Mumbai:- Remembering George Harrison. Iconic Guitarist, Singer and Composer. George Harrison reminds me of my school days when Beatles were the Kings of Pop Scene, and like other music lovers, I was a great fan of the group.
Last year I visited Piggot Manor situated at village Aldenham twenty miles from Central London. This huge property created by George Harrison, who was also instrumental in making the Beatles a great band of all the time.
George purchased this property earlier used as a Nursing College and hospital, and donated this 17 acres property to his friend Prabhupad Bhakti Vedant to be used as ISCON Center in the year 1973.
ISCON converted this property into the spiritual, organic farming and dairy centre. Every Sunday, narrow road leading to Aldenham is buzzing with activity, devotees from different part of London arrive at Piggot Manor.
Villagers felt uncomfortable due to increased traffic, congestion and traffic jam in the area and felt that the ISCON intruded into their privacy. In the year 1981, ISKCON was engaged in a campaign to save Piggot Manor from closure as a public temple, as the villager filed a court case. After a series of court hearings and appeals, the Department of Environment granted permission for the building of a road bypassing the village in 1996. With the improved access, the Manor is now able to hosts up to 60,000 visitors for annual religious festivals like Janma Ashtami.
For visitors, it is a place for their spiritual quest, distressing at garden and lawns spawning in large part of the property, buying organic vegetables and milk products procured from the property. Every devotee is served as an organic meal prepared by the volunteers.
I had the curiosity to know the reason behind giving away this expensive and huge property by my favourite singer George to ISCON.
I interacted with the head of Bhaktivedanta at Piggot. He narrated me the past as well as George’s glorious days :
Remembering George Harrison and visit Piggot Manor, Aldenham. George was born and raised in Liverpool. He had a very humble beginning, he was the son of a bus driver and had a great love for playing the guitar. He passed the 11-plus exam and was awarded a place at the Liverpool Institute, one of the city’s leading grammar school. He met Paul McCartney who became the other lead of iconic group The Beatles, who also lived nearby, on the bus to school and became his close friend. When Paul linked up with John Lennon in the Quarrymen skiffle music group, he tried to persuade the group to invite George to join. That was the beginning of George’s journey into the music world.
By 1962, The Beatles had signed their recording contract with EMI. For the next eight years saw The Beatles become the most famous entertainers in the world and then implode. George had his share of the adulation – on the 21st birthday he received 15,000 cards and a full-sized door plus key. Within the group, he was relatively isolated, as John and Paul were locked into their volatile songwriting partnership. Probably these conflicts brought members of The Beatles to the spiritual abode Rishikesh. Probably that was the beginning of George’s quest in Hinduism. George continued his search and meanwhile, Shyamasundar das, Mukunda das and other disciples of Swami Prabhupada of ISCON moved to London in order to establish a temple.
George’s interest in Krishna Consciousness and the devotees continued to grow. By this time, The Beatles were married and started to work on their own separate projects. In 1970, George produced the Radha Krishna Temple album with the devotees, a track from which featured in the top ten record sales in that year. He also wrote many songs, which included devotional references. One such song was “My Sweet Lord”, which included the Hare Krishna mantra in the chorus.
George also got to sing at least one number on each album, beginning with ‘Do You Want To Know A Secret?’ on the debut album. Eventually, too, the Beatles agreed to record his compositions, of which ‘Within You Without You’ (from Sgt Pepper), ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (from the White Album) and ‘Here Comes The Sun and Something’ (from Abbey Road) were among the most memorable.
George’s most important influence on the group concerned the new sound textures he introduced. Main among these was the sitar that he first heard in a scene from the film ‘Help!’ George was intrigued and he contrived a meeting with the sitar virtuoso Pandit Ravi Shankar at the home of the leader of the Asian Music Circle in London.
He briefly studied with Shankar, not, as he once explained, to be able to become a classical raga player but to be able to use the sitar in Beatles’ music. It was first heard on the Lennon song ‘Norwegian Wood’ in 1965. Soon thereafter Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and a dozen other pop musicians included the sitar sound in their songs.
Harrison and Pandit Ravi Shankar remained close friends, touring the United States together in 1974, and a Pandit Ravi Shankar’s recording appeared on Harrison’s own record label – Dark Horse.
It was perhaps not surprising that Harrison was the first of the group to record and succeed as a solo artist. He made two instrumental albums – Wonderwall Music and Electronic Sound – before co-producing the three-LP set ‘All Things Must Pass’ with Phil Spector.
So this was all about my remembering George Harrison converting Piggot Manaor in the rural close vicinity of London City into a place of spiritual abode.
About the author, – Pradeep Gupta is an avid travelling spanning continents and former AGM with State Bank of India