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A Tribute to Sitar Maestro Pt. Ravi Shankar

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TNI Bureau: Pandit Ravi Shankar is no more. With the demise of the great Sitarist, the Indian classical music goes silent. The legend had taken Hindustani classical music to global in the true sense. He breathed his last at the Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, San Diego, where he was admitted on December 6 after complaining of breathing difficulties.

The legend was 92. He is survived by his wife Sukanya and musician daughters, sitar player Anushka Shankar, singer Norah Jones, 3 grandchildren, and 4 great-grandchildren.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office twitted that he was “a national treasure and global ambassador of India’s cultural heritage.” Shankar was awarded India’s highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna, in 1999 and also received three Grammy Awards.

Ravi Shankar was born in Varanasi, India on 7 April 1920 and played the plucked-string instrument, sitar. In his early days he spent most of his time touring Europe with the dance group of his brother Uday Shankar as a dancer. In this dance group only he developed the hobby of playing different instruments, which subsequently became his profession and earned him international fame. He gave up dancing in 1938 to study ‘sitar’. He was trained under famous musician of his time Baba Allauddin Khan of the Senia Maihar gharana. Later he worked as a composer, in the ‘Apu Trilogy’ by Satyajit Ray. He was the music director of All India Radio, New Delhi, from 1949 to 1956.

In 1956, Shankar again started touring Europe and the United States playing Indian classical music but this time he performed music, especially Sitar. During these days, he came in contact with great musicians of international splendor like Yehudi Menuhin and rock artist and lead guitarist George Harrison of The Beatles in London. George produced two record albums for him named, “Shankar Family & Friends” and “Festival of India” both composed by Ravi Shankar.

Besides sitar, Shankar has also 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.

Ravi Shankar has also composed for ballets and films in India, Canada, Europe and the United States. In the mid 60’s, he presented three memorable concerts – Monterey Pop Festival, Concert for Bangla Desh, and The Woodstock Festival.

Ravi Shankar is an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and is a member of the United Nations International Rostrum of composers.

Besides Bharat Ratna and Padma Vibhushan, Pandit has also received prestigious awards like the Music Council UNESCO award 1975, the Magsaysay Award from Manila, two Grammy’s, the Fukuoka grand Prize from Japan, the Polar Music Prize of 1998. He was nominated to the Rajya Sabha from 1986 to 1992.

While Pandit Ravi Shankar was a legendary musician, he spent most of his time out of the country. He helped the Bangladeshi refugees, who came to India during the Bangladesh Freedom struggle from Pakistan. He even arranged a concert to collect money for them.

Pandit Ravi Shankar was certainly a great soul and India will revere him forever for his great contributions.

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