India is a land of artistes and art dwells in every nook and corner of India. One such legendary artiste the nation was blessed to have was Pandit Ravi Shankar. Rightly called “the godfather of world music”, the sitar maestro was a gem of Indian classical music. On April 7, 2014, it's his 94th birth anniversary and on this occasion, we pay a tribute to his life and his music.
Robindro Shaunkor Chowdhury or well-known as Ravi Shankar, was born on this day in 1920 in Varanasi, the city of pilgrims. At the age of 10, he went to Paris with his choreographer brother Uday Shankar, who was a part of a dance troupe called 'Company of Hindu Dance and Music'. It was there that Ravi Shankar was exposed to the dances and music of both Indian and Western cultures at the same time. The seed that was sown in childhood and adolescence, bore fruits in the later years and so Pandit Ravi Shankar was aptly acknowledged as the global ambassador of Indian classical music.
Ravi Shankar learned sitar from his guru, the multi-instrumentalist and the lead musician of Maihar court, Allaudin Khan. Shankar met Khan in 1934 at a music conference in Kolkata. After two years, Khan became the soloist of Uday's dance troupe. And in 1938, Ravi Shankar gave up dancing and went to Maihar to train under his mentor and guide. His training came to an end six years later, in 1944, and his musical journey commenced.
After completing his training, Ravi Shankar moved to Mumbai and composed music for ballet in the Indian People's Theatre Association. He then became the music director of the All India Radio, New Delhi radio station. During this period, he composed pieces for orchestra in which he merged classical Indian instruments with the western instrumentation. He was also the music composer of Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy and was a music director for several Hindi movies like Godaan and Anuradha.
In the years to come, Ravi Shankar did many concerts internationally as well as in India, performed with many artistes and won numerous awards. He performed, wrote music and recorded three songs with violinist Yehudi Menuhin. He also performed with Alla Rakha who accompanied him on the tabla. He toured to many countries like Germany, U.S.A, United Kingdom and earned recognition across the world. Moreover, George Harrison became fond of Indian music and started learning Sitar with Ravi Shankar and played the sitar in the Beatle's track 'Norwegian Wood'. The master of Sitar gained more and more popularity with each passing year and was the pioneer in introducing the traditional Indian music to the western audiences. He grabbed many awards including two Grammy awards and also bagged an Oscar nomination for his score in the film Gandhi by Richard Attenborough.
In 1997, Pandit Ravi Shankar taught his daughter Anoushka Shankar playing Sitar and later on composed music for her, toured and performed with her. His last concert was with Anoushka on November 4, 2012 at Long Beach. Shankar breathed his last on the 11th of December, 2012 in San Diego, California losing battle to some respiratory and heart ailments. India suffered a great loss with his sad demise but he will always be remembered through his music. He was probably the only musician who experimented with and fused together Indian classic and western music.
Here are some glimpses in the life and music of the sitar maestro.
The trailer of a documentary film 'Raga' on Pandit Ravi Shankar, shot by Howard Worth and released in 1971
Ravi Shankar and George Harrison organised the Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden to help the Bangladeshi refugees
Ravi Shankar performing with violinist Yehudi Menuhin
Alla Rakha at tabla accompanies Pandit Ravi Shankar at Sitar as they perform for BBC at Pebble Mills
Ravi Shankar's final concert with daughter Anoushka Shankar