Le­gend of

Southasia - - Tribute - By J. En­ver J. En­ver is a free­lance writer who writes on in­ter­na­tional af­fairs, me­dia and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and cul­ture and so­ci­ety.

“Araga,” said Ravi Shankar, “is a sci­en­tific, pre­cise, sub­tle and aes­thetic melodic form with its own pe­cu­liar as­cend­ing and de­scend­ing move­ment con­sist­ing of ei­ther a full seven-note oc­tave, or a se­ries of six or five notes in a ris­ing or fall­ing struc­ture called the Aro­hana and Avaro­hana. It is the sub­tle dif­fer­ence in the or­der of notes, an omis­sion of a dis­so­nant note, an em­pha­sis on a par­tic­u­lar note, the slide from one note to the other … that de­mar­cate one raga from the other.”

Known as the sitar player who hob­nobbed with the Bea­tles, pre­sented a rock ben­e­fit con­cert for Bangladesh and later be­came known as the es­tranged fa­ther of pop­u­lar Amer­i­can singer No­rah Jones, the late Ravi Shankar was a man of many facets.

He was known for hav­ing made ap­pear­ances at non-clas­si­cal events, such as the orig­i­nal Woodstock and 1967’s Monterey Pop Fes­ti­val. It was his close friend­ship with the “Quiet Bea­tle,” Ge­orge Har­ri­son and his band mates that really helped to pop­u­lar­ize sitar mu­sic world­wide. He also had mu­si­cal con­nec­tions with John Coltrane, Ye­hudi Menuhin and David Crosby.

De­scribed as the “le­gend of leg­ends” by Shivku­mar Sharma, a noted san­toor player, Ravi Shankar played a valu­able role in uni­ver­sal­iz­ing mu­sic of the sub­con­ti­nent to the world through the in­stru­ment of sitar.

He was In­dia’s most es­teemed mu­si­cal am­bas­sador and a sin­gu­lar phe­nom­e­non. As a per­former, com­poser, teacher and writer, he did more for In­dian mu­sic than any other mu­si­cian. Though he is well known for his pi­o­neer­ing work in bring­ing In­dian mu­sic to the West, he did so only af­ter long years of ded­i­cated study un­der his il­lus­tri­ous guru, Us­tad Al­laudin Khan.

As early as the 1950s, Shankar be­gan col­lab­o­rat­ing with vi­o­lin­ist Ye­hudi Menuhin and jazz sax­o­phon­ist Coltrane. He pre­sented shows in con­cert halls in Europe and the United States, but faced a con­stant strug­gle to bridge the mu­si­cal gap be­tween the West and the East.

De­scrib­ing an early Shankar tour in 1957, Time mag­a­zine said. “U.S. au­di­ences were re­cep­tive but oc­ca­sion­ally puz­zled.”

Al­ways ahead of his time, Ravi Shankar wrote three con­cer­tos for sitar and orches­tra. He 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 col­lab­o­rated with Phillip Glass (Pas­sages). Ge­orge Har­ri­son pro­duced and par­tic­i­pated in two record al­bums, “Shankar Fam­ily & Friends” and “Fes­ti­val of In­dia” both com­posed by Ravi Shankar. Ravi Shankar also com­posed for bal­lets and films in In­dia, Canada, Europe and the United States.

Born in Varanasi, Ravi started his ca­reer in the per­form­ing arts as a dancer and spent his youth tour- ing Europe and In­dia with the dance group of his brother Uday Shankar. He gave up danc­ing in 1938 to learn the sitar un­der Us­tad Al­laud­din Khan. He sub­se­quently worked as a com­poser of film mu­sic and worked on the mu­sic of the Apu Tril­ogy pro­duced by Satyajit Ray and later on Charly and Gandhi. He also served as a mu­sic di­rec­tor at All In­dia Ra­dio in New Delhi be­tween 1949 and 1956.

His tour­ing ca­reer be­gan in 1956 when he started pre­sent­ing In­dian clas­si­cal mu­sic per­for­mances in Eu- rope and the Amer­ica. This is when his as­so­ci­a­tion with vi­o­lin­ist Ye­hudi Menuhin and rock artist Ge­orge Har­ri­son com­menced. The best thing about Ravi Shankar was that he could re­late the sitar and In­dian clas­si­cal mu­sic with West­ern mu­sic which made his tours quite pop­u­lar around the world in the 70s and 80s.

In the tra­di­tion of In­dian po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age, he served as a nom­i­nated mem­ber of the Ra­jya Sabha, the up­per cham­ber of the Par­lia­ment of In­dia, from 1986 to 1992 and was awarded In­dia’s high­est civil­ian hon­our, the Bharat Ratna, in 1999. He also re­ceived three Grammy Awards and con­tin­ued to per­form into the 2000s, some­times with his younger daugh­ter, Anoushka. He died at the ripe age of 92, leav­ing a rich tra­di­tion of mu­sic be­hind.

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