One of the first of his kind spiritual leaders – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi or “The Beatles’ Guru” has remained one of the most popular Indian gurus across the world. The meditation teacher is credited with introducing the West to a deeper level of meditation technique – the Transcendental Meditation (TM), which was founded by Yogi. Maharishi boasted of a cult-like following and was believed to have an estimated 6 million followers at the time of his death. With a vision to transform the world, Yogi worked hard to ensure TM reached every corner of the world, for which he also wrote more than 20 books on the meditation technique. Maharishi further donned the hat of an entrepreneur and built a multimillion-dollar empire by offering inner harmony and world peace. The renowned guru made “mantra” a household word in the west in the 1970s and encouraged the world to practice meditation using his various techniques by establishing many foundations and universities across the globe, and he even founded his own political party.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was born as Mahesh Prasad Varma The Guardian or Mahesh Srivastava The Economic Times reportedly on Friday, 12 January 1917 (age 91 years; at the time of his death) Reuters in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh with the zodiac sign of Capricorn, though Yogi refused to confirm his birth date or discuss his early life. The Indian spiritual leader was brought up in Allahabad (now Prayagraj) in Uttar Pradesh. Mahesh Yogi attained his higher education from Allahabad University and he later received a Master’s Degree in Mathematics and Physics in 1942 from the same institution. The Guardian
Height (approx.): 5′ 4″
Hair Colour: Salt and Pepper
Eye Colour: Black
Parents & Siblings
Yogi’s father, Sri Ram Prasad, used to work as a local tax official in Uttar Pradesh.
Wife & Children
Mahesh Yogi remained unmarried until his death and he had no children.
Initial Years (1940-1954)
Mahesh Yogi was still enrolled at Allahabad University when he first began to practise yoga and started studying Sanskrit under Swami Brahmananda Saraswati Maharaja, who was a Hindu leader known as “Guru Dev.” In 1941, Yogi became a disciple of Guru Dev and took the name “Bal Bramhachari Mahesh.” Mahesh Yogi graduated from the institution in 1942 with a master’s degree and soon started working in a factory after his graduation. For around a decade thereafter, Yogi trained under Guru Dev, but when Guru Dev died in 1953, Mahesh Yogi retreated to the Himalayas in Uttarkashi and deeply meditated for two years. The Los Angeles Times
In 1955, Maharishi emerged from his meditative state in the Himalayas and focused on spreading Guru Dev’s form of meditation that was derived from the Hindu teaching of Advaita Vedanta. For the task, Mahesh Yogi adopted the name Maharishi, which translates to “great seer,” and he rebranded his Guru’s meditation as his own “Transcendental Meditation” (TM). The Maharishi soon undertook a two-year-long tour of India to promote his meditation technique. The Independent When asked about TM in an interview in 2002, Maharishi said,
Transcendental meditation is something that can be defined as a means to do what one wants to do in a better way, a right way, for maximum results.”
Maharishi’s first Transcendental Meditation Teacher Training Course began in April 1961 at his ashram in Rishikesh, India. The course attracted 60 participants from across the world. The Golden Scales
Growth of Transcendental Meditation Movement
On 1 January 1958, Maharishi expanded TM through the formation of a worldwide Spiritual Regeneration Movement (SRM) for the spiritual revival of humanity. He announced the same at a conference in Madras (now Chennai). MMYVV In two months, Yogi had already established 25 SRM centres throughout the country, after which he embarked on a world tour in 1959 to propagate his philosophy to places like Malaya, Hong Kong, Burma (now Myanmar), and Honolulu in Hawaii, while he spent most part of the year in the US. He also lectured and taught his TM technique in Boston, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and London. Maharishi also worked on a three-year plan to introduce Transcendental Meditation across the world. Yogi’s efforts bore fruit, and in the same year his TM movement gained a huge following by selling courses, books, and CDs, and it went on to become a powerful money-making enterprise.
The Maharishi Effect
In 1960, Yogi gave the world-famous “Maharishi Effect,” according to which if one per cent of the population practised the TM technique at the same time, it would produce measurable improvements in the quality of life for the whole population. Maharishi’s official website for TM claimed that this theory was supported scientifically and was published in a scientific research paper in 1976. Transcendental Meditation official website
In around 1976, Maharishi developed another program “TM-Sidhi,” which introduced a more advanced form of TM called “Yogic Flying” to the world. Described as “frog hops,” Yogic Flying put off people and Maharishi’s movement began losing followers in the late 1970s. According to Maharishi, the Yogic Flying technique is the ultimate level of transcendence in which the practitioners sit cross-legged in a lotus position and hop off the spongy mattresses, and he said that they try to summon the energy that would physically lift them off the ground; however, reportedly, the Yogic Flyers have never crossed the initial stage of “hopping.” The New York Times In December 1983, Maharishi summoned the first assembly of 7000 Yogic Flyers (the square root of one per cent world’s population at that time) in Fairfield, Iowa, US. Called the “Taste of Utopia,” Maharishi claimed that this assembly and all such assemblies produced “The Maharishi Effect.” Maharishi World Peace Society
Almost a decade later in 1992, Maharishi tried expanding his advanced TM philosophy by sending groups of his “Yogic Flyers” to different countries with the aim promote world peace through The Maharishi Effect.
Yogi and The Beatles
The first member of The Beatles (an English rock band) to hear about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was George Harrison, whose wife, Pattie, informed him of the Indian spiritual leader in February 1967, after she was intrigued by one of Yogi’s lectures on TM at Caxton Hall in London. On 24 August of the same year, all four Beatles requested a private audience with Yogi after they attended his lecture in London and got mesmerised by Yogi’s words. Reportedly, Maharishi then invited the Fab Four to attend his course on TM at the University College, Bangor. Eventually, a year later, Maharishi invited The Beatles for a three months trip to India to his ashram in Rishikesh. The Beatles’ Indian spiritual tour made headlines in all major global publications. When Maharishi was asked about the arrival of The Beatles in his ashram, he said to the media, The Print
Within three months, I promise to turn Harrison, Lennon, McCartney and Starr into fully qualified teachers or semi-Gurus of Hindu meditation. George and John have progressed fantastically in the few days since they arrived here. I am not pushing them too hard at first, only a few hours of meditation a day. I am feeding them high-level philosophy in simple words.”
The Maharishi’s way of living, however, didn’t go well with some of the band members. Ringo Starr – one of the Fab Four, and his wife Maureen returned back within a week of their arrival at the Maharishi’s ashram as the food didn’t suit the couple, while Paul McCartney and his girlfriend Jane Asher left after almost 10 weeks, citing various reasons. The remaining two – John Lennon and George Harrison stayed a bit longer until the controversy of them accusing Maharishi of sexual harassment broke out. The Independent The Beatles’ association with Maharishi – an eight-month-long stint that lasted from August 1967 to April 1968, became the turning point of Maharishi’s fame and opened creative doors for the rock band. Their spiritual experiences during their stay in the Maharishi’s ashram allowed the Beatles to record a new album “The White Album” later that year, which had 30 songs – almost more than double their previous albums. Reuters After the Beatles’ and Yogi’s controversial split, Lennon wrote a song “Sexy Saddie,” which allegedly criticised Maharishi. The New York Times Later in the 1990s, both Harrison and McCartney were convinced of Maharishi’s innocence and offered him their apologies. According to Deepak Chopra – Yogi’s former disciples, when George Harrison realised that Mahesh Yogi held no grudge against The Beatles, he wept uncontrollably and became a follower of Maharishi again. Mint
Life in Vlodrop
Maharishi shifted his headquarters several times during his life – from India to Italy, and from there to Switzerland, but in 1990 he moved to his last headquarters in The Netherlands, which was a former Franciscan monastery in a small southern Dutch village of Vlodrop. Yogi lived in Vlodrop with around 50 of his adherents and attracted negative attention when he clashed with the local authorities when they tried to tear down his headquarters as the locals considered it a monumental structure. The Seattle Times The New York Times His two-room quarters in Vlodrop was built to Maharishi Sthapatya Veda architectural standards. During his stay in the Dutch town, Yoogi mostly resorted to video communication with the public rather than appearing in public. He also launched his subscription-based satellite TV channel “Veda Vision,” which broadcast content related to TM and spirituality in around 22 languages over 144 countries. The Gold Scales
Maharishi- The Entrepreneur
Maharishi certified over 40,000 meditation teachers through his TM programme. In the mid-1970s, the spiritual entrepreneur entered the corporate sector and introduced the TM technique to the Wall Street employees, which received an overwhelming response and many of them enrolled in a $1,000 intensive course on Transcendental Meditation. The Gold Scales Yogi subsequently raised the fee for his TM courses to $2,500 from $35 for his five-day course to learn Transcendental Meditation. The Cut The Economist As a result, the Yogi’s society grew wealthy and Maharishi even bought his own helicopter. On 11 January 1990, Yogi incorporated a private unlisted non-government company called Maharishi Vedaland Private Limited through which he aimed to build Transcendental Meditation-themed amusement parks called “Vedaland.” According to his official website, the 450-acre park would feature 36 attractions and a 500-room hotel. The Chicago Tribune Maharishi Vedic City
Mahesh Yogi in Politics
In March 1992, the Indian spiritual leader stepped into the world of politics when he inaugurated the Natural Law Party (NLP) (now defunct), which was active for over a decade in almost 42 countries. Yogi’s NLP was the only pan-European political party at the time that boasted of incredibly huge funding, and the party also contested 310 seats in the 1992 European Parliamentary elections in Britain, in which the party had budgeted £1 million. The party didn’t win any seats and secured only 0.19% of the votes in its contested constituencies. After two years in European politics, Natural Law became the first UK party to put forward candidates for all 87 United Kingdom seats in the European Parliament Elections. The party won no MEPs in 1994. Between 1992 and 1997, the party candidates ran for 16 of the 20 by-elections held and each of them lost their deposit. Great British Politics
Maharishi’s party promised “Heaven on Earth”, lower taxes, and a herb village in every town, and its ideology was largely based on Yogi’s philosophy of Transcendental Meditation, spirituality, and quantum physics. India Today In the Yogi’s political offshoot, his former disciples George Harrison and Ringo Starr also helped Mahesh Yogi in the party’s campaign for the general elections of 1992 by appearing at a concert for a party just before the elections. The Independent However, Maharishi backed off from the politics and stopped all operations of NLP in 2004. The Gold Scales He said,
I had to get into politics to know what is wrong there.”
Maharishi wasn’t just limited to his TM organization. In over 50 years of his spiritual work, Yogi established various organisations and educational institutions around the world, including medical colleges and universities to train doctors in his Vedic approach to health. He founded the Spiritual Regeneration Movement (SRM) Foundation in 1963, and two years later, Yogi founded the Student International Meditation Society with bases in London and then San Francisco, when his movement had gained thousands of members. Transcendental Meditation official website The Los Angeles Times Next year, Maharishi inaugurated the first International Academy of Meditation in Rishikesh, India, and eventually went on to establish many TM centres, schools, and universities worldwide. MMYVV Maharishi set up one of the most famous universities, the Maharishi University of Management (M.U.M.), formerly known as Maharishi International University, in 1971 in Iowa, US. In 1975, Maharishi inaugurated the Dawn of the Age of Enlightenment and he also established the Maharishi European Research University (MERU) in Switzerland. In 1982, the Indian guru founded an educational institution in Uttar Pradesh called the “Maharishi Ved Vigyan Vishwa Vidyapeetham,” while in 1995, Maharishi became the founder and the first Chancellor of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Vedic Vishwavidyalaya (MMYVV) – a university established by The Government of Madhya Pradesh. MMYVV In the same year, Yogi’s organisation established the Maharishi University of Management in the United States, Russia, Japan, and Holland. MMYVV On 30 July 1996, Maharishi formally announced the establishment of ‘Maharishi’s Global Administration through Natural Law.’ Four years later on 7 October 2000, Yogi founded The Global Country of World Peace (GCWP), which was a non-profit organization to propagate his TM philosophy and to promote the idea of construction of “buildings for peace” in some of the major cities of the world. The New York Times GCWP Maharishi’s own city even had a formal currency called “Raam.” Yogi’s currency was approved by the Dutch Central Bank three years later, and Raam was legally accepted in Dutch shops at a fixed rate of 10 euros per Raam. BBC
In 2003, Maharishi founded The Maharishi World Peace Trust of Germany whose goal was to build Peace Palaces in the 60 largest cities of Germany and other large European cities. By 2004, the Yogi’s organisation was already working on building 3,000 Peace Palaces around the world. In the same year, Maharishi also founded the Parliament of World Peace and said at the gathering, MMYVV
I invite four people from every city to come forward with the desire to establish peace, prosperity, and happiness in their Motherland. Through these people, I will raise their nation above the reach of problems and build a mansion of permanent peace in the world.”
Maharishi in Limelight
Maharishi’s one-time stint as the Beatles’ spiritual advisor tremendously boosted his popularity across the world. In 1967 and 1968, Yogi became the face of many American magazine covers including Time, Life, Newsweek, and more. He also appeared on several TV shows. The Gold Scales In 1975, Yogi took to television to preach his TM philosophy to thousands of Americans when he appeared on a talk show hosted by Merv Griffin. The Los Angeles Times
In 2012, Oprah Winfrey visited the Maharishi Vedic City in the US, and her iconic visit was documented and aired as a television show titled “America’s Most Unusual Town” on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Oprah Winfrey official website
In 1963, Yogi published his first book titled “The Science of Being and Art of Living” which was later transcribed in 15 languages and sold over a million copies. Two years later in 1965, he completed his English translation and commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita. In 1968, Maharishi published his third book “Meditations of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.” His book “Thirty Years Around the World: Dawn of the Age of Enlightenment,” published in 1986 also sold a massive number of copies. In the book, Maharishi wrote a line that went quite famous. The New York Times He said,
Right from the beginning the whole purpose was to breathe in his breath,” the Maharishi wrote in his . “This was my ideal. The whole purpose was just to assume myself with Guru Dev.”
Split With The Beatles
In 1968, The Beatles’ guru landed himself in a soup and attracted worldwide controversy when the members of the popular band abruptly ended their stay at the Maharishi’s ashram in Rishikesh and announced their dissociation from Maharishi. It was reported that the Beatles took the action after hearing rumours that Yogi made sexual advances towards actress Mia Farrow who was accompanying them on their entourage. It was later claimed that the story was fabricated by Magic Alex, who was John Lennon’s friend and accompanying the Beatles then. The New York Times The Beatles Bible According to another version of Yogi and The Beatles’ split, Maharishi was allegedly accused of fondling with Jennifer Boyd, sister of Pattie Boyd, who was then George Harrison’s wife. Mint Dr Deepak Chopra, author and former disciple of Maharishi, denied the sexual allegations against Maharishi in yet another revelation. Chopra gave an entirely different reason for the Beatles’ feud with Maharishi, and he said that the guru strictly objected to the band members engaging in drugs at his ashram during their stay in India, which did not go down well with the westerners. The Washington Times Mint
Suspected Link With The CIA
In the same year, an Indian news report linked Maharishi’s Rishikesh ashram to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It stated that the local police sources suspected a CIA agent Russell Dean Brines hiding in the Yogi’s ashram. It was also alleged that many guests in Maharishi’s ashram from abroad were actually spies. In the same publication, it was also mentioned that Yogi had apparently admitted that there was an American by the same name in his ashram in early March who had arrived there a few weeks later than the Beatles; however, Yogi didn’t admit to any allegations of the man in his ashram being a spy. The speculations soon turned political and were extensively discussed in the Indian Parliament in the days following the incident, but charges were later dropped due to lack of evidence. Scroll.in
Lawsuit By Former Disciple
Maharishi attracted controversy in 1985 when Robert Kropinski, a former TM follower, along with six others filed a $9 Million Lawsuit against Yogi, the Maharishi International University in the US, and the corporate headquarters of the Yogi’s World Plan Executive Council in the US. The lawsuit charged them with fraud, negligence, and intentionally inflicting emotional damage and a jury awarded Kropinski $138,000, though Yogi was dismissed from the case because his former disciples failed to serve him with legal papers. The Associated Press
Tax Raid in India
Three years later after the lawsuit, in January 1988, Maharishi again found himself in another controversy, this time related to his establishments in and around Delhi and Jabalpur in India. Reportedly, the Indian tax authorities raided his properties on charges of falsifying expenses and they seized cash, jewellery, shares, and fixed deposit receipts, all of which accounted for more than Rs. 50 lakh. Additionally, the authorities also seized foreign currency worth approximately Rs. 2 lakh and other documents that revealed fake investments and expenses worth crores of rupees that were allegedly incurred by trusts run by the relatives and followers of Yogi. India Today
Dispute Over Inheritance
Controversy followed Maharishi even after his death. In 2008, Yogi’s Rs. 60,000 crore fortune led to an ugly feud between two groups led by Yogi’s nephews and followers, with each wanting to inherit his assets. Both the groups claimed and tried to prove that they are the real inheritors of Maharishi’s fortune and accused each other of ‘impersonation’ to gain control over Yogi’s fortune. India Today
Controversial Book Against Yogi
In 2018, almost a decade after Yogi’s death, Maharishi became the subject of a book that labelled him and his Transcendental Meditation organization as deceptive, authoritarian, and cultic. “Transcendental Deception” – a book by former TM practitioner Aryeh Siegel claims to expose the controversial and hidden world of the “filthy rich and highly secretive” TM organization. Transcendental Deception
Awards and Honours
- Maharishi received the Man of Hope Award in 1970 from the City of Hope Foundation in Los Angeles, the US.
- In 1973, he was honoured with the Golden Medal of the city of Delphi, Greece.
- Yogi appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1975.
- In 2019, Maharishi was honoured with the Commemorative Stamp by the Indian Government. International Maharishi Ayurveda Foundation
- Apart from the awards and honours mentioned above, Maharishi has also been honoured by different countries and he has remained a recipient of the “Keys” of different states of the US. E-Gyan
Maharishi owned shareholdings worth an estimated $250 million (Rs. 1800 crores) in the US, as of 2008. The New York Times His net worth at the time of his death was approximately £2 billion or Rs. 2k crores. The Mirror
Reportedly, Maharishi foreboded that his end is near, so in 2007 he started preparing for his death or ‘Mahasamadhi’ and started studying the texts which had first inspired his teachings. In the next year, Yogi announced his retirement from all his administrative duties, stepped down as leader of the TM movement, and retreated into silence. He died three weeks later. Also, as Maharishi foresaw his death, he withdrew and rarely met with anyone face-to-face, even his ministers; he preferred speaking with followers exclusively through closed-circuit television. The New York Times
Maharishi died at the age of 91 years on Tuesday, 5 February 2008 at 7:00 p.m. in his home in the Dutch town of Vlodrop in The Netherlands, where he moved his headquarters in 1990. Bob Roth, a spokesman for the Transcendental Meditation organization issued a statement at the time that Yogi had died peacefully of natural causes (his age). The Los Angeles Times According to Yogi’s followers, the spiritual leader’s last message was,
I can only say: Live long the world in peace, happiness, prosperity and freedom from suffering.”
Four days after his death, Maharishi’s body was flown in a chartered flight from his headquarters in the Netherlands to Allahabad for the last rites. Upon reaching Allahabad, the body was taken in a flower-bedecked truck for a motorcade procession to the ashram of Swami Vasudevanand – a procession that was attended by thousands of people. The funeral pyre, made of mango and sandalwood logs, was lit at 12.40 pm on 11 February by his nephew Girish Srivastava on a mound overlooking the holy confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna, and the Saraswati in the vicinity of the Vidyapeeth. Hindustan Times Rediff Reportedly, Maharishi was survived by his four nephews, and each of them inherited 12,000 acres of land in India. Vancouver Magazine
On 10 February 2008, Dr Tony Abu Nader – a Lebanese doctor who studied under Maharishi for 25 years, was officially crowned the successor of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – 5 days after Maharishi attained his Mahasamadhi. Since then Nader is called “Maharaja Adhiraj Raja Ram.” An in-charge of the US TM organisation revealed in an article that Maharishi had a premonition about his end which prompted him to nominate Nader as his successor on 7 October 2000. Later, Maharishi named his 35 rajas and 13 ministers to oversee the functioning of his organization that is spread across 130 nations. The Times of India
- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – the renowned spiritual leader is called by different names by his disciples from all over the world. Most of his followers refer to him as “Maharishi” or “The Maharishi.” The Guardian Yogi’s unusual hearty laugh gave way to his name “The Giggling Guru” The Independent Maharishi’s constant air travel during his lifetime also made him “The Flying Yogi.” The Times of India
- Maharishi followed a strict vegetarian diet and reportedly, he slept only two hours per night. The Gold Scales
- Yogi had also strictly prohibited smoking and consuming alcoholic beverages and other drugs on his ashrams’ premises. The Economist
- Sri Sri Ravi Shankar – another renowned Indian spiritual leader was a former disciple of Maharishi Yogi. Hindustan Times
- Apart from The Beatles, Maharishi also boasted of a huge following among several prominent personalities and he also acted as the spiritual advisor to many of them including Mia Farrow, Shirley MacLaine, Beach Boys fame Mike Love, filmmaker David Lynch, and others. The Los Angeles Times
- In 1990, Maharishi moved his headquarters to Amsterdam and at that time his TM movement was at its peak, with more than 2 million followers worldwide, including 90,000 alone from the UK.
- Dr Deepak Chopra – one of Yogi’s former main emissaries, revealed an incident of July 1991 in an article in which Maharishi fell grievously ill after he allegedly consumed the poisoned orange juice. Chopra said that in the aftermath Yogi complained of severe abdominal pain and suffered from the inflammation of the pancreas, a kidney failure, and a heart attack. Maharishi was then flown to England’s private hospital where he was declared dead initially; however, he started recovering within 24 to 36 hours after being put on life support. Huffpost Deepak added,
I laid him [Maharishi] on the floor inside the hospital’s doors and called for a cardio assist. Within minutes he was revived and rushed to intensive care. The attending physician felt that Maharishi was clinically dead. As fate would have it, after 24 to 36 hours the attending informed us that Maharishi was recovering miraculously. His kidney function was returning to normal, his heart was beating independent of the pacemaker, and he had started to breathe on his own. Within a few days he was sitting up in bed, drinking milk with honey.”
- In 1998, Maharishi established a global network of 8 satellites to broadcast his Natural Law on his TV channel – Maharishi Veda Vision in 18 languages. His stunt represented Yogi’s teachings on a global scale.
- Apart from his ambition to bring world peace, Yogi also worked to eradicate poverty across the world. For his vision, Maharishi established the “Programme to Eliminate Poverty” in 2000, which reportedly aimed to fulfil the objective using his Vedic Organic Agriculture principles and practices to develop the unused agricultural lands. MMYVV
- In 2005, Maharishi suspended complete teaching of the TM technique in the UK for almost two years, because apparently, he opposed Britain’s involvement in the ongoing war of Iraq. The Herald