VLODROP, Netherlands (Reuters) - Followers gathered at the Dutch home of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on Thursday to remember the late guru to the Beatles who brought transcendental meditation to the West.
In a tent decorated with pots of roses, daffodils and orchids, the main leaders of the Maharishi's movement addressed an audience of hundreds, praising the life and works of the Indian mystic, who died overnight on Wednesday aged 91.
"His holiness brought meditation to the world," said Bevan Morris, prime minister of the Maharishi's Global Country of World Peace movement.
His funeral will be held in the Indian city of Allahabad on Monday, a spokesman for the group said.
Paul McCartney and his fellow Beatles went to India in 1968 to see the guru and much of their music after the trip reflected their experiences -- good and bad -- there.
"I can only say that whilst I am deeply saddened by his passing, my memories of him will only be joyful ones," McCartney said in a statement on Thursday. "He was a great man who worked tirelessly for the people of the world and the cause of unity."
Dressed in white robes and adorned with golden crowns and pendants, the main leaders or Rajas of the movement sat on red velvet seats on a podium, sometimes listening to the speakers, sometimes drifting off into deep contemplation.
After a five-minute group meditation, prominent members of the movement recounted the contributions the Maharishi's practices had made to society, education, science, health, agriculture and defence.
The Maharishi set up universities and schools all over the world and his Natural Law Party -- which promotes yogic flying, a practice that involves sitting in the lotus position and bouncing into the air -- has campaigned in dozens of countries.
INFLUENCE OF PEACE
Transcendental meditation, known as TM by its followers, involves reciting a mantra that practitioners say helps the mind stay calm even under pressure. It gradually gained medical respect over the decades as the Maharishi challenged Western scientists to investigate its health benefits.
The Indian mystic moved his headquarters to the small southern Dutch village of Vlodrop in 1990, occupying the site around a former Franciscan monastery.
Many practitioners came to lay flowers at the gates of his residence on Thursday, a golden-yellow wooden building surrounded by gardens dotted with animal figurines and facing a circle of flags from all around the world.
"It's like a meditation-based United Nations," said a spokesman.
In the audience, many women were dressed in traditional Indian saris, while most men wore light grey and cream suits. Indian music was played in between speeches as people drank herbal tea and watched slides of the Maharishi's life.
Leaders said that though there was a deep sense of loss, there was also a feeling that the Maharishi had been able to achieve what he wanted in his life.
"Five million meditating in the world produces an influence of peace. The Maharishi felt he could relax and inevitably the influence of peace would grow," said John Hagelin, head of the U.S. branch of the movement.
(Editing by Mary Gabriel)