It is now 50 years since George Harrison's most successful solo single, My Sweet Lord, was released in the United Kingdom. The hit was essential in popularizing the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra into the mainstream.
BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Programme host, Vishva Samani, spoke to Shyamasundar Das, the devotee who first introduced the Beatles to their philosophy and enabled Krishna to find a place on George Harrison’s biggest hit.
“George Harrison wanted to know the absolute, no half measures… he wanted it all,” recalls 79-year-old Shyamasundar Das, formerly Sam Speerstra, who renounced sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll lifestyle in his twenties in favour of embracing the Hare Krishna movement in the '60s.
He and a group of fellow young Americans who had been part of the counterculture had travelled to London in 1968 with a driving ambition to introduce the Beatles to "Krishna consciousness" following the band’s well-publicised visit to an ashram in India.
After trying different approaches, Shyamasundar Das managed to get an invite to a party within months of arriving in London, where his distinctive shaved head and Indian-style clothing caught George Harrison’s attention.
Shyamasundar Das with George Harrison
According to Shyamasundar, Harrison became increasingly drawn to the idea that devotion was the formula for a perfect life.
“As a famous musician he concluded that he would sing about Krishna and he did so for the rest of his life… he came to learn that Krishna is just another name for God… like Allah, Jehovah, Buddha – there are thousands of names for the same god,” he says.
The George Harrison Garden, Bhaktivedanta Manor, Watford
Listen to Vishva Samani's feature on how Krishna found a place in George Harrison's My Sweet Lord on Radio 4's weekly look at ethical and religious issues: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p09tdchd[ george ] [ george-harrison ] [ harrison ] [ my-sweet-lord ]