A rare group of photographs documenting the Beatles' historic visit to Rishikesh, India in 1968 have surfaced in a portfolio compiled by Pattie Boyd, the former wife of George Harrison and the celebrated model of "Swinging Sixties" London. Twelve of the sixteen black-and-whte photographs in the portfolio Pattie Boyd and The Beatles in Rishikesh have never been exhibited.
During her ten-year marriage to George Harrison, Pattie Boyd was a prominent member of the Beatles' inner circle and enjoyed the kind of access to the group that only a handful of people would ever know. Boyd introduced Harrison to Transcendental Meditation in August of 1967, and she accompanied the Beatles the following year when they made their historic trek to Rishikesh, a small town near the foothills of the Himalayas. Well known as a religious center that has attracted yogis and gurus for centuries, Rishikesh was home to the ashram of TM's progenitor, the perpetually happy Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Philip Goldberg in his book, American Veda, describes the Beatles's stay in Rishikesh as "the most momentous spiritual retreat since Jesus spent those forty days in the wilderness."
During the more than 50 years since the Beatles trip to Rishikesh, Boyd has acquired an international reputation as a best-selling author and a widely exhibited photographer.
"The few photographs Pattie has exhibited of Rishikesh represent documentary photography at its finest," states Dr. Michael DeMarsche
, an art consultant, who is handling all enquiries into the portfolio. "I recently asked Pattie if she had taken any additional photographs of the Beatles in Rishikesh. I was shocked when she showed me so many. None of them had been exhibited. We felt they needed to be seen together and decided to compile a portfolio. This makes it far easier for collectors to own and exhibit them."
When she photographed the Beatles at the Maharishi's secluded compound, Boyd's intimate relationship with the group allowed her to move around freely and unobtrusively. Her presence with a camera was hardly noticed by the Beatles and their entourage of wives and close friends. The result is a body of photographs that provide a unique and penetrating gaze into the daily life of the Beatles while living in the Maharishi's camp.
"You have to understand that the Maharishi vigilantly guarded the Beatles' privacy," DeMarsche states. "The international press was rarely allowed in the compound. The photographs of George, John and Cynthia Lennon with the Maharishi were taken during private lectures, which he seldom granted. Who else but Pattie Boyd could have taken photographs during these extraordinarily intimate moments? Pattie's photographs are the only ones I know that provide such a candid view of the Beatles' private world in Rishikesh. There is nothing like them. She captures so many unguarded moments in these photographs. They contain the kind of insights that only a true Beatles insider could have revealed."
Before their departure for India, the intense pressures of Beatlemania had caused the Beatles to bicker incessantly. But the isolation and quiet of the Maharishi's compound eased old tensions and restored a sense of calm. When not meditating at least five hours a day, their time was spent in relaxed conversation, eating vegetarian meals at a communal table, attending lectures with the Maharishi or simply listening to the sounds of the Ganges in the valley below.
There was also music. John Lennon claimed to have written "hundreds" of songs while in Rishikesh. Although this is probably exaggerated, there is no doubt that the number of songs written by the Beatles was prolific. Many surfaced on their last recorded album Abbey Road. But the majority of Rishikesh songs formed the heart of an earlier album, acknowledged to be one of their most experimental and best, The Beatles - commonly referred to as The White Album.
Although Boyd's photographs chronicle the renewed sense of camaraderie the Beatles were enjoying in Rishikesh, they also reveal the first signs of the discord that would soon break up the most influential rock band in history. This is particularly noticeable in many of the photographs of John and Cynthia Lennon, in which John appears withdrawn and sullen.
Cynthia Lennon had hoped that the quiet isolation of Rishikesh would provide the environment she needed to repair her marriage, which had suffered under the strains of John's habitual use of LSD. But he moved out of their Rishikesh bungalow after two weeks, and he often ignored her while around other members of the group.
"I know from interviewing Cynthia that she was utterly confused by John's behavior and grew despondent," DeMarsche recalls. "She discovered much later that he was rushing out every morning to the post office to see if a letter had arrived from Yoko Ono. She was writing him almost daily. I think John himself put it best when he said: 'The old gang of mine was over...the moment I met her.'"