George HarrisonAfter George Harrison's passing last fall, the press noted his long involvement with Eastern spirituality, the Indian musical touches he lent to Beatles' albums, and the publicity surrounding the group's time with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. But one remarkable story was overlooked: how Harrison himself was introduced to yoga and Eastern philosophy. In The Beatles Anthology (Chronicle Books, 2000), we learn that while on location in the Bahamas for their 1965 film Help!, the band was approached by a "swami in orange robes" who gave each of the Fab Four a signed copy of The Illustrated Book of Yoga. The author turned out to be Swami Vishnu-Devananda, founder of Sivananda Yoga, and this encounter began Harrison's lifelong fascination with Eastern philosophy. Soon the musician became a vegetarian and studied sitar in India with Ravi Shankar, who gifted Harrison with Paramahansa Yogananda¹s Autobiography of a Yogi. He eventually composed numerous songs, including "My Sweet Lord," which express Eastern mysticism more keenly than perhaps any other work by a popular Western artist. "In many ways he was more Indian than many Indians," said Shankar. But it was his special genius to fuse East and West, philosophy and music, for which we are all the richer.
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