Hundreds pay tributes to legendary sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar at a public memorial service in California

About 700 people joined Pandit Ravi Shankar’s wife Sukanya and daughters, Norah Jones and Anoushka Shankar, at a memorial service for the sitar virtuoso at a spiritual centre in this coastal town, about 40 km north of San Diego, on Thursday. Olivia Harrison, the wife of the late Beatle, George Harrison, was among those who said their final goodbye to the musician, once described by Harrison as “The Godfather of world music.”

The legendary musician and composer, who helped introduce the sitar to the West through his collaboration with The Beatles, passed away on December 11 in southern California.

Ms. Harrison told Reuters that the three-time Grammy winner, who formed a musical and spiritual bond with The Beatles, “expressed music at its deepest level.”

“As a person he was just sweet and seemed to know everything,” she said, adding that Pandit Ravi Shankar “was a true citizen of the world.”

Ravi Shankar is credited with popularising Indian music through his work with violinist Yehudi Menuhin and The Beatles in the mid-1960s, inspiring George Harrison to learn the sitar and the British band to record songs like ‘Norwegian Wood’ (1965) and ‘Within You, Without You’ (1967).

“He completely transformed [George’s] musical sensibilities,” a tearful Ms. Harrison told the crowd. “They exchanged ideas and melodies until their hearts and minds were intertwined like a double helix.”

‘Little Crumb’

Ravi Shankar’s friendship with Harrison led his appearances at the Monterey and Woodstock pop festivals in the late 1960s and the 1972 Concert for Bangladesh.

He became one of the first Indian musicians to become a household name in the West.

His influence in classical music, including on composer Philip Glass, was just as large. His work with Menuhin on their “West Meets East” albums in the 1960s and 1970s earned them a Grammy, and he wrote concertos for sitar and orchestra for both the London Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.

“I always felt like a little crumb in his presence,” Zubin Mehta, a former music director of the New York Philharmonic who had often collaborated with Ravi Shankar, said at the service.

Recalling their association of over 50 years, he said: “Because every night, whichever stage he was performing on, he was composing simultaneously [as he played].”

Jazz pianist Herbie Hancock also attended the service along with Anna Karenina director Joe Wright, the husband of Ravi Shankar’s daughter Anoushka.

Ravi Shankar performed his final concert on November 4 in Long Beach, California, with his Grammy-winning daughter Anoushka.

Thanking those who came to the service, Anoushka said: “My father loved spending time here so much and it feels so right for us to celebrate his journey in this beautiful place,” she said.

Norah Jones, the other daughter of Ravi Shankar, did not speak at the service.