At 90, Ravi Shankar feted for lifetime contribution to music

Pandit Ravi Shankar, often described as the doyen of Indian string instrumentalists, was Friday felicitated by the government for his lifetime contribution to Indian classical music. And at 90, the maestro says he’s in sync with changing trends.

The legendary sitarist was honoured at a glittering function hosted by the Indo-American Friendship Association and Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). The event was attended by ICCR president Karan Singh, German ambassador Thomas Matussek, economist and former envoy to US Abid Hussain, dancers Sonal Mansingh, former diplomat Lalit Mansingh, author Gurcharan Das and danseuse Sovana Narayan, among others.

A Kolkatan and a thorough Bengali at heart, Pandit-ji, as he is fondly called, was born in Varanasi April 7, 1920.

“It is where my heart and soul lies for I began my artistic career in the city – the first nine years of my creative life as part of my older brother Uday Shankar’s ballet troupe and then as a musician. It is also in Kolkata that I met my mentor, classical music exponent, Baba Allaudin Khan, when he joined the troupe in the year in 1935 and we toured Europe. I learnt music from him,” Pandit Ravi Shankar reminisced in an interview to us.

Uday Shankar disbanded his troupe in 1938. And Ravi Shankar soon parted ways with his brother to pursue music.

“I left ‘dada’ and went to learn music from Baba Allaudin in Maihar in Madhya Pradesh. I stayed with him for seven-and-a-half years. I played on my own for the first time in 1939 at the Allahabad Music Conference and subsequently embarked on an independent musical career,” he said.

In 1956, Ravi Shankar began touring Europe and the US. His performances drew packed halls, giving Indian music an international face. He collaborated with violinist Yehudi Menuhin and George Harrison, and was one of the pioneers to write sitar music for western concerto.

He was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1986 and was conferred India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, in 1999. He also won three Grammy awards and was given the Ramon Magsaysay award in 1992.

Ravi Shankar has created as many as 30 ragas, says “Raga Mala”, a book documenting the journey of Indian classical music.

“They include Nat Bhairav, Ahir Lalit, Yaman Manjh, Gunji Kanhara, Purvi Kalyan, Kameshwari and several more,” the book lists.

Ravi Shankar says he “is completely in sync with the changing face of classical music”.

“Read my autobiograhy, ‘My Music, My Life’. I have updated it with new chapters. And listen to my music. It is forever changing,” he exhorts the youth.

To preserve his music and the legacy of the Indian sitar for posterity, the maestro has set up the Ravi Shankar Institute of Music and Performing Arts (RIMPA) to carry on innovation, research and fusion. The institute serves as a platform to promote younger artists.

Initially housed in his home in Varanasi, the non-profit organisation moved to Chanakyapuri when the maestro shifted base to the capital.

On April 7 this year, the centre celebrated his 90th birthday with an evening “of film and music” dedicated to him. A documentary on Ravi Shankar, “Between Two Worlds”, was screened as part of the tribute.

In February, the maestro launched his own music label “East Meets West Music” as well.

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