building was named ‘Rishikesh Hilton’ by the media in 1968 as it offered modern facilities. Even the so-called modern facilities were basic in nature: bunk beds, drawers, bathtubs, curtains. The bungalow remained neglected for a long time and it was identified by American author, meditation teacher, and film producer Prudence Anne Villiers Farrow in 2018. 

Saptpuri Complex where The Beatles were housed (Photo: Raju Gusain)

Prudence was among the famous celebrities to visit the holy town with The Beatles in 1968 to learn meditation from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. She stayed in the same building with the band members and The Beatles composed their famous song, ‘Dear Prudence, won't you come out to play, Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day, The sun is up, the sky is blue, It's beautiful and so are you…’ about her. The visitors can walk around the room where George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr had stayed. They can even see the steps where the boys from Liverpool used to play guitars and compose songs.

Prudence Farrow's room at the Ashram (Photo: Raju Gusain)


The Prudence Farrow at erstwhile camp of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh on 23 January 2018 (Photo Raju Nautiyal)

Maharishi’s house

The small compact house of Maharishi, with verandas on three sides, is another attraction for Beatles and music fans at the Chaurasi Kutiya. In 1968, George, John, Paul and Ringo used to visit the house regularly, where their Guru used to host private sessions for them. They used to sit on the roof, where one can hear the magical sound of the majestically flowing holy Ganga river. 

Photographer Ram Panjabi

I visited Chaurasi Kutiya for the first time in 2003. The place took me under its spell. I began searching archival material about the Ashram. One day I was interacting with my friend Biju Negi, a key member of the Beej Bachao Andolan (save the seed movement), and he shared an interesting incident. Biju Negi said, “I was a diehard Beatles fan and even started wearing an earring like Ringo. But, my efforts to adopt a hairstyle like the Beatles landed me in trouble. My father was an army officer and he scolded me badly for keeping long hair. Finally, I had to trim it.

Biju Negi provided me with some newspaper clippings of 1968. Among the clippings I found a report on the 25th birthday of George Harrison by Ram Panjabi. I started searching Panjabi vigorously and approached many veteran photographers of Dehradun. I failed to get any clues for many years.
A visit to Book World, one of the oldest book shops in Dehradun, helped me get the latest information about Ram Panjabi. Randhir Arora, the owner of Book World, provided me with the contact number of Ram Panjabi. After interacting with Panjabi many times, getting prints of photographs took over four years. Ram Panjabi in his email stated, “My huge stock of slides and negatives are in a mess. Earlier I thought there was not much interest left in The Beatles and so I did not bother too much about their negatives. So, I had difficulty finding it. If I can find different or better pictures I will send them to you."

George Harrison and Pattie Boyd (Photo: Ram Panjabi)

The four photographs, which Ram Panjabi took during Harrison's birthday, remain one of the most prized possessions of my collection. The good news is that the Panjabi family is planning to digitize the photo collection. Disclosing this, Shalini Panjabi, daughter of Ram Panjabi, says, “We have plans to digitize his photo collection and hopefully can start soon.” 
Present management

The Rajaji Tiger Reserve of the Uttarakhand Forest Department now controls the former Ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, popularly known as the Beatles Ashram, in Rishikesh. The Uttarakhand government is planning to turn Chaurasi Kutiya into an international destination and a proposal regarding it was passed recently by the state wildlife board. Saket Badola, the director of Rajaji Tiger Reserve, says, “We will renovate Chaurasi Kutiya, in a phased manner, to make it an international destination. It will provide a new experience to the visitors.”

Mural painting on wall of assembly hall (Photo: Raju Gusain)

After 1999, the Ashram remained closed for visitors until 2015. Tourists used to get inside the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram illegally through broken walls. Because of the interest of visitors, especially western tourists, the former campus of Maharishi forced the Uttarakhand government to reopen it. The bushes were trimmed, and many tourist facilities were added. The Chaurasi Kutiya was reopened for guests on 5th December 2015. 

Visitor leaflet for Chaurasi Kutiya (Courtesy Rajaji Tiger Reserve)

In these bygone eight years, The Beatles Ashram has witnessed a big jump in tourist numbers. Besides exploring the link of the camp with the Fab Four, the visitors tour for viewing the mural paintings. Indian youths find the place charming for taking selfies. Many guests ask one question repeatedly, “Where is the painting hall?” 

Mural painting (Photo: Raju Gusain)

Now it is your chance to explore the Chaurasi Kutiya. Walk on the path used by Maharishi and the boys from Liverpool. 

Front Gate of Chaurasi Kutiya (Photo: Raju Gusain)

Raju Gusain

Raju is a journalist based in Dehradun, India. He regularly conducts heritage walks of the Chaurasi Kutiya, popularly known as Beatles Ashram. Raju is also The Beatles Story's Indian Ambassador.

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