While Bob Seger’s ‘Katmandu’ and Cat Stevens’ songs with their clear titles have familiarized many with the musical references to Nepal, John Lennon’s ‘Nobody Told Me’ contains a lesser-known yet intriguing mention of this Himalayan nation. In a single line — ‘There’s a little yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu’ — Lennon adds a mysterious and whimsical layer to his song.
The Poem That Inspired Lennon
Interestingly, the line ‘There’s a little yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu’ from ‘Nobody Told Me,’ released in 1984, is believed to have a literary ancestor in ‘The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God,’ a 1911 poem by J. Milton Hayes. This poem and possibly Lennon’s line draw inspiration from the mystical allure of the Himalayas and Nepalese culture. Laden with surreal imagery, the song offers an intriguing, yet not widely known, reference to Nepal, enriching the cultural dialogue between Nepal and the world of international music, and inviting listeners to explore deeper connections.
Watch the video below. At the 1:45 mark, listen as Lennon mentions the ‘little yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu.’ In this moment, he is seen whispering to a statue of Buddha, followed by a scene where he lies down while Yoko Ono stands against the wall, creating a poignant visual to accompany the lyric.
Cultural Crossroads: The Real-Life Inspiration
In December 2011, the BBC radio program ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ broadcast a piece by journalist Joanna Jolly in which she detailed a trip to Sankhu, a village to the northeast of Kathmandu. Near this village is the Bajrayogini Temple, home to a gold-plated statue of the Tantric goddess Bajrayogini, called Mhasu Khwa Maju in the Newar community. The temple and its ‘Yellow Faced Mother Goddess’ with silver eyes only revealed during festivals might have inspired Hayes’s poem, which in turn influenced Lennon.
For those exploring the intersections of music and culture, Lennon’s brief but memorable mention, alongside its potential poetic and historical roots, serves as a reminder of the unexpected ways Nepal continues to inspire and be recognized on the global stage. Notably, John Lennon uses the opening line in the posthumously released song ‘Nobody Told Me,’ subtly changing ‘one-eyed’ to ‘little’ to craft his own unique narrative.