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GEORGE HARRISON: A BEATLE AND A HINDU DEVOTEE

 

The 'Quiet one'

 

"He left the world as he lived in it, conscious of God, fearless of death, and at peace, surrounded by family and friends," the family said in a statement.

 

By Rohit Kumar


George Harrison (Reuters)

 

George Harrison, one of the Beatles and a long-time devotee of the Hindu sect, died last week in Los Angeles at the age of 58 after battling cancer.

 

Usually thought of as third in The Beatles pecking order, behind John Lennon and Paul McCartney, George was a band guitarist par excellence with a unique and instantly recognizable style. As Mr. McCartney once said: "George did a hell of a lot more than sit waiting for a solo."  He was also a distinctive vocalist, and his harmonies provided an extra element for the group's wide-ranging music.

 

In 1966, George married Patti Boyd, once described as the most serenaded blond of her generation. Ironically, it was as their marriage began to fail that George wrote Something, once described by Frank Sinatra as the greatest love song of the century.  She was the inspiration behind his most beautiful love song, Something. They divorced in 1977.

 

George met his second wife, Olivia Trinidad Arias, born in Mexico, while he was on tour in America in 1974. They were married in October 1978. On September 2, 1978, their son, was born. He was given Indian name, Dhani, meaning endowed with wealth and happiness.

 

As intensely jealous of her privacy as George, Olivia, made one of her few public appearances more than 10 years ago when she joined the wives of the three other Beatles, Linda McCartney, Barbara Bach and Yoko Ono, to launch an appeal for the abandoned children of Romania.

 

"First and foremost I am a housewife and a mother, and as a mother I am devastated to see what is happening in Romania,'' she said in an interview at the time.

 

"A child is like one of your arms, and when I had a baby of my own I wanted to be a mother who was always there.''

 

Of her husband she said: "George is a very wise person. I love him very much. He is a strict father and I am a demanding mother.''

 

George’s infatuation with Indian music and philosophy (which started when he was 22) influenced the other Beatles and, through them, the world. He was a pioneering figure in the meeting between East and West that is one of the defining characteristics of popular culture in the 1960s.

 

The direction of his life changed dramatically after his first meeting in June, 1966, with the Indian sitar maestro, Ravi Shankar, whom he came to revere as his guru and spiritual father.

 

He became a diligent student of Ravi Shankar, learning the sitar, an instrument never before heard in Western pop. When Mr. Harrison wrote and performed Within You, Without You on Sergeant Pepper, it sounded as if it came from another planet, not just another continent”, writes Neil McCormick in The Daily Telegraph.

 

Harrison was a familiar figure on Shankar's tours of Britain, and also developed a fond relationship with his guru's daughter, Anoushka, who called him “Uncle George”.

 

The early encounters that The Beatles had with Indian mysticism led to the group's visit at Harrison's behest in 1968 to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram in Rishikesh.

 

In 1971, George Harrison released a multimillion-selling triple album, All Things Must Pass, full of striking compositions that reflected his deeply spiritual worldview, establishing him as a solo artist to be reckoned with.

 

Harrison's relationship with Shankar led to a deepening understanding of Indian music, religion, especially Hinduism, and food.

 

He eventually became a vegetarian and kept up his contact with Bhakivedanta Manor, which he gave to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in 1973.

 

“After accepting the non-violent teaching of Krishna, George Harrison came to be accepted by Indians not as a rich pop star indulging himself in a passing fad for the exotic East but as a good man who had found true meaning in life”, writes Amit Roy from London in the National Post (Canada).

 

Shankar's autobiography, Raga Mala, was "edited and introduced'' and effectively published and financed by George Harrison in 1999.

 

In it, Shankar spoke of their first meeting: "Something clicked from the very beginning. I felt strongly there was a beautiful soul in him, and recognized one quality which I have always valued enormously and which is considered the principal one in our culture -- humility.''

 

Two years ago when an intruder stabbed him at his home, Olivia was credited with saving the Beatle's life during the attack at their home in Oxfordshire after she hit the intruder with a table lamp.

 

Olivia helped to nurse her husband during his illness and, for much of the last months of his life, slept beside him in a hospital cot.

 

She was at his side when he died.

 

At Bhaktivedanta Manor, a Hare Krishna temple near London, there was a genuinely emotional reaction at his death.

 

In the main hall Hindu prayers were offered at his garlanded portrait.

He was cremated in a cardboard coffin hours after his death, in keeping with his adopted Eastern faith.

 

George Harrison's last rites have been shrouded in secrecy since a Hare Krishna official said on Monday the musician's wife, Olivia. and son, Dhani, was expected to visit Varanasi for the ritual symbolizing the journey of his soul to eternal consciousness.