Secrecy Surrounds Ex-Beatle's Death Rites in India

By | December 4, 2001 at 12:00 AM

VARANASI, India (Reuters) – Secrecy surrounded on Monday plans by George Harrison’s family to immerse the ashes of the Beatle guitarist in the sacred Ganges river.

A spokesman for the Hare Krishna movement of which Harrison was a longtime devotee told Reuters that the musician’s widow, Olivia, and son, Dhani, were headed for the bustling holy city of Varanasi to carry out the rites.

But the timing of the ceremony for the “Quiet Beatle” who died last week in Los Angeles after battling cancer was unclear and some officials said it might have taken place already.

Hare Krishna spokesman Mahamantra Das said the family wanted to make the ceremony “very private” for the youngest of the Beatles who revolutionized the sound of pop music in the 1960s.

According to the tenets of Hare Krishna, which is a Hindu sect, immersion of the ashes is symbolic of the soul’s journey toward eternal consciousness.

Harrison, 58, was cremated in a cardboard coffin hours after his death in keeping with his Eastern faith.

Reporters in Varanasi hunted for the ceremony along the string of “ghats” or steps leading down to the Ganges as brides in red saris made floral offerings and Hindu priests in cotton waist-wraps held rites for the dead.

“None of the police officers has any clue with regard to George Harrison’s rites,” Varanasi police inspector-general Vikram Singh told Reuters.

Varanasi in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh has at least 80 ghats where the devout take dips aimed at cleansing sins, make sacred offerings or cremate bodies and immerse the ashes.

State Home Secretary Naresh Dayal said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they (the family) have already come and gone because they’ve neither contacted the district administration nor the local police for any kind of assistance.”


Das said Hare Krishna members had been praying “for the soul” of the musician who believed in reincarnation and was a faithful member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, popularly known as the Hare Krishna movement.

Das said the movement was told that Harrison’s family was flying to India for the immersion of his ashes in Varanasi, accompanied by Hare Krishna members. British newspapers reported the family planned to travel by private plane from Los Angeles.

Some of the ashes would also be immersed at holy sites in Allahabad and Brindavan in Uttar Pradesh, Das said.

Harrison spent his last moments chanting “Hare Krishna” with his family next to him and pictures of the Hindu gods Rama and Krishna near his bed, British newspapers said.

Through his friendships with Indian musician Ravi Shankar and controversial guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Harrison developed an interest in Eastern culture and persuaded the “Fab Four” to fly to India to explore mysticism.

Shankar taught Harrison to play the sitar, a guitar-like instrument. The guitarist used the 21-string sitar in Beatles’ hits like “Norwegian wood” and “Rain.” “Within you, without you,” a song from the landmark album “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band” is close to orthodox north Indian classical music.

In a solo career later, Harrison sang “My Sweet Lord,” a prayerful tribute to Lord Krishna, the ninth incarnation of Vishnu, the Hindu god of protection.

The song which features the “Hare Krishna” chant is a symbol of the Bhakti – devotion – movement according to which the chanting of the mantra takes the soul closer to God.

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