George Harrison was, perhaps, the most unusual Beatle in his religious believes. Even before the #Beatles went to India in 1968, he was captivated by Indian philosophy, culture and religion. This interest grew, and towards the end of the 1960s George got involved with the Hare Krishnas – an Indian religious movement, founded in the USA in 1966. Roaming the streets of western cities dressed in traditional clothes and chanting Hindu scriptures, the Hare Krishnas were often the subjects of ridicule and derision.Not for George, though. He knew about the movement from the time he went to India with the Beatles, and when he met the first struggling Krishnas, who came from America to set up a branch of the movement in the UK, he was happy to get involved. George helped to set up the Radha Krishna Temple in Bury Place in Bloomsbury in 1969.
In the same year George invited the Krishnas to Abbey Road to record a single, with himself producing and joining in. Released by Apple, The Hare Krishna Mantra by Radha Krishna Temple (London) reached No.12 in the UK’s singles chart. It was followed by an album of devotional music in 1970. The records, in conjunction with Harrison’s name and several songs on his own albums devoted to the Krishna philosophy, did wonders the popularity of the movement, which was now going from strength to strength. (John Lennon got involved, too)
Soon the 7 storey premises of the Temple near the British Museum in London became too small for the growing activities of the Hare Krishnas, and George bought a big house in Hertfordshire and donated it to them. This place, called Bhaktivedanta Manor (after the founder of the movement, who brought it to the USA in the mid 1960s) is the largest property owned by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in the UK.
It is not surprising that this is one of the most frequently visited Radha Krishna temples in Europe. The Hare Krishnas are welcoming and hospitable lot, to everyone, not just their followers. A Mock Tudor mansion, built at the end of the 19th century for a local landowner makes a surprising contrast with what’s inside – a temple transported into our moderate climate from the hot lands of India! Take your shoes off, and you are welcome to explore its wonders at the times when the services are not on. The figures of deities Radha and Krishna look on at you from the splendour of brightly coloured carvings and decorations. The surrounding five acres of land have a beautifully landscaped lake walk with enchanting views of the manor house, bringing you peace and tranquillity – if that’s what you are seeking. If you are looking for beauty, come in summer to see the flower gardens, where the temple devotees grown the flowers for the lavish garlands decorating the inside of the temple, very much part of traditional Indian culture. The Hare Krishnas always appreciated what George did for them and had great respect for him and his views. When George passed away in 2001, it was decided to create a memorial garden in a shady woodland dell near the manor house – a spot that George particularly liked. It is a fairly compact place, and the fact it is in a downward slope and surrounded by tall trees creates a sense of completeness and peaceful contemplation. The 8 artworks represent aspects of George’s spiritual life, as reflected in the Hare Krishna mantra. Opened by his widow Olivia, this is a fitting memorial for the man who went through his life true to his believes – even if they did not always correspond to current fashion trends.
The Bhaktivedanta Manor is a big working complex, including, in addition to the full calendar of services and lovely walks, a farm, a shop which sells its produce, a primary school, a programme of activities for experienced devoteers and beginners. It is open and free to visit for all. And, if you are in London, you can enjoy a delicious and healthy vegetarian Hare Krishna meal at the Govinda Restaurant in Soho, next to the London headquarters of the movement – please do so, when you can, in memory of George!
Join us for the celebration of life of George Harrison Wednesday 24th February at 7pm. https://beatlesinlondon.com/tours/george-harrison-in-london/Beatles, Bhaktivedanta Manor, George Harrison, Radha Krishna Temple