Pt. Ravi Shankar: Godfather of World Music
"Ravi Shankar is the Godfather of World Music." Nothing better sums up the stature of the sitar maestro perhaps than these words of George Harrison, the late Beatles member whose famous association with the Indian musician is a folklore in the world of music.
While George Harrison called him the Godfather of World Music, violinist Yehudi Menuhin had compared Ravi Shankar with Mozart.
"Ravi Shankar has brought me a precious gift and through him I have added a new dimension to my experience of music. To me, his genius and his humanity can only be compared to that of Mozart's" were the words of Yehudi Menuhin who was a pupil too.
Pandit Ravi Shankar, legendary sitar player and brand ambassador of Indian classical music to the world, died on Tuesday at San Diego in USA at age 92. But the musical legacy he left behind enriched generations of Indian classical as well as fusion music practioners.
But the man who celebrated music, also left behind his philosophy of celebrating life as it comes. So his personal life was as colourful, often controversial, as his musical journey that began in India where he was born in Varanasi on April 7, 1920.
Ravi Shankar took his lessons under his illustrious guru Baba Allaudin Khan, whose daughter Annapurna was his first wife and with whom he had a son, Shubhendra Shankar who died in 1992. Allaudin Khan was the founder of the "Senia Maihar Gharana" or "Senia Maihar School" of Hindustani classical music.
But it was at the age of ten that Ravi Shankar went to Paris with the dance group of his brother, choreographer Uday Shankar. By the age of 13 he had become a key member of the group and learned to dance and play various Indian instruments. He toured Europe and America with Uday Shankar's dance troupe in the early to mid-1930s. It was this time that Shankar learned French, discovered Western classical music, jazz, and cinema.
Few are aware that Ravi Shankar recomposed the music for the popular song "Sare Jahan Se Achcha" at the age of 25. He began to record music for HMV India and worked as a music director for All India Radio (AIR), New Delhi, from Feb 1949 to January 1956.
Ravi Shankar was ahead of his times. According to his foundation official site, Ravi Shankar has written three concertos for sitar and orchestra, last one of which in 2008. He has also authored violin-sitar compositions for Yehudi Menuhin and himself, music for flute virtuoso Jean Pierre Rampal, music for Hosan Yamamoto, master of the Shakuhachi and Musumi Miyashita - Koto virtuoso, and has collaborated with Phillip Glass (Passages).
George Harrison produced and participated in two record albums, "Shankar Family and Friends" and "Festival of India" both composed by Ravi Shankar.
The Concert for Bangladesh, which was the name for two benefit concerts organised by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, on Aug 1, 1971 to raise funds for the relief of Bangladesh war victims, had drawn 40,000 people at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The concerts were followed by a bestselling live album, a boxed three-record set, and Apple Films' concert documentary, which opened in cinemas in the spring of 1972.
Ravi Shankar has also composed for ballets and films across the world. He had worked for films like "Charly," "Gandhi," and more famously the "Apu Trilogy" by Satyajit Ray, another Indian maestro from the world of film making. His musical composition for Tapan Sinha's Kabuliwala won him the Silver Bear Extraordinary Prize of the Jury at the 1957 Berlin International Film Festival.
Ravi Shankar was also famously associated with The Woodstock Festival. He performed at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969. However, in the 1970s Shankar distanced himself from the hippie movement.
Ravi Shankar is an honourary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and is a member of the United Nations International Rostrum of composers.
Besides a Bharat Ratna in 1999, which India's highest civilian honour, he got 14 doctorates, the Padma Vibhushan, Desikottam, Padma Bhushan of 1967, the Music Council UNESCO award 1975, the Magsaysay Award from Manila, Grammy's, the Fukuoka grand Prize from Japan, the Polar Music Prize of 1998, the Crystal award from Davos, with the title 'Global Ambassador' to name some, according to his foundation's official website.
In 1986 Ravi Shankar was nominated as a member of the Rajya Sabha, India's upper house of Parliament.
His recording "Tana Mana", released on the private Music label in 1987, brought his music into the "New age" with its unique method of combining traditional instruments with electronics.
In 1989, this remarkable musician celebrated his 50th year of concertising, and the city of Birmingham Touring Opera Company commissioned him to do a Music Theatre (Ghanashyam - a broken branch) which created history on the British arts scene.
Pandit Ravi Shankar is survived by his wife Sukanya and musician daughters, Anushka Shankar and Norah Jones.
But his personal life was not without controversy and social scrutiny. Shankar separated from Annapurna Devi during the 1940s and had a relationship with Kamala Shastri, a dancer, beginning in the late 1940s. An affair with Sue Jones, a New York concert producer, led to the birth of today's famous singer Norah Jones in 1979. In 1981, Anoushka Shankar, another talented musician, was born to Shankar and Sukanya Rajan, whom Shankar had known since the 1970s. After separating from Kamala Shastri in 1981, Shankar lived with Sue Jones until 1986. He married Sukanya Rajan in 1989.
But while his personal life was under social scrutiny, his phenomenal talent eclipsed everything else.
As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh aptly sums up the contribution of Ravi Shankar when he calls him "a national treasure and global ambassador of India's cultural heritage."