A look at the Beatles’ guru who introduced Transcendental Meditation to the West.
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The Beatles’ trip to India in 1968 cast a bright light on their spiritual guide, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and helped popularize the practice of Transcendental Meditation in the West. But who was the Maharishi? Here are eight fast facts about the guru who first captivated so much of the world 50 years ago.
Haynes Archive/Popperfoto via Getty ImagesHis name literally means “great seer.”Born Mahesh Prasad Varma in Jabalpur, India, around 1918 ― no one, including the Maharishi himself, ever settled on an exact date ― the future guru gave himself the title of Maharishi as an adult, which in English translates to “great seer.”
Haynes Archive/Popperfoto via Getty ImagesHe came to meditation by way of physics.The Maharishi originally pursued a career in physics, his studies leading him to a deep interest in vibrations and how certain sounds could change a person’s consciousness. With this newfound spiritual awakening, he quit school and became a disciple of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, a.k.a. “Guru Dev,” who was later name-checked in the Beatles’ 1969 tune, “Across the Universe:” “Jai Guru Deva, Om …”NY Daily News via Getty ImagesHe brought Transcendental Meditation to millions.Credited as the originator of Transcendental Meditation, the Maharishi brought his practice to the United States in 1959. Also known as T.M., the technique claims ― legitimately, according to millions of its practitioners around the globe ― to bring about deep relaxation, good health, and inner fulfillment.Rolls Press/Popperfoto via Getty ImagesHe was known as the “Giggling Guru.”Frequently photographed with a Cheshire Cat grin across his face, the Maharishi was often called the “Giggling Guru” by fans and critics, alike.
Keystone Features/Getty ImagesHe inspired the Beatles song, “Sexy Sadie.”The Beatles’ 1968 trip to India ended with John Lennon and George Harrison confronting the Maharishi over rumors that he had made unwanted sexual advances towards the newly divorced Mia Farrow, who also studied with the guru at the time. One story has it that en route to the Palam Airport in Delhi, Lennon sang, “Maharishi, what have you done?” Harrison apparently objected to the bluntness of the line, so “Maharishi” was changed to “Sexy Sadie.”mark peterson/Corbis via Getty ImagesDeepak Chopra once brought him back to life.New Age author Deepak Chopra studied meditation with the Maharishi in the 1980s. One day in 1991, the Maharishi fell mysteriously ill and was rushed from India to England for emergency care. He was pronounced dead upon arrival, prompting Chopra to call for cardiac resuscitation. The guru was revived within minutes and Chopra became his primary caretaker while he recovered in London.Ron Bull/Toronto Star via Getty ImagesHe claimed he could teach his followers to “fly.”Later in life, the Maharishi began teaching “yogic flying,” a practice that, he claimed, granted practitioners the power to levitate. The cost of classes ran to thousands of dollars per person, and far from “flying,” anyone engaged in the practice was often described as looking like he or she was “hopping like a frog.”
Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty ImagesYou can study yoga in the same place the Maharishi taught the Beatles.The ashram where the Beatles studied with the Maharishi, which had been closed for more than three decades, has been revamped into a yoga retreat for those looking to walk, or meditate, in the Fab Four’s footsteps.