George Harrison Added Images of Revered Gurus to ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Album Cover as ‘Clues to the Spiritual Aspect’ of Him

George Harrison added images of famous gurus to the album cover of The Beatles‘ 1967 record, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The year before, George and his wife, Pattie Boyd, traveled to India with George’s new musical guru, legendary sitarist Ravi Shankar.

George had heard the words “yogis of the Himalayas” during his first trip on LSD, and he’d finally come to see them as if it was destiny. Going to India changed his life, and he wanted the world to know.

The Beatles at the press launch of their 1967 album 'Sgt. Pepper.'
The Beatles | Mirrorpix/Getty Images

George Harrison learned about famous gurus in India

In 1965, George met Shankar and immediately began receiving sitar lessons from him. The legend taught the Beatle that “God is sound.” George was hooked and felt he could’ve dropped everything in his life to learn more from his teacher.

Finally, George was ready to experience India for the first time. To get away from journalists, George, Boyd, Shankar, and his assistant, Kamala, traveled to Kashmir, “the retreat of royalty, an idyllic land of fruit orchards and flowering gardens,” Joshua M. Greene wrote in Here Comes The Sun: The Spiritual And Musical Journey Of George Harrison.

They arrived at the city of Srinagar, at the foot of the Himalayan mountains. The group stayed in a large wooden houseboat on the largest of the city’s many lakes.

“George looked out on the Himalayas rising in the distance and savored freedom from life as a Beatle,” Greene wrote. “Each morning, he breathed in the bracing mountain air and performed yoga exercises, then practiced on the sitar, eyes shut, his fingers familiarizing themselves with notes along the instrument’s long wooden neck.

“When his exercises ended, he read books on self-realization and in the peace and calm of an ancient land discovered teachings that would permanently change the course of his life.”

“I’d heard stories about men in caves up in the Himalayas who are very old and wise,” George once explained, “and about people who could levitate . . . mystic stories that had permeated my curiosity for years.”

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George added famous gurus to the cover of ‘Sgt. Pepper’

After six weeks, George and Boyd returned to London. The Beatle, who didn’t quite feel like a Beatle anymore, felt uncomfortable being back home.

“The band was his job, and as a responsible member he would continue to play lead guitar and sing harmony, but meditation was revealing to him an inner person with creative energies and original ideas straining to be expressed,” Greene wrote.

George kept busy in the recording studio by experimenting with backward music. All while The Beatles worked on Sgt. Pepper, George daydreamed of India and all the things he’d learned there.

“George wanted to know who he was and who God was, and anything unrelated, however innovative, failed to hold his interest,” Greene continued. “Paul had come up with an innovative idea for their current album. The Beatles would pretend to be someone else, a make-believe group called Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and every time one of the Beatles sang, he would pretend to be someone in the made-up band.

“The idea left George cold and bored. They had been working on the album since November, and there was still no end in sight. To keep up his spirits, he added little bits and pieces of India whenever possible. Using a technique he had seen musicians use in Bombay, he imitated John’s voice on guitar during ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.'”

George overdubbed a tambura’s drone on “Getting Better.” He also added a bit of India to the design of the album’s cover.

“To photos of Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan, Marlon Brando, Laurel and Hardy, and other twentieth-century icons, he added Yogananda, Yogananda’s grand guru Lahiri Mahasaya, and Mahasaya’s guru Sri Mahavatara Babaji,” Greene added. “The photos, he would explain in later years, were ‘clues to the spiritual aspect of me,’ but such moments merely made bearable a job he no longer cared to do.”

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The Beatle remained spiritual for the rest of his life

After his experiences in India, George wanted to break out and explore, which is most evident in Sgt. Pepper. However, George didn’t need to add clues to his spirituality on the cover. It was pretty obvious he was entering a period of rebirth.

The following year, George met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and learned more about meditation. Then, he made friends with the members of the Hare Krishna Temple, including Bhaktivedanta Swami, a.k.a. Prabhupada.

Soon, it became clear that George’s interest in spirituality was genuine and not a passing phase. It was there to stay. George remained spiritual until he died in 2001.

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