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January 24, 2003   VNN7748  

Kiwi's Last Days With George Harrison


AUSTRALIA, Jan 24 (VNN) — 05 January 2003


The New Zealander who comforted Beatle George Harrison as he died has broken his silence, revealing the special bond he and the famous musician shared.

Auckland-based Mukunda Goswami, who introduced Harrison to the Hare Krishna movement in London in 1969, has spoken exclusively to the Sunday Star-Times of the pair's enduring friendship.

"He was a very spiritual person who was unafraid to die. He was a believer in God," says the shaven-headed monk, 60, who was alongside Harrison in his final days of battling brain, throat and lung cancer just over a year ago.

"Natural happiness is something everyone is looking for and (reincarnation) gives people a sense of progress or hope knowing there's something better and that death isn't the end of everything.

"The soul continues and death needn't be a dismal experience knowing there is a better experience waiting."

Goswami met Harrison in 1969 when Goswami and fellow devotees moved from the US to London. He says he was "thoughtful and great to be with".

"A few of us set out for the UK from San Francisco. I guess you could call us missionaries. We decided we wanted to expand into England. We didn't want to go to a country where the language was very different - it would have been too difficult."

When the devotees turned up at the Beatles' Apple Studios, Harrison wanted to meet them. "He mentioned he had seen us chanting and was very curious about what the whole movement was about."

To have a member of the world's most popular pop group interested in the Krishna movement was exciting.

"We were all Beatles fans," says Goswami. "They had a big influence on everybody at that time. They were more than a musical group.

"I don't think there was ever a concerted effort to get famous people on board. It just so happens that every once in a while, someone (famous) comes along who's interested in us."

While John Lennon was also intrigued by the movement, it was Harrison who fully embraced it and, in the process, became friends with Goswami. He co-signed the lease on the group's first temple in central London and over the years supported Goswami and other devotees financially and with the help of his fame.

He agreed to fund print runs of various Hare Krishna books and wrote the foreword to Divine Nature, a book Goswami co-wrote. He also let them use his Hamilton Island home as a writing retreat.

Harrison incorporated his new-found passion for Krishna in his songs and in 1969 produced the single The Hare Krishna Mantra.

Goswami and others chanted and played various instruments for the single which shot up the international charts.

The devotees made a couple of appearances on popular British music show Top of the Pops, an experience Goswami remembers as "a bit scary" but Harrison called one of the greatest thrills of his life.

"I couldn't believe it. It's pretty hard to get on that programme - it was like a breath of fresh air," Harrison once said.

In a 1982 interview with Goswami, Harrison said his desire to learn more about the Krishna movement felt completely natural.

"I think it's something that's been with me from my previous birth. Your coming to England and all that was just like another piece of a jigsaw puzzle that was coming together to make a complete picture.

"If you're going to have to stand up and be counted, I figured I would rather be with these guys. I felt comfortable with you all too, kind of like we'd known each other before."

Harrison told Goswami that by the late '60s, he realised fame wasn't everything.

"It was like reaching the top of a wall and then looking over and seeing that there's so much more on the other side. So I felt it was part of my duty to say 'Oh, OK, maybe you are thinking this is all you need to be rich and famous' but it actually isn't."

According to media reports in December 2001, Harrison asked Goswami and fellow devotee Shyamasundar Das to come to London to be with him during his final days and to help ease his path into reincarnation.

Out of respect for Harrison's wife Olivia and son Dhani, Goswami wants those days to remain a private memory.

Reports at the time said he and other devotees burned incense and chanted over Harrison. After his death, they placed sacred leaves in his mouth, adorned him with orange flowers and sprinkled him with holy water.

Speculation was rife as to what became of Harrison's ashes.

It was reported Goswami would travel with Harrison's family to India to scatter them in the River Yamuna, at the birthplace of Krishna, north of Delhi.

"I can tell you for sure that stuff was false," is all Goswami will say.

After years of prominence in the Krishna movement, Goswami came to New Zealand four years ago to "semi retire" and concentrate on writing.

He has had a number of books published and finds his private retreat north of Auckland an ideal location to work from.

"Living in a place like New Zealand, people don't make a big production of it. I don't consider that I'm anybody special. I think humility is a virtue and it's something that a lot of people really appreciate."

Harrison's death and the subsequent media coverage taught him some lessons.

"It gave me a depth of understanding about how some people are unnecessarily interested in (famous people's lives).

"It gave me an understanding of why people want to avoid that sort of thing. I guess some people like to be (in the spotlight) but other people don't.

"From time to time, I've thought about what it would be like to be famous.

"I know I wouldn't like my private life to be invaded or intruded upon. I certainly wouldn't like to open my door and have TV cameras whirring," says Goswami.

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