George Harrison Bathed in the Ganges River in India Weeks Before His Death—Later His Widow Scattered His Ashes There

George Harrison made one last pilgrimage to sacred lands in India only weeks before his death. During his visit, he bathed in the holy Ganges River. Shortly after, on Nov. 29, 2001, George peacefully left his body for the spiritual realm.

After George was cremated and his ashes blessed, his widow, Olivia, and their only son, Dhani, left for India. They scattered George’s ashes in the same river he had bathed in weeks before.

George Harrison and Ravi Shankar in London, 1974.
George Harrison | Les Lee/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

George Harrison traveled the world before his death

In 1997, doctors diagnosed George with throat cancer. They successfully removed a lump, and George underwent two radiation treatments at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.

Not long after becoming cancer-free, George almost died in a home invasion in 1999, which left him with multiple stab wounds and a collapsed lung.

Doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota examined George annually, but in March 2001, they diagnosed him with lung cancer. That May, he underwent successful surgery to remove a growth. However, by the summer, his cancer had spread to his brain.

Immediately, George and his wife, Olivia, started a worldwide search for treatment. He began receiving “grueling” cobalt treatments for a brain tumor at the San Giovanni hospital in Bellinzona, Switzerland. Amidst everything, George traveled to attend his son Dhani’s graduation from Brown University in Rhode Island and vacationed with his wife in Fiji and Maui.

In November, the Harrisons’ treatment search led them to Staten Island University Hospital in New York. However, treatment didn’t work. Weeks before arriving in New York, though, George and Olivia also traveled to India one last time.

George Harrison bathed in the Ganges River weeks before his death

During the summer, George traveled to India for the last time. According to Rolling Stone, he visited Varanasi, a holy city on the Ganges River, and bathed in the river before returning to Europe.

Weeks later, after receiving treatment at Staten Island University Hospital, George moved to L.A., where his friends and family came to see him one last time.

Friends from the Hare Krishna Temple, Shyamasundar Das and Mukunda Goswami, kept a constant vigil and chanted a mantra to prepare George for death. The former Beatle was in good spirits but started drifting in and out of consciousness.

On Nov. 28, George’s musical guru, Ravi Shankar, and his daughter, Anoushka Shankar, stayed with George the whole day. The next day, Olivia, Dhani, Das, and Goswami witnessed the profound moment George left his body.

As a very spiritual person, George was not afraid of death. It was just like taking your suit off. The former Beatle had been preparing to die for years.

When he was ready to leave the material world, Olivia said he lit the room. “There was a profound experience that happened when he left his body,” she explained in Martin Scorsese’s documentary, George Harrison: Living in the Material World. “It was visible. Let’s just say you wouldn’t need to light the room if you were trying to film it. You know, he just lit the room.”

The devotees chanted away as George’s soul left his body at about 1:30 p.m. “The mantra – if someone else recites it, or if in an exceptional case you’re so incapacitated that you can’t vocalize it, if you just think it, then it’s equivalent to reciting it,” Goswami told Rolling Stone. “It’s in the mind, a kind of meditation, so it has almost equal power.”

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Olivia scattered George’s ashes in the Ganges River

Shortly after George died, Olivia dressed him in “traditional Krishna robes, with tulsi leaves placed between his lips and a wreath around his neck in preparation for cremation at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery,” Rolling Stone wrote.

On the way to the cemetery, the funeral procession stopped at the office of Dr. Lee Rosen, one of Geoge’s UCLA doctors. Rosen conducted the post-mortem and signed the death certificate. A fake address for the place of death was also listed, which George’s friends later changed to reflect that George had died in a Studio City home once leased by George’s former bandmate, Paul McCartney.

That night, after a short ceremony of prayer conducted by Olivia and Dhani, George’s plain wooden casket was cremated. Annette Lloyd, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery coordinator, told Rolling Stone, “We were told everything must be handled in the strictest secrecy and that the arrangments were to remain completely confidential, and that was the way we handled it.”

The next day, there was a memorial service at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine. Then, Dhani and Olivia flew to India to scatter George’s ashes in the Ganges River, where he’d bathed weeks before, hoping the holy waters would help him.

“In accordance with Krishna tradition, which prohibits the scattering of ashes over land, reports suggested that Harrison’s remains would be flown to India and dispersed in the Ganges at both Varanasi and the spiritual retreat at Allahabad, where the holy river Yamuna converges with the Ganges and, according to Hindu lore, a third mythic river, the Saraswati,” Rolling Stone wrote.

He was so Indian,” said Anoushka Shankar. “So comfortably Indian.”