All You Need Is Love, Marigold And A Guru Mantra

 

Spring is a good time to go back to the intoxicating 1960s and the momentous music retreats. 

By Roshan Cariappa

Earlier this year, a man by the name of ‘Magic Alex’ died of pneumonia in Athens. He was 74. Half a century ago, Magic Alex or Yanni “John” Alexis Mardas as he was then known, joined Apple Electronics as its first engineer, earning £40 a week and receiving 10 per cent of any profits made from his inventions. Apple Electronics was a subsidiary of Apple Corps that was set up by The Beatles as a sort of multimedia conglomerate (eventually, the subject of a longstanding legal dispute over trademarks with Apple Computer). Apparently, Magic Mike had John Lennon dazzled with what he called the ‘Nothing Box’; a small plastic box with randomly blinking lights that Lennon would stare at for hours. Incidentally, it was also then that the sobriquet ‘Magic Alex’ was born.

Magic Alex was not just a tinkerer of circuits and switches, but also a man-of-all-work, skilled in, among other things, communications, cameras, paints, security and songwriting. At one point, he even sold anti-terrorism equipment to heads of states. But, it was his latent interest in spirituality that is particularly interesting, for it set in motion a chain of events that was a harbinger for remarkable cultural change in the West.

Alex had heard a lecture by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an Indian guru who developed the Transcendental Meditation technique, in Athens, and encouraged the Beatles to hear the Maharishi speak. After a few sessions with the Maharishi, The Beatles and their entourage visited India on February 15, 1968.

The few weeks The Beatles spent in Rishikesh has often been described by the band members as the most creative period in their history. You only have to listen to the first verse of Across the Universe (which Lennon claimed to be his best songwriting) to understand.

Words are flowing out like

Endless rain into a paper cup

They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe.

Pools of sorrow waves of joy

Are drifting through my opened mind

Possessing and caressing me.

The song’s refrain, “Jai Guru Deva” was a reference to the Maharishi, himself. And its chorus, “Nothing’s gonna change my World”, may at once seem arrogant and self-centered, but as those immersed in the spiritual process will attest, it is a tacit understanding and acceptance of the World, as is. While much has been made of the weeks spent in Rishikesh, misunderstandings, and other tensions, it undoubtedly changed the band and its music. Indeed, the band wrote about 30 songs, which became part of the White Album, Abbey Road, and various solo records. Even Ringo Starr wrote his first song. Philip Goldberg, in his book, American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation, How Indian Spirituality Changed the West, later wrote: “(the Beatles’ trip to Rishikesh) may have been the most momentous spiritual retreat since Jesus spent those forty days in the wilderness”.

Around the time that The Beatles left India, an 18 year old San Francisco native, Gilbert Levey, was beginning to get disillusioned with the local music scene. Levey, who hung around the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, thought the glory days of the 1960s were ending. He booked a one way ticket to Amsterdam and then traveled through Europe, Africa, and Afghanistan before finding himself in Goa, India. While he hitchhiked the country, he became fascinated by the ash-smeared sadhus in Benares, eventually going to Kashmir for the “Amarnath Yatra” — a pilgrimage to Lord Shiva’s Cave in the Himalayas. In his time there, Levey received his Guru Diksha from Mahant Swami Nirmanaland, and was ordained into the Juna Akhara, as Baba Mangalanand.

 

 

Goa Gil with Ariane (picture: www.goagil.com)
Goa Gil with Ariane (picture: www.goagil.com)

 

A couple of years after living a sadhu’s life, he received an aerogram from his old friends, inviting him to join them in Goa. Anjuna Beach was by then the hub of the hippie movement; there were people playing drums, flutes, and drums around bonfires, and he played, too. Baba Mangalanand stayed on at Anjuna Beach to pioneer a genre of music now known as Psychedelic Trance, characterised by arrangements of synthetic rhythms and layered melodies created by high tempo riffs. The music, he said, meant to connect with the Universal cosmos. Baba Mangalanand had a new name – ‘Goa Gil’.

Almost 40 years since he began, Goa Gil continues to play 24-hour setlists, traveling eight months in a year to various venues in the US and Europe. Gil continues to follow the practices taught to him by the sadhus, including performing his daily pujas at the dhuni (site of worship). Shiva is at the forefront of the counterculture movement and lifestyle he began. Chants of “Har Har Mahadev” can be heard on his tracks and is a recurring trope among various artists of the Goa Trance music scene. (Shiva’s half-open / half-closed eyes are incorrectly thought to depict a state of trance, but his state is more accurately, ‘Anirvaakniya’, that which cannot be described.)

Artistes seem to find material to make great music and that is progress of a kind. And that seems to be the lasting concession for Magic Alex, even, who later cost The Beatles £300,000 (over $6 Mn in today’s money) in failed projects, is said to have played a role in Lennon’s divorce from his first wife, Cynthia, and by various accounts was the reason The Beatles made an unpleasant retreat from Maharishi’s ashram in Rishikesh.

Artistes continue to make the pilgrimage to India each year, hoping to find answers to questions they might not know to ask. For some, it is living an alternate reality of colours, sounds, and fragrances unlike anything they have experienced. For others, it is going beyond intellect and perceived senses to access higher dimensions of thought and intellect. As Lennon sang in The Happy Rishikesh Song,

All you need to do is say this little word

I know it sounds absurd but it’s true

The magic in the mantra will give you the answer

And swallow this that’s all you gotta do

 

 

Featured image: www.beatlesbible.com

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