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The Beatles 50 Years Ago Today: February 21, 1968

Soon after the Beatles' arrival, the Maharishi arranged for a group photo of all the students. In Lapham's description, the Maharishi began preparing for the shot early one morning and approached the task as if "the director on a movie set". Instructing his assistants, he oversaw the assembly of a platform of risers, the precise placement of flowers and potted plants in front of the raised stage, and the seating allocation for each of the students from his hand-drawn diagram. The students were then called down to take their allocated seat, surrounding the Maharishi; each member was dressed in traditional Indian attire and adorned with a marigold garland of red and orange. The Maharishi had a large picture of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati – the guru evoked by Lennon in "Across the Universe" – placed behind him.

The photo took half an hour to complete while the participants sat facing the bright morning sun. In 2009, The Hindu described the result as "one of the most iconic photographs in the history of rock 'n' roll". For the Beatles' public image, their attire contrasted with the modern, psychedelic clothing they had worn on arrival from London. The photo and others from the shoot were used in Lapham's cover article for The Saturday Evening Post, a magazine that, although in decline by 1968, was influential among America's suburban middle class. Saltzman, a Canadian filmmaker who was visiting the ashram after completing film work elsewhere in India, was one of the photographers at the session. His shots from this time were compiled in his book The Beatles in Rishikesh, published in 2000.

 

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