Hallelujah and Hare Krishna: Understanding George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord

Photo by Barry Feinstein

Down through the ages, there has always been the spiritual path. It’s been passed on — it always will be — and if anybody ever wants it in any age, it’s always there.

The words above were once spoken by George Harrison, the lead guitarist of The Beatles. Often regarded as “the quiet one”, Harrison was also the most spiritual of the bunch. Those who are familiar with The Beatles have probably known that Harrison was the one who introduced Indian instruments such as sitar (as heard on Norwegian Wood) and Tabla (Within You Without You). But it’s also important to note that Harrison also brought Indian — and also the broader Eastern — philosophy in his songwriting during his tenure as the band’s no. 1 guitar man.

Eventually, all good things must pass. The Beatles broke up and each member went on their separate ways to launch their own solo career. Harrison, who felt that his creative input to the band’s discography had been inhibited by Lennon-McCartney’s prolific songwriting partnership, was finally free to write and release his own songs, and the results more than proved his capability. His first solo album after the break-up of The Beatles, All Things Must Pass, was a critical and commercial success. Out of the 23 tracks included in the triple album, its lead single, My Sweet Lord, is probably the most iconic.

My Sweet Lord bears the characteristic of Harrison’s later tune with The Beatles, a highly spiritual piece seasoned with his signature slide guitar licks. The first half of the song is filled with Harrison’s desires to see and know God, with his backing vocal chanting the Christian prayer Hallelujah. Harrison, however, despite being raised as a Catholic, is a Hindu. He converted to the Indian religion in 1969, about a year before the song’s release.

His Hindu faith, in turn, is much more prominent in the second half of the song. Take a look at these lyrics:

Mmm, my Lord (Hare Krishna)
My, my, my Lord (Hare Krishna)
Oh, oh, my sweet Lord (Krishna Krishna)
Ooh (Hare Hare)

Now, I really wanna see you (Hare Rama)
Really wanna be with you (Hare Rama)
Really wanna see you,
Lord But it takes so long, my Lord

So what the hell is Hare Krishna? Hare Krishna is a mantra, or a Hindu chant towards Hare, Krishna, and Rama. According to Yogapedia, Hare is the energy of Hari (Vishnu), one of the most important deity in Hindu pantheon, while both Rama and Krishna are Vishnu’s most popular avatars . The mantra is also known as Mahā-mantra (“Great Mantra”). Yogapedia defines Hare Krishna Mantra as below:

The Hare Krishna mantra is a sacred Sanskrit verse, recited as a means to cultivate awareness of a higher power and revive God-realization, known as Krishna consciousness. Rooted in the Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism, the Hare Krishna mantra is mentioned in the Kali-Santarana Upanishad, and is central to the path of Bhakti Yoga.

Furthermore, Yogapedia also explains that the mantra “is chanted as a petition to God, and its meaning can be interpreted as “Oh Lord, oh energy of the Lord, please engage me in your service.””. Suffice to say, the mantra is Harrison’s way to connect with God.

Further into the song and into the outro, we hear more of the Hindu phrases;

My sweet Lord (Krishna Krishna)
Ah, oh, my Lord (Hare Hare)
Mmmmm (Gurur Brahma)
Mmmmm (Gurur Vishnu)
Mmmmm (Gurur Devo)
Mmmmm (Maheshwara)
My sweet Lord (Gurur Sakshaat)
My sweet Lord (Para Brahma)
My, my, my Lord (Tasmayi Shree)
My, my, my, my Lord (Guruve Namah)
My, my sweet Lord (Hare Rama)

This part follows the same pattern as the chorus part, in which Harrison chants the aforementioned Hare Krishna Mantra. However, the mantra that Harrison chants in this part is a bit different than before, since it is an ancient vedic prayer. According to Joshua Greene, Hindu tradition dedicates the prayer to a devotee’s guru, or spiritual teacher, and raises the teacher as an equal to the divine Trimurti (basically the Hindus’ version of the Trinity) — Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva (or Maheshvara) — and to the ultimate reality, Brahman. Furthermore, Greene translates the above lyrics as follows:

I offer homage to my guru, who is as great as the creator Brahma, the maintainer Vishnu, the destroyer Shiva, and who is the very energy of God.

For some, My Sweet Lord may sound a bit blasphemous. Mixing two prayers from two separate religions which have nothing to do with each other may be a sacrilege for some religious fanatics. However, Harrison states that by blending the word ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Hare Krishna’ into the song, My Sweet Lord becomes a call to abandon religious sectarianism altogether. The prayers “Hallelujah” and “Hare Krishna” were most definitely chosen because those were the two prayers from two religions that Harrison was familiar with. If He was a Muslim, for example, he might have used “Allahu Akbar” or “Bismillah” instead.

Belief in God is something that almost all the major religions in the world have in common, and My Sweet Lord is a call for all the religious to know their God more. Being a religious person or not is a matter of choice, but I think what My Sweet Lord is telling us is that if you believe in God, you must strive to know Him more than you do know. And I think it’s something that all religious people can agree with.

“All religions are branches of one big tree.”
— George Harrison

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I write mainly about pop culture, with a dash of politics to spice things up.

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Teuku Haris Syahputra

Teuku Haris Syahputra

I write mainly about pop culture, with a dash of politics to spice things up.

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