84 Kutiya literally means 84 huts. 84 is a number that represents the base numeral of the number of species we believe to exist on this earth 84,00,000. In the Indian belief system, you take birth to as many species or yonis as we call them before you return to human life. So, when I heard of 84 Kutir in Rishikesh, I was intrigued. In the same breath, I was also told it used to be the Beatles Ashram. Connecting the dots, I figured out that this is erstwhile Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram.
My car stopped right in front of the Ashram Gate which had a small ticket window. I bought my ticket and asked a few questions, but all of my questions were met with stubborn silence. I could not see any other tourists around. Anyway, I started hiking the steep gradient that was to lead to the actual gate of the ashram. A leaflet with the ticket told me that the place is a part of Rajaji Tiger Reserve.
History of 84 Kutiya
Apparently, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi first visited the land in 1960. He was enchanted and requested the then UP forest department to lease him 15 acres of land overlooking the Ganga. The land was leased for 40 years in 1961. It was in the late 1960s that the ashram gained prominence.
After which the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – the founder of Ashram moved his activities westwards, primarily in Europe. Ashram may have stayed operational but eventually, it was abandoned in the 1990s and the buildings slowly started their journey to becoming ruins. The land reverted back to the forest department in the early 2000s.
Read More – Safari at Rajaji National Park
Thankfully, the administration of Rajaji Tiger Reserve has decided to convert this into a ticketed tourist destination.
84 Kutiya is popularly known as Beatles Ashram, as this is the place where the Beatles stayed when they visited Rishikesh to learn Transcendental Meditation from the Maharishi. They composed a lot of their songs here. It is believed their stay in early 1968 at the Ashram was one of their most productive periods as musicians. George Harrison even learned to play the Sitar. In fact, their name is perennially attached to this Ashram. Not sure, if they made the place popular with the western world or if the Ashram used its name to reach out to the larger audience in the west.
The first thing that I saw there was the photo galleries in the front halls. One of these is dedicated to Beatle’s visit to this Ashram. I read a bit about their visit and figured out that not all was hunky dory. They left one by one, some because they could not adjust to spicy food and insects in the ashram. Some could not deal with the extra attention they were getting and while others figured out meditation was not really for them. There was even a case of inappropriate behavior at the ashram.
I wonder if a month’s stay by 4 musicians should change the name of the place forever, without even knowing the details of their stay.
Nonetheless, this is how most people know this place – Beatles Ashram.
Read here to know more about the Beatles in India.
Visiting 84 Kutiya at Rishikesh – Beatles Ashram
As I started walking from the ticket counter, the first thing I noticed was the graffiti on the walls. We Love Rishikesh – proudly it announced. On one side was the graffiti-filled wall and on the other the neat lines of benches with trees hanging on them. After a bit of hike, I reached the main gate that announced the name of the place – 84 Kutir. The small pod-like huts covered with raw stones started making an appearance. So, these are the Kutiyas or huts that lend the place its name. I was intrigued.
As I got closer, I could see double-story Kutiyas, with a small basic staircase joining the two levels. I could imagine Sadhaks sitting here with closed eyes and listening only to the forest sounds or the sound of Ganga below.
The building in the front had a small café and I had a quick bite there. 3 huge halls next to the café have photo exhibits. One hall talks about Transcendental Meditation and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Another one talks about the famous visitors to the ashram – Beatles and the third one introduces you to the residents of the jungles of Rajaji Tiger Reserve – its wild animals.
As I started walking inside, the first thing I noticed was a small Shiva temple with two Shivalingas and a Nandi. The ruined buildings started appearing after this. On my left was the Kitchen which the board said fed as many as 500 residents of the Ashram. If you walk around the building, you can not make out if it was a kitchen.
On my right, next was the Printing Press. The board informed me that the first copies of the famous books of Maharishi Mahesh yogi like ‘Science of Being Art of Living’ and his commentaries on Srimad Bhagwatam were first printed here. I could only see some shelved cupboards in the ruins. All equipment has obviously been moved.
A wide paved path takes you ahead with ruins on either side. On the left was Ved Bhavan which was a lecture hall used to conduct classes. Another big hall appears on the left with a board outside it giving the basic definition of Transcendental Meditation. Inside there is a raised platform I assume was used by the Guru. The windows on both sides look into the woods. The walls are now full of spiritual graffiti, I am not sure how they looked when the ashram was bustling with students.
Panchkuti is a set of guest houses meant for international guests and dignitaries. Little ahead is the Saptapuri complex – this is where the Beatles lived. The Internet tells me that these were fitted with all the western comforts for them.
Anand Bhavan & Siddhi Bhavan
These are the biggest buildings on the campus. Board says these were residential quarters for those training to be teachers or taking advanced courses. The slanting pyramidal walls were really intriguing. It felt they were designed to concentrate energy in the building. There was something mystical about this unusual shape.
Reluctantly I stepped inside the building and was lost in the maze of rooms. I did not dare to step on the upper floors. I could see these are residential units but there was something that was mysterious out there. The writings on the walls and the general feeling of uncleanliness did not help either.
A building inside the campus is called Chaurasi Kutiya, not the pods that I had seen outside. This is an interesting building. You enter the door and the place divides itself into two, you can take any one path and enter.
As you enter inside you see the two long corridors on each side with light reflecting at equal intervals. As you walk in this corridor you realize there are small chambers with a small windows for people to sit and meditate. There are 84 such chambers next to each other. They are small and good enough for one person to sit and meditate. As per the board here, these are based on 84 poses of Yoga. I wonder which ones and how.
Across these corridors is an open space with a raised platform. From here you can see Ganga and the city of Rishikesh. It is a blessing to see the Ganga with Laxman Jhula hanging on it.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s simple but big house is located closest to Ganga. At night, it must have been like sleeping to the music of the Ganga. His house has a basement that looked a bit scary, probably because it is abandoned. I spent a few minutes sitting here imagining the gardens and ponds that must have looked beautiful.
Read More – Aastha Path – Walk along Ganga in Rishikesh
Walking back I walked through a series of Kutiyas or the pod-like structures – which are more than 100 and each one of them is numbered.
All the ruins have graffiti on them. Out of nowhere, the ruins get a dash of color. Graffiti seems to be fresh – done in the last one year or so. What I liked about the graffiti here is the fact that the theme gels so well with the place. There is a bohemian air to the artwork but always with some spiritual symbols like Om or Sri Yantra or meditation poses. Colors are mostly subtle, at times just monochrome.
In places, there are flowers and birds like a colorful peacock.
Read More – Street Art in Bandra, Mumbai
In the big hall, there are portraits of the Mahesh Yogi with his famous disciples. In most of the other places it is abstract art, some of them quite fascinating. I wonder if this was a commissioned art project or if someone just found the perfect place to display their eclectic art.
Where is 84 Kutiya?
84 Kutiya is located across the Ganga River in Rishikesh in the Swarg Ashram area. I came from Chilla and could reach the place directly. If you are coming from Rishikesh, reach Parmarth Niketan and walk towards Vaan Prasth Ashram and keep walking till you reach Ved Niketan Ashram. Walk towards the forest and you should see the board.
It is surrounded by the forest and when you walk around you can feel the forest around you with the sounds. The Ganga flows next to the Ashram but since you hike a bit to reach the ashram, you get a top-down view of the Ganga.
- Chaurasi Kutiya is open from 9 AM to 4 PM daily.
- The ticket is priced at Rs 150/- for Indian citizens, Rs 600/- for foreigners, Rs 75/- for Senior Citizens, and Rs 40/- for students.
- There is a small café inside the campus but it offers limited options to eat.
- Since it is a part of the forest, animals can make an appearance at any time. Be prepared.
- The whole walk around the Ashram needs at least one hour, ideally a couple of hours. Prefer to go in the evenings when it would be a pleasure to sit and watch the Ganga flow by.
- You can sit in any of the Kutiyas and meditate. I did not attempt it as they were not clean enough.