Beatles at Ganges: Srawberry Fields Forever & Swar-Mandal

On the auspicious occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi,  falling on 02 September 2019, AZIMVTH Ashram acquired Swar-Mandal, an ethnic stringed musical instrument from Shri Ajit Singh ji, an 80 years old Sikh bachelor who also provided a Swar-Mandal to The Beatles when the band-members stayed about 25 km away from Haridwar, for couple of months in 1968. The band composed about 2 dozen songs inspired with the holy Ganges which flows about a hundred metres away from the place where they stayed. Two of the songs bear the names of the local towns – Hrishikesh and Dehradun, the latter one was never released. This stay near Haridwar was the most professionally productive time of the band. They also learned and practiced Transcendental Meditation.

Swar-Mandal – The Swar-Mandal or Indian harp is sometimes used as an accompanying instrument for vocal Indian classical music. The name combines swara (notes) and mandal (group), representing its ability to produce many notes; it is also known popularly as surmandal. Vocalist Kishori Amonkar used it often.

Following is a short (1 minute) recording of an experimental piece played on this swarmandal.

Harrison became a vegetarian in the late 1960s. Trading in meat or non-vegetarian food is prohibited by law in the Haridwar-Rishikesh region.

Beatles Ashram – George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Donovan, Mike Love, Paul Horn, Mia Farrow, and scores of other artists were staying together



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on the banks of Ganges in a place now know as ‘Beatles Ashram’ which actually used to be the head-quarters of Transcendental Meditation. There is another ‘Vitthal Ashram’ in the vicinity. The two ashrams are entirely unrelated. Vitthal is another name for Lord Krishna. The Beatles Ashram was a thriving community with its in-house printing press and many other facilities. It is now an abandoned place and is only of touristic / heritage interests. (Images in the slide-show above: Beatles Ashram on Ganges).

Strawberry Fields Forever – George Harrison played Swar-Mandal in at least two of the publicly released songs by The Beatles. Their titles are “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Within You Without You”. After his death, in a private ceremony, according to the Hindu tradition, his close family scattered his ashes in the Ganges.

Hare Krishna Mantra – In mid-1969, Harrison had produced the single “Hare Krishna Mantra”.  In 2009, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce awarded Harrison a star on the Walk of Fame. During the ceremony to unveil the star, Harrison’s son Dhani spoke the Hare Krishna mantra.

Ajit Singh – Ajit Singh ji himself used to play Vichitra-Veena, another ethnic Indian Beatles and Ajit Singhmusical instrument. He used to often return the visit of Beatles and would perform with them. Pratap Singh ji, his grandfather was a famed music-Guru in Afghanistan. The family had later shifted to Lahore and then finally to Dehradun. (Image to the right: (From left) George Harrison, Pattie Boyd, John Lennon, Nicholas Nugent, Ajit Singh, and a volunteer teacher Swar-Mandal - bannerSteve Browne holding the dilruba. Image credits – Ram Panjabi and Express Archive)

In 1958, Eric Newby authored “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush”, a book about his walking / climbing expeditions in Afghanistan. About ten years later, he came to Haridwar for a boating expedition starting from Haridwar to the Bay of Bengal. He documented this in his book titled “Slowly Down the Ganges”.

Orders of the British Empire – Harrison was awarded MBE and Newby a CBE award of the British government. Another artist who also received MBE stayed at AZIMVTH Ashram in 2018.

Afghanistan – In 1839, the Dost Mohammad Khan (Emir of Afghanistan) was exiled by the British to Dehra Dun. Forty years later his grandson, Mohammad Yaqub Khan, was sent to exile to India in 1879. Just like his grandfather, he chose Doon valley as his abode. Yakub became the first Afghan to formally settle in Dehradun. The grand-mother of Ashraf Ghani, the current President of Afghanistan,  grew up in Dehra Dun.

Kushavrata Ghat of Haridwar – In 1788, Maratha general Mahadaji Scindia defeated Qadir, the grandson of Najeeb-ud-Daula. Valiant Maratha queen Ahilyabai Holkar renovated the Kushvrata Ghat in Haridwar. It was at this ghat, in ancient times, sage Dattatreya performed meditation and penance by standing on one leg for a thousand years. For this reason, this ghat is exclusively meant for performing the last rites.

Haridwar becomes a district – In 1757, Dehradun was ruled by Nawab Najib-ud-Doula who was based at Najibabad, the seat of the Rohilla kingdom. Both Dehradun and Haridwar were part of the Saharanpur region ruled by Najib-ud-Doula. Haridwar continued to be a part of the Saharanpur district till 1988. In the Kumbh festival (held once every twelve years) of 1986, almost 50 people died. For better administration, it was decided to make Haridwar an independent district.

Mahabharata – In the antiquity, Sage Ved Vyasa lived at Haridwar. The epic Mahabharata was composed by him. He had petitioned Lord Shiva for help with this project. Shiva sent his son lord Ganesha to help Ved Vyasa. Ganesha broke one his teeth to use that as a pen to write Mahabharata as Vyasa was dictating it. It is for this reason, in all imagery, Ganesha is shown with one of his tooth half-broken.

Gandhari – The incidents and war described in Mahabharata happened even in more earlier antiquity. Lord Krishna piloted Arjuna’s chariot. The opponent was Duryodhana whose mother Gandhari was the princess of the region of Gandhar (present day Kandhar is near to it) in present day Afghanistan.

Death Enables Birth – During Shraadh / pitripaksh, the fortnight of the ancestors & deceased, AZIMVTH Ashram hosts and spiritually orients artists, creatives, writers, andReverie Harp spiritualists to the death/re-birth aspects. The themes are related to death / re-birth, and some aspects are given below –

Yoga – Shav asana, the corpse pose
Meditation – Tratak sadhana
Scripture – Garud Purana scripture
Book – Natyashastra by Bharat Muni
Mantra – Mrityunjaya mantra, the death-victory mantra
Music – Bilaskhani Todi raga
Music instruments – Lyra and Swar-Mandal
B & W Camera – Analog black & white camera with b&w film rolls
Visiting – Kushavrata ghat, Narayani shila temple, Mrityunjaya mandir, fire-cremation areas of Chandi ghat – all in Haridwar