Khaas Baat : A Publication for Indian Americans in Florida

Soul of Sitar Sails On – Tribute to Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravi Shankar

Lavanya Dinesh

By Lavanya Dinesh

What can I say about this great music maestro that hasn’t already been said? I can merely confess that the magical strains of the sitar in the nimble hands of this creative genius strike a chord in my heart and invigorate the psyche as it does with millions of music lovers all over the world. With Pandit Ravi Shankar's passing away on Dec, 11, 2012 at the age of 92 years, the world lost the most beloved Indian musical icon of the modern era. Shankar and sitar are synonymous. Panditji is undisputedly the most well-known and accomplished exponent of the soulful sitar and also solely responsible for making this illustrious instrument popular in the fine arts firmament over the past century.

Under Pandit Ravi Shankarji, the sitar reached new heights not just in Indian classical music or semi-classical/light/film music but also grew in stature as an esteemed instrument integral to the world music arena and often became an integral part of grand symphonic orchestras of fusion music. This musical stalwart was famous not only as an impeccable performer of Indian classical music on the sitar but also as a great composer of symphonic orchestra music, fusion/world-music, Indian devotional and film music as well. Listening to Pandit Ravi Shankar live was an absolutely mesmerizing experience. Both the artist’s persona and music always exuded inimitable charm. One of my favorite raagas by the instrumentalist is Tilak Shyam – a melody which is the maestro’s own original innovation, which I remember with great fondness from one of his live concerts in my hometown of Bangalore. Panditji used Tilak Shyam in one of his most famous film music compositions “Jaane Kaise Sapono Mein Kho Gayi Akhioya”  sung by the great Lata Mangeshakar for the Hindi film “Anuradha.” This film also contains a few more gems by the maestro.

Pandit Ravi Shankar truly led an enchanted musical life influenced by great gurus and artists with a supportive family steeped in the arts, always surrounded by intellectuals, great fellow-musicians, fans, followers and talented students. Shankar received rigorous training in the Gurukul system of tutelage under the legendary musician Baba Allauddiin Khan of the Maihar Gharana or tradition. His renowned guru-bandhus (fellow disciples) were sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Pandita Anna Purna Devi (Sur Bahar), both children of his guru Allauddin Khan Saheb. Pandit Shankar initially performed musical duets (Jugalbandis) with these two artists. Shankar began his career as a dancer in his big brother Uday Shankar’s troupe as a child with exposure to international audiences. However, as a youth armed with an arsenal of mellifluous Indian classical raagas and mastery over the beautiful string instrument sitar, the world became Pandit Ravi Shankar’s stage. He took his music all over India and is credited as being the first to introduce pure Indian classical music and his instrument to Western audiences in a grand and appealing way. It is common knowledge that Ravi Shankar taught sitar to the Beatles, especially George Harrison with whom he formed a deep spiritual and musical bond. Pandit Shankar is also known as the father of World Music. Even while maintaining the purity of Indian classical music, he collaborated with various Western instrumentalists such as Yehudi Menuhin, Philip Glass, John Coltraine and so on to create the most unique, innovative and eclectic sound. Panditji received two Grammy awards for such contributions.

Pandit Ravi Shankar was associated with many national and international ventures in his capacity as a master composer, including Richard Attenborough’s multiple Academy award- winning landmark film “Gandhi” starring Ben Kingsley. Pandit Ravi Shankar won an Oscar for his poignant musical score in the movie. Pandit Shankar composed the melodious welcome song “Swaagatham Shubha Swaagatham” for the Asian Games of 1982 in New Delhi. In 1987, the festival of India in the USSR (former Soviet Union) was a showcase for this maestro's grandest Indian symphonic orchestra, including dozens of Indian vocalists, instrumentalists performing alongside Russian musicians. The inspiring music can still be heard in the album entitled “Inside the Kremlin.” My favorite track is the lilting ‘Taraana’ in Raaga Bhairavi. The greatness of this musician lies in the fact that he never flinched or wavered in his dedication to authentic Indian classical music. He continued to give performances until the end. It is noteworthy that Pandit Ravi Shankar was an incredible guru and leaves behind some accomplished students who are great musicians in their own right, including Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhat (Mohan Veena), Partho Sarathy Choudhury (sarod), Shubhendra Rao (sitar), Ronu Majumdar (bansuri) and so on.

Pandit Ravi Shankar will be cherished, celebrated and remembered for being the most effective ambassador of Indian classical music around the world. He received some of the world’s most coveted accolades and awards, including India’s highest civilian honor, Bharat Ratna.  Pandit Ravi Shankar’s musical legacy lives on through his thousands of recordings, in the musical traditions that continue through his various accomplished students, including daughter Anoushka Shankar as well as in the annals of history of World Music.

Lavanya Dinesh, an accomplished performer and teacher of Hindustani classical vocal music, lives in Tampa. She regularly performs at musical venues in India and the United States. The singer has three album releases to her credit. She can be reached at lavanya@lavanyadinesh.com

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