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West meets East on guru Mahesh Yogi's funeral pyre

ALLAHABAD, India (Reuters) - As dawn broke over the Ganges, India’s holiest river, priests made offerings, locals brushed their teeth and men lathered themselves with soap -- while Westerners snapped photographs.

For many foreign visitors who flew into India for the funeral in Allahabad of Beatles’ guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who took transcendental meditation to the West, it was a chance to come face to face with Indian spiritualism.

The funeral took place near Allahabad, which is home to the “sangam”, the confluence of three holy rivers, two of them real, the Ganges and the Yamuna, and one that exists only in myth, the Saraswati.

Among the thousands of Maharishi’s devotees attending his cremation was Hollywood filmmaker David Lynch, who has credited meditation with helping him come up with ideas for his movies.

Visibly moved and his voice quivering, Lynch said many from the West were meeting the East over the cremation of his guru.

“In life, he revolutionised the lives of millions of people,” Lynch told Reuters. “In his passing away he is bringing the West and East together as well.

“In 20, 50, 500 years there will be millions of people who will know and understand what the Maharishi has done.”

On the ritual bathing platforms, the visitors gawked at the site where Hindus believe they can wash away their sins.

Camera flashes filled the air as priests raised cupped handfuls of water to a rising sun and laundry men washed clothes with loud thwacks against slabs of slate in the water.

“Had we not come here we would not understand what spirituality means to Indians,” said Amanda Herron who was introduced to Maharishi’s brand of meditation by friends in London.

“It is a moment of bereavement for us, but we are also making new spiritual discoveries.”

Taking time out of the funeral of Maharishi, who died at his Dutch retreat last week, many of his foreign devotees were getting acquainted with this holy town. Behroz Barami, a 29-year-old Iranian Muslim, who learnt meditation in Tehran at one of Maharishi’s centres, dashed to India to be at his guru’s funeral.

“Spiritualism is a way of life here,” said Behroz, “something I wouldn’t have realised had I not come here.”

Maharishi’s embalmed body was burned on a high bed of logs on the bank of the Ganges River on Monday.

“The emphasis is now on continuing Maharishi’s tradition,” said John Konhaus, one of the leaders anointed by the mystic to run his order after his death.

“We have to build invincible towers of knowledge and wisdom as taught by the Maharishi.”