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Friday, 30 November, 2001, 14:14 GMT
Harrison's Eastern roots
Harrison
Harrison, right, led the Beatles' spiritual quest
By BBC News Online's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi

India and the Beatles have always shared a special relationship with the Liverpool band being seen by many as bringing Indian music to the West.

The 1960s counter-culture of alternative lifestyles, drugs and anti-materialism was a perfect time for anyone seeking cultural, personal and sexual freedom.

Just imagine some Indian villager trying to play the violin when you know what it should sound like

Ravi Shankar on Harrison's attempt at the sitar
And it is the former Beatle, George Harrison, who was the impetus for the group's spiritual quest of the 1960s which brought them to this country.

In 1965, on the set of the Beatles' second film, Help, he discovered the Indian string instrument, the sitar.

Soon after, the group recorded the song Norwegian Wood - becoming the first western rock band to use the sitar and herald the short lived "raga-rock" genre.

A year later, Harrison was in India, to learn how to play the instrument under the renowned sitar maestro Ravi Shankar.

Ravi Shankar

In an interview with the BBC's Mark Tully in April 2000, Shankar said when he first heard Harrison playing the sitar in Norwegian Wood, he was not impressed.

Ravi Shankar
Shankar struck up a friendship with Harrison in 1966
"I couldn't believe it," he said, "it sounded so strange. Just imagine some Indian villager trying to play the violin when you know what it should sound like."

But the partnership was to endure, despite Shankar's objection to the Beatle's experiments with drugs and the hippie generation's misrepresentation of India.

George was easily the most naive of the Beatles, but he was also the most sincere

Indian journalist Saeed Naqvi
Harrison produced some of Shankar's albums including the very successful Chants of India.

Harrison and Shankar also inspired the 1971 concert for Bangladesh, the first major rock charity fundraiser.

But Harrison's attraction to India did not end at furthering his musical boundaries - he led the Beatles in exploring Eastern mysticism, something which was to change him profoundly.

Spiritual journey

One reason he became interested in India, he was to say in a 1992 interview, was because "it unlocked this enormous big door in the back of my consciousness".

It brought him in close contact with an Indian spiritual guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Harrison
Harrison became deeply interested in India
Indian journalist Saeed Naqvi shared an apartment with Harrison at the Maharishi's retreat on the banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh, where they were attending a course on transcendental meditation.

"George was easily the most naive of the Beatles, but he was also the most sincere. The others were out to have some fun but George was serious about India and the Maharishi," he told BBC News Online.

"I remember his spending hours outside the Maharishi's room, playing the sitar and composing - he even composed a piece with Donovan which was never cut."

Eventually he became a devotee of the Hindu God Krishna, donating large sums of money to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and even donating a 23-acre site outside London to the movement.

He also incorporated the trademark Hare Krishna chants in his music.

The 1960s have long passed and India is now home to the MTV generation.

But for some, Harrison brings back memories of a time when the West turned to India for inspiration and enlightenment.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Sanjiv Srivastava
"It was George's interest in Eastern spiritualism which lead the other Beatles... to become disciples of Mahesh Yogi"


The quiet Beatle

The Beatles years

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07 Apr 00 | South Asia
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