Sitar maestro and Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravi Shankar passes away at 92 in San Diego

Pandit Ravi Shankar
Legendary sitar maestro and composer Pandit Ravi Shankar, who popularised Indian classical music in the West and had a major influence on icons like The Beatles' George Harrison and Yehudi Menuhin, died here on Tuesday at the age of 92.

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Shankar, whose health had been fragile for the past several years, underwent heart-valve replacement surgery last Thursday at the Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, California where he breathed his last.

Sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar at play. IE archive

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.

Sitar maestro and Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravi Shankar with Beatles legend George Harrison. IE archive

In a separate statement, the Ravi Shankar Foundation and East Meets West Music said, "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."

A recipient of Bharat Ratna in 1999, Shankar maintained residences in both India and the United States.

He is survived by his wife Sukanya, daughter Norah Jones; daughter Anoushka Shankar Wright, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

"As you all know, his health has been fragile for the past several years and on Thursday he underwent a surgery that could have potentially given him a new lease of life.

"Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the surgeons and doctors taking care of him, his body was not able to withstand the strain of the surgery. We were at his side when he passed away," the family said.

A three-time Grammy award winner, Shankar last performed in California on November 4 along with Anoushka. The first of the Grammy awards came in 1967 for his collaborative album with Menuhin, 'West Meets East'.

Shankar has also been nominated for the 2013 Grammys for his album "The Living Room Sessions Part-1". Anoushka has also been nominated in the same category.

Shankar also composed for ballets and films in India, Canada, Europe and the United States. He created music for the 'Apu Trilogy' by Satyajit Ray.

Credited with incorporating many aspects of Carnatic music in the north Indian classical system, Shankar was music director of All India Radio, New Delhi, from 1949 to 1956.

A three-time Grammy award winner, Shankar last performed in California on November 4 along with his daughter Anoushka Shankar.

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.

He was awarded the three top Indian national civil honours - Padma Bhushan in 1967, Padma Vibhushan in 1981, and Bharat Ratna in 1999.

Shankar befriended Richard Bock, founder of World Pacific Records, on his first American tour and recorded most of his albums in the 1950s and 1960s for Bock's label. The Byrds recorded at the same studio and heard Shankar's music, which led them to incorporate some of its elements in theirs, introducing the genre to Harrison.

The sitar legend authored violin-sitar 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 (Passages).

A Magsaysay award winner, Shankar was nominated as a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1986.

Believing in the greatness of Indian classical music and blessed with charisma and intelligence, he pursued a dream of taking Indian music out to the Western world.

Between the early 1950s and the mid-1960s he became the leading international emissary for Indian music, first performing as a solo artist in the USSR in 1954, in Europe and North America in 1956, and Japan in 1958.

He developed a characteristic sitar sound, with powerful bass notes and a serene and spiritual touch in the alap movement of a raga.

The sitar virtuoso was responsible for incorporating many aspects of Carnatic (south Indian) music into the north Indian system, especially its mathematical approach to rhythm. He also gave a new prominence to the tabla player in concert.

He was appointed Director of Music at the Indian People's Theatre Association, and later held the same position at All India Radio (1949-56). He composed his first new raga in 1945 (30 more would follow) and began a prolific recording career.

The music doyen wrote a new melody for Mohammed Iqbal's patriotic poem 'Sare Jahan Se Accha'.

Besides Bharat Ratna, he was also awarded the two other top Indian national civil honours - Padma Bhushan in 1967, Padma Vibhushan in 1981.

Shankar won the Silver Bear Extraordinary Prize of the Jury at the 1957 Berlin International Film Festival for composing the music for the movie Kabuliwala.

He was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for 1962 and was named a Fellow of the academy for 1975.

In 2001, Shankar was made an Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Elizabeth II for his "services to music".

Shankar married his teacher Ustad Allauddin Khan's daughter Annapurna Devi in 1941 and had a son, Shubhendra Shankar. He separated from Devi in 1940s.

An affair with Sue Jones, a New York concert producer, led to the birth of Norah Jones in 1979. Jones became a successful musician, winning eight Grammy Awards in 2003.

His second daughter Anoushka was born in 1981 with Sukanya Rajan, whom Shankar had known since the 1970s. He married Sukanya in 1989.


(Associated Press adds) Sitar maesto Pandit Ravi Shankar, who became a hippie musical icon of the 1960s after hobnobbing with the Beatles and who introduced traditional Indian ragas to Western audiences over an eight-decade career, died on Tuesday in San Diego. He was 92.

The prime minister's office confirmed his death and called him a "national treasure.''

Labelled "the godfather of world music'' by George Harrison, Shankar helped millions of classical, jazz and rock lovers discover the centuries-old traditions of Indian music.

He also pioneered the concept of the rock benefit with the 1971 Concert For Bangladesh. To later generations, he was known as the estranged father of popular American singer Norah Jones.

As early as the 1950s, Shankar began collaborating with and teaching some of the greats of Western music, including violinist Yehudi Menuhin and jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. He played well-received 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 "US audiences were receptive but occasionally puzzled.''

His close relationship with Harrison, the Beatles lead guitarist, shot Shankar to global stardom in the 1960s.

Harrison had grown fascinated with the sitar, a long necked, string instrument that uses a bulbous gourd for its resonating chamber and resembles a giant lute. He played the instrument, with a Western tuning, on the song "Norwegian Wood,'' but soon sought out Shankar, already a musical icon in India, to teach him to play it properly.

The pair spent weeks together, starting the lessons at Harrison's house in England and then moving to a houseboat in Kashmir and later to California.

Gaining confidence with the complex instrument, Harrison recorded the Indian-inspired song "Within You Without You'' on the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,'' helping spark the raga-rock phase of 60s music and drawing increasing attention to Shankar and his work.

Shankar's popularity exploded, and he soon found himself playing on bills with some of the top rock musicians of the era. He played a four-hour set at the Monterey Pop Festival and the opening day of Woodstock.

Though the audience for his music had hugely expanded, Shankar, a serious, disciplined traditionalist who had played Carnegie Hall, chafed against the drug use and rebelliousness of the hippie culture.

"I was shocked to see people dressing so flamboyantly. They were all stoned. To me, it was a new world,'' Shankar told Rolling Stone of the Monterey festival.

While he enjoyed Otis Redding and the Mamas and the Papas at the festival, he was horrified when Jimi Hendrix lit his guitar on fire.

"That was too much for me. In our culture, we have such respect for musical instruments, they are like part of God,'' he said.

In 1971, moved by the plight of millions of refugees fleeing into India to escape the war in Bangladesh, Shankar reached out to Harrison to see what they could do to help.

In what Shankar later described as "one of the most moving and intense musical experiences of the century,'' the pair organized two benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden that included Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and Ringo Starr.

The concert, which spawned an album and a film, raised millions of dollars for UNICEF and inspired other rock benefits, including the 1985 Live Aid concert to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia and the 2010 Hope For Haiti Now telethon.

Ravindra Shankar Chowdhury was born April 7, 1920, in the Indian city of Varanasi.

At the age of 10, he moved to Paris to join the world famous dance troupe of his brother Uday. Over the next eight years, Shankar traveled with the troupe across Europe, America and Asia, and later credited his early immersion in foreign cultures with making him such an effective ambassador for Indian music.

During one tour, renowned musician Baba Allaudin Khan joined the troupe, took Shankar under his wing and eventually became his teacher through 7 1/2 years of isolated, rigorous study of the sitar.

"Khan told me you have to leave everything else and do one thing properly,'' Shankar said.

In the 1950s, Shankar began gaining fame throughout India. He held the influential position of music director for All India Radio in New Delhi and wrote the scores for several popular films. He began writing compositions for orchestras, blending clarinets and other foreign instruments into traditional Indian music.

And he became a de facto tutor for Westerners fascinated by India's musical traditions.

He gave lessons to Coltrane, who named his son Ravi in Shankar's honor, and became close friends with Menuhin, recording the acclaimed "West Meets East'' album with him. He also collaborated with flutist Jean Pierre Rampal, composer Philip Glass and conductors Andre Previn and Zubin Mehta.

"Any player on any instrument with any ears would be deeply moved by Ravi Shankar. If you love music, it would be impossible not to be,'' singer David Crosby, whose band The Byrds was inspired by Shankar's music, said in the book "The Dawn of Indian Music in the West: Bhairavi.''

Shankar's personal life, however, was more complex.

His 1941 marriage to Baba Allaudin Khan's daughter, Annapurna Devi, ended in divorce. Though he had a decades-long relationship with dancer Kamala Shastri that ended in 1981, he had relationships with several other women in the 1970s.

In 1979, he fathered Norah Jones with New York concert promoter Sue Jones, and in 1981, Sukanya Rajan, who played the tanpura at his concerts, gave birth to his daughter Anoushka.

He grew estranged from Sue Jones in the 80s and didn't see Norah for a decade, though they later re-established contact.

He married Rajan in 1989 and trained young Anoushka as his heir on the sitar. In recent years, father and daughter toured the world together.

When Jones shot to stardom and won five Grammy awards in 2003, Anoushka Shankar was nominated for a Grammy of her own.

Shankar, himself, has won three Grammy awards and was nominated for an Oscar for his musical score for the movie "Gandhi.''

Despite his fame, numerous albums and decades of world tours, Shankar's music remained a riddle to many Western ears.

Shankar was amused after he and colleague Ustad Ali Akbar Khan were greeted with admiring applause when they opened the Concert for Bangladesh by twanging their sitar and sarod for a minute and a half.

"If you like our tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more,'' he told the confused crowd, and then launched into his set.

Sitar maestro and Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravi Shankar performing with other artists. IE archive

Sitar maestro and Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravi Shankar. IE archive

Pandit Ravi Shankar and Nasir Moinuddin Dagar (center). The younger Dagar, Nasir Aminuddin smiles happily. IE archive

Sitar maestro and Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravi Shankar at his wedding. PTI

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