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The Day the Beatles Ended Their Spiritual Retreat

Keystone, Hulton Archive, Getty Images

On April 19, 1968, the Beatles parted ways with the Mararishi Mahesh Yogi. After submerging themselves in his teachings for what was supposed to be a three-month spiritual course, cracks began to appear. The band had flown to Rishikesh, India, in February 1968 along with friends like Donovan, Mia Farrow and the Beach Boys‘ Mike Love to begin an education in enlightenment.

After a week, Ringo Starr left for home, complaining about the spicy food that upset his stomach. But the others learned much and were creatively fueled by their stay. Several songs from the White Album even took root here. Everything was fine until rumors surfaced about the Maharishi’s behavior toward some of the female guests.

Paul McCartney was gone within a couple of weeks. Both John Lennon and George Harrison stayed on, but they ultimately split the cosmic scene just two weeks shy of completing the three-month course.

“We thought there was more to him than there was,” McCartney said. “He’s human. We thought at first that he wasn’t.”  Lennon reportedly told the Maharishi, “We’re leaving. If you’re so cosmic, you’ll know why.” His experiences became the basis of the song “Sexy Sadie” (“What have you done? You made a fool of everyone“).

In later years, both McCartney and Harrison expressed some doubt about the rumors surrounding the spiritual leader. They had reason to believe that they were started by Beatles associate “Magic” Alexis Mardas, who apparently had a personal agenda for spreading lies. Both Beatles eventually contacted the Mararishi (the “giggly little guy,” as McCartney affectionately called him) and apologized.

After the leader’s 2008 death, McCartney issued a statement on his website: “My memories of him will only be joyful ones. He was a great man who worked tirelessly for the people of the world and the cause of unity. I will miss him but will always think of him with a smile.”

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