Sitar Maestro Ravi Shankar dies at 92: World Pays Tribute

    NEW YORK (TIP): Ravi Shankar, popularly known as Pandit Ravi Shankar, the revered master of the sitar who introduced Indian music to much of the Western world, died Tuesday, December11 in San Diego. He was 92. In New Delhi, Prime Minister of India mourned the music maestro’s death and described him as a “national treasure.” “An era has passed away with Pandit Ravi Shankar. The nation joins me in paying tribute to his unsurpassable genius, his art and his humility,” Singh said in his message.

    Prime Minister Manmohan Singh paid rich tribute to sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, who passed away at the age of 92 on December 11 in San Diego, USA, describing him as the “unsurpassable genius” who was India’s “one of the most effective cultural ambassadors across the world”. “An era has passed away with Pandit Ravi Shankar. The nation joins me in paying tribute to his unsurpassable genius, his art and his humility,” Singh said in his message. Mr. Shankar, whose health had been fragile for the past several years, underwent a surgery on Thursday, December 6 at the Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, California where he breathed his last.

    The music icon was admitted to the hospital last week when he complained of breathlessness. “It is with heavy hearts we write to inform you that Pandit Ravi Shankar, husband, father, and musical soul, passed away today,” his wife and daughter, Sukanya and Anoushka Shankar, said in a joint statement. “Mr. Shankar had suffered from upper-respiratory and heart issues over the past year and underwent heart-valve replacement surgery last Thursday. Though the surgery was successful, recovery proved too difficult for the 92-year-old musician,” said another statement issued by the Ravi Shankar Foundation and East Meets West Music. He is survived by his wife Sukanya; daughter Norah Jones; daughter Anoushka Shankar Wright and husband Joe Wright; three grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

    A recipient of Bharat Ratna in 1996, Shankar maintained residences in both India and the United States. A three-time Grammy award winner,Mr. Shankar last performed in California on November 4 along with his daughter Anoushka Shankar. Mr. Shankar has also been nominated for the 2013 Grammys for his album The Living Room Sessions Part-1 and was pitted against Anoushka in the same category. In recent months, performing, and especially touring, became increasingly difficult for the musician.

    However, health couldn’t prevent Mr. Shankar from performing with Anoushka on November 4 in Long Beach, California. “This, in what was to be his final public performance, was in fact billed as a celebration of his 10th decade of creating music,” the foundation said. A Bengali Brahmin, he was born Robindra Shankar on April 7, 1920 in Varanasi, the youngest of four brothers, and spent his first 10 years in relative poverty, brought up by his mother. He was almost eight before he met his absent father, a globe-trotting lawyer, philosopher, writer and former minister to the Maharajah of Jhalawar. In 1930, his eldest brother Uday Shankar uprooted the family to Paris, and over the next eight years Shankar enjoyed the limelight in Uday’s troupe, which toured the world introducing Europeans and Americans to Indian classical and folk dance.

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    As a performer, composer and teacher,Mr. Shankar was an Indian classical artist of the highest rank, and he spearheaded the worldwide spread of Indian music and culture, said writer and editor Oliver Craske, who provided additional narrative for Mr. Shankar’s autobiography ‘Raga Mala’. Mr. Shankar achieved his greatest fame in the 1960s when he was embraced by the Western counterculture. Through his influence on his great friend George Harrison, and appearances at the Monterey and Woodstock festivals and the Concert for Bangladesh, he became a household name in the West, the first Indian musician to do so. “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.

    But the man who celebrated music, also left behind his philosophy of celebrating life as it comes. So his personal life was as colorful, 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 violinsitar 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 George Harrison produced and participated in two record albums, “Shankar Family & Friends” and “Festival of India” both composed by Ravi Shankar. The Concert for Bangladesh, which was the name for two benefit concerts organized 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 was an honorary 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 honor, 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 concretizing, 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. 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.”

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