Rebuilding on the Beatles, an Ashram in India Hopes for Revival


The ashram remained operational for many decades after the band left, housing dozens of straight-backed sadhus, or holy men, in small domed huts. But in the early 2000s, the land was taken over by the Indian government, leading to its abandonment, except for wandering leopards and elephants from a nearby nature reserve. In 2008, the Maharishi, who had moved to Europe, died.




By the time the ashram was reopened to the public in 2015, part of a campaign to draw tourists to the area, most of the buildings had been vandalized by young lovers, who had hobbled over broken security walls to scrawl sweet nothings, and the occasional phallus, on the mildewed walls of remaining structures.

An industrial, open-air building nicknamed “The Beatles Cathedral Gallery” was also co-opted by an artist’s collective and filled with hundreds of quotes from the band’s songs.

Tourist numbers are still low, with around 13,000 people, mostly Indians, visiting the ashram last year. But Macarena Arraez, 30, from Spain, brightened when asked about the planned renovations, saying the ashram had great potential for raves and fashion photo shoots.

Relaxing outside the meditation caves, Ms. Arraez had spent part of the morning meditating, and the experience had left her overwhelmed. “I was looking for the most spiritual place in the world and that’s what I found,” she said.

Photo

An abandoned building known as the Beatles Cathedral has been decorated with murals and artwork.

Credit
The New York Times

Down below the ashram, yoga institutes have mushroomed along the Ganges, where visitors from across the world thumb through books by Osho, smear vermilion on their foreheads and shop for chunks of crystal.

A gluten-free cafe devoted to The Beatles’ music, which overlooks a slab of hills blanketed with mist, also draws steady business.

But longtime Indian visitors said the Rishikesh that existed around the time The Beatles arrived and the one today are hard to reconcile.

Bhuvneshwari Makharia, from Mumbai, who has visited Rishikesh for years, said the rigor of the ashrams and yoga programs have been gradually diluted to meet the expectations of foreigners looking for a quick cosmic fix.

“If they come, they should come for our culture, not for it to be westernized,” she said. “We are designing ourselves as per their demands.”

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