Pandit Ravi Shankar, the Indian Sitar Maestro passed away in California today. He is credited to be the man who took Indian Music to world heights.
He was born as born Robindro Shaunkor Chowdhury, on 7 April 1920 at Varanasi in a traditional Bengali Brahmin Family and was the youngest of seven brothers.
At the age of ten, after spending his first decade in Varanasi, Shankar went to Paris with the dance group of his brother, choreographer Uday Shankar. By the age of 13 he had become a member of the group, accompanied its members on tour and learned to dance and play various Indian instruments.
He was trained by lead musician for the Maihar court, Allauddin Khan during a world tour and later at Maihar in Satna district of Madhya Pradesh.
Khan was a rigorous teacher and Shankar had training on sitar and surbahar, learned ragas and the musical styles dhrupad, dhamar, and khyal, and was taught the techniques of the instruments rudra veena, rubab, and sursingar. He often studied with Khan’s children Ali Akbar Khan and Annapurna Devi, whom he later married.
In 1944, he moved to Mumbai where Shankar recomposed the music for the popular song “Sare Jahan Se Achcha” at the age of 25 only.
He began to record music for HMV India and worked as a music director for All India Radio (AIR), New Delhi, from February 1949 to January 1956
By that time, he was already an established Musician founded the Indian National Orchestra at AIR. In his compositions he combined Western and classical Indian instrumentation.
In 1971, Shankar and Beatles guitarist George Harrison organized and played at a fundraising concert to aid the war and famine victims of Bangladesh, giving birth to the modern megastar benefit concert.
Pandit Ravi Shankar’s association with the Beatles made him a household name in the West and created “an avalanche of such experiments in the rock and pop world,”
Because of the influence Mr. Shankar exerted on musicians of all styles and nationalities, George Harrison called the sitarist the “godfather of world music.”
Ravi Shankar has also composed for ballets and films in India, Canada, Europe and the United States. The latter of which includes the films “Charly,” “Gandhi,” and the “Apu Trilogy”.
In the period of the awakening of the younger generation in the mid 60’s, Ravi Shankar gave three memorable concerts – Monterey Pop Festival, Concert for Bangla Desh, and The Woodstock Festival.
Deeply moved by the plight of more than eight million refugees who came to India during the Bangla Desh Freedom struggle from Pakistan, Ravi Shankar wanted to help in any way he could. He planned to arrange a concert to collect money for the refugees. He approached his dear friend George Harrison to help him raise money for this cause. This humanitarian concern from Ravi Shankar sowed the seed of the concept for the Concert for Bangla Desh. With the help of George Harrison, this concert became the first magnus effort in fund raising, paving the way for many others to do charity concerts.
Pandit Ravi Shankar had a complicated private life. His marriage to Annapurna Devi ended in divorce and strained his relationship with her family. His son Shubhendra “Shubho” Shankar was born from Annapurna Devi.
He later entered into a relationship with dancer Kamala Sastri that lasted from the late 1960s to early 1980s, and he began an affair with the married Sukanya Rajan, who played the tanpura at his concerts and was 31 years his junior.
Pandit Ravi Shankar married Sukankya Rajan in 1989 and had a daughter Anoushka Shankar, who is also a prominent musician.
In the course of his touring West, Pandit Ravi Shankar also began a relationship with concert promoter Sue Jones, and the couple, in 1979, had a daughter, Geethali Nora Jones Shankar, better known as Norah Jones. Pandit Ravi Shankar had little role in raising his daughter, who failed to thank her father when she won multiple Grammys for “Come Away With Me” in 2003. They were reported to have reconciled in later years.
In fact, Pandit Ravi Shankar was the true father of three musicians: his son Shubho, an Indian classical musician and painter, who died in 1992; Anoushka, who often performed duets with her father; and Norah Jones, an eight-time Grammy Award-winner best known for her composition and performances of jazzy popular songs.
Shubhendra “Shubho” Shankar often accompanied his father on tours.He could play sitar and surbahar, but elected not to pursue a solo career and died in 1992. His Daughter Norah Jones became a successful musician in the 2000s, winning eight Grammy Awards in 2003.
His daughter from Sukanya, Anoushka Shankar was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best World Music Album in 2003. Both Anoushka and her father were nominated for Best World Music Album at the 2013 Grammy Awards for separate albums.
Awards and Recognition
Pandit Ravi Shankar was awarded the three highest national civil honours of India: Padma Bhushan, in 1967, Padma Vibhushan, in 1981, and Bharat Ratna, in 1999. He received the music award of the UNESCO International Music Council in 1975, three Grammy Awards, and was nominated for an Academy Award. Shankar received the Kalidas Samman from the Government of Madhya Pradesh for 1987–88, the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in 1991, the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1992, and the Polar Music Prize in 1998.
In 1986 Ravi Shankar was nominated as a member of the Rajya Sabha, India’s upper house of Parliament.
Speaking of his legacy a few years ago, Mr. Shankar said he was proudest of having helped expand the public notion of what Indian raga music could be. “There is so much more — erotic, romantic, sad, spiritual,” he told the publication the World and I. “One good thing is the people getting stoned don’t do that with my music anymore. I worked hard for that and achieved it.”
On 6 December 2012, Ravi Shankar was admitted to Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, San Diego after complaining of breathing difficulties. He died on 11 December at around 16:30 Pacific Time (UTC−8). According to his spokesman, Stuart Wolferman, Shankar died near his home in Encinitas, California.
(Information compiled from various sources)