It has been 50 years since The Beatles first landed in America for their first concert. It was a landmark event for many reasons. The first of which is the fact that these four boys from the other shore of the Atlantic managed to revolutionise the entire music scene of the continent and therefore the world. The revolution was aptly called “Beatlemania”. But the relevance of The Beatles and their influence on music, rock and roll and the Zeitgeist of the times were not only restricted to the West. They had a huge influence on how the Europeans and Americans looked at India.
The ‘Fab Four` - John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr had made the biggest impact on the way the 70s decade turned out. India was the land of the mystics centuries ago. It was also the sone ki chidiya of the world. People from China, Mesopotamia flocked to the subcontinent to trade wares and share cultures. Things changed with the advent of the British. Colonisation had a huge impact on the ancient rituals and practices of the country.
Not many know that classical music and dance was looked down upon at the beginning of the 20th century. Classical dance was in fact reduced from being a divine art for the gods to being a profession of prostitutes and courtesans. Music too had become a profession for the unrespectable classes. No good man from a reputed home would learn music; much less take it up as a profession.
However, post independence, much of the art was salvaged by patrons of music. Several prominent artists had emerged, like Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Pandit Ravi Shankar, who went on to the world stage to perform. And yet, not many knew of diversity. It was a handful of people who heard and appreciated the strains of a sitar or sarod or understood the nuances of a mudra in Kathak. The Beatles had travelled to Rishikesh to learn meditation at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
George Harrisson by this time had already started taking sitar lessons from Ravi Shankar. Despite the controversial stay and use of drugs, the group had managed to add close to 30 songs to their repertoire. During their short stay in India, they made sure that their massive fan following was curious about their spiritual upliftment and transcendental meditation. From being defiant young British boys, they turned into successful young men who had changed themselves to learn more about the world.
In a short time, their fans came to believe, the four had evolved somehow. Their music was more sophisticated (leaning more towards psychedelia) and the lyrics had become mature. In a decade of strife and disillusionment, somehow these young men had managed to influence millions to change directions and look at another culture.
Ravi Shankar, who was revered by Harrisson and the others, made a huge impact on their music too. He had said in an interview how he even tried to get The Beatles to stop using LSD and marijuana. Their love for Indian music was apparent in the song `Norwegian Wood`. Soon many other bands followed – Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Byrds. Psychedelic Rock in the late 60s and early 70s was so popular that the era witnessed a movement called `Flower Power`, which symbolised passive resistance and non-violent ideology.
Yoga, meditation, Indian art, mythology and the Hindu culture of acceptance had spread to the millions who were getting clearly more disenchanted with the power struggle between Russia and the US; more so because of the devastating war in Vietnam. The Beatles started a revolution without the use of propaganda. They used their star power to bring about a change in perspective what centuries of trade and colonisation had not been able to achieve. Many of the Indians who migrated to foreign countries in search of better opportunities settled in much faster than people from other countries. Some may chose to disagree. After all, massive movements cannot happen because of a group of young boys who played guitars, sang and suddenly started to follow a guru. But it did. Their fame surpassed anyone else’s at their time and from before.
They made it fashionable to wear Indian style kurtas, carry sling bags (jholas), and wear Rudraksh as an accessory (without really knowing the significance). It was important for people to know Ravi Shankar and listen to sitar. People gathered to listen to other forms of music and watch people dance. Geeta and Ramayana were being studied by more than just experts. They came to India to experience the love and hospitality. They tried to learn Nirvana and cut off earthly attachments. They may not have understood the true meaning of detachment but more and more people were willing to learn about. The way Europe and America made the ‘Indian way of life’ their own has now seeped into the daily lives of the people.
The influence of The Beatles is unfathomable 50 years later even when the magic of Internet has started motivating people to believe in something within days. That era saw how the power of music can change lives. How a handful started a mutiny without the violence. Lennon, McCartney, Harrisson and Star were the first and true pop icons. There were others who did what they did (Bob Dylan), but none of them had the power of the ‘Beatlemania’.