Sitar goes silent, India’s first global musician is dead

Ravi Shankar

In the preface to Ravi Shankar's autobiography My Music, My Life (1969), Yehudi Menuhin, the greatest violin virtuoso of the 20th century, wrote: "To the Indian quality of serenity, the Indian musician brings an exalted personal expression of union with the infinite, as in infinite love. Few modern composers in the West have achieved this quality, though we revere it in the works of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. If Indian musicians like Ravi Shankar, who are so graciously beginning to bring this genius to us, can help us find this quality again, then we shall have much to thank them for."

It is not often that legends like Menuhin exalt musicians to the level of Mozart and Bach. However, such was the imprint Ravi Shankar made, and leaves behind. The legendary sitar maestro, who put Indian music on the global stage and became a name synonymous with the instrument, giving it the status it deserved, died on Tuesday in a hospital near his home in San Diego, southern California.

He was 92 and is survived by his wife Sukanya, daughters Anoushka and Norah, and grandchildren Kaveri and Som (his son Shubhendra's children) and Zubin (Anoushka's son).

In a short telephone conversation from Kolkata, Shankar's niece Mamta called it "a difficult time" and added that she was not in a position to speak.

"Jaise maano, surya doob gaya hai (It is as if the sun has set)," said legendary thumri singer Girija Devi, choking up while talking about her "bhaiya" who "absolutely loved" eating dahi-vadas and chivra-matar made by her. This is the image that 83-year-old Girija Devi wants to remember — of a humble, loving person, who in spite of being a busy musician, would never forget to call, enquire about her health and coax her into sending some food prepared by her to his San Diego home.

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