“I played with Raviji at Woodstock”

Maya Kulkarni Chadda looks back at the time she played with Pt Ravi Shankar at the legendary Woodstock Festival.

Maya Kulkarni Chadda was a postgraduate student in the US in 1969 when, one day, she received a desperate call from well-known tanpura player Kamala Chakravarty. "She was ill and requested me to fill in for her at a series of performances in New York," recalls Chadda. One of the performers she would be accompanying was sitar player Pt Ravi Shankar and one of the concerts they would be playing at was at the three-day-long Woodstock Festival of Art and Music. Thus Chadda, then 22 years old, became a part of the legendary trio — the other performer was celebrated tabla player Ustad Alla Rakha Khan — that took Woodstock on a trip to the high heavens during that significant performance on August 15.

A few days ago, when Pt Ravi Shankar passed away, a recording of the concert on YouTube became viral among music lovers. In the grainy recording, Shankar is at his flamboyant best, Khan sedately drumming up the beats, and Chadda, a quiet figure in the background. Five lakh revellers, many possibly under the spell of marijuana, fought rain as the trio played Raga Purya Dhanashri. "When we came on the stage, the audience roared with welcome and listened with rapt attention. Somewhere Raviji knew that he was making history. I saw his utter openness to all forms of music, the deep love for notes and what they conveyed — Western or Indian," says Chadda, now a Professor of Political Science at the William Paterson University in New Jersey, in an email interview.

Woodstock was not Chadda's introduction to Shankar or his sitar notes. As a young child, she used to be a regular at Bhulabhai Desai Institute in Mumbai, where she learnt Bharatnatyam. "Raviji used the institute to work on his own productions. I also worked on one, a dance-drama called Chandalika, written by Rabindranath Tagore, to which he gave music. Vyjayantimala Bali had choreographed the piece and I was her chief assistant. Raviji and I developed a strong bond of affection, and he would invite me to all his performances and to his home," she says.

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