Pandit Ravi Shankar, whose mastery over the sitar helped rejuvenate the classical instrumental tradition in India and popularise Indian music in the West through concerts and collaborations with well known artists, died in San Diego, U.S., on Tuesday.
In a career spanning more than eight decades, Shankar was honoured in India and across the world with several awards including the Bharat Ratna and the Grammies.
The legendary musician and composer suffered upper-respiratory and heart ailments over the past year and underwent heart-valve replacement surgery last Thursday. Ravi Shankar is survived by his wife Sukanya, daughters Norah Jones and Anoushka Shankar Wright.
An active musician for virtually his entire lifetime, Pandit Ravi Shankar found performing, particularly touring, increasingly difficult only in the past few months. Despite his deteriorating health, he gave a spectacular performance on November 4 in Long Beach, California, along with his daughter, sitarist Anoushka Shankar Wright. This, in what was to be his final public performance was, in fact, billed as a celebration of his tenth decade of creating music.
Pandit Ravi Shankar – among the contenders for the next Grammy Award – was a pioneer in taking Indian classical music to a global audience. Through his collaborations with celebrated artistes such as world renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin and rock star George Harrison of The Beatles, Ravi Shankar set a new idiom in what is called fusion music today.
However, the hallmark of his music, observes violin maestro Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, was that he never compromised on the identity of Indian classical music. “His engagement with music was driven by reason all through and the high aesthetic value of his music is only a manifestation of that spirit. He loved and enjoyed good music and approached it with child-like enthusiasm even after becoming a world-renowned master. Only such an attitude to art can bring out inspiring music like his,” Mr. Jayaraman said.
Mohan Veena exponent Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, recalling his last meeting with Pandit Ravi Shankar in New Delhi about three months ago, said: “He came on a wheelchair to attend a felicitation ceremony for my sister, sitarist Manju Mehra. He was his usual self and spoke to us cheerfully. Despite his advanced age, his liveliness and sharp memory was remarkable.”
Eager to embrace the newest generation of performers bringing Indian fine arts to the West, he avidly attended concerts in San Diego during the last few years of his life. He even hosted many concerts at his house on a regular basis, recalled Shekhar Viswanathan, a leader of the Indian community in San Diego, who was closely associated with the musician’s family. “Off stage, Ravi Shankar nurtured a keen interest in current events, and could discuss musical technique and world politics with equal fluency,” he said.