Washington/New Delhi: Sitar maestro and composer Pandit Ravi Shankar, one of India’s most loved and best known musicians, died in the US Tuesday. He was 92.
He had been admitted to the Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, San Diego last Thursday after he complained of breathing difficulties. He breathed his last at 4.30 p.m. Pacific Time Tuesday.
He is survived by his wife Sukanya Rajan and daughters Anoushka and Norah Jones. He also had a son, Shubhendra Shankar, from his first wife Annapurna Devi, who died in 1992.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described his death as the passing away of an era. He said in New Delhi Wednesday that Pandit Ravi Shankar was a “national treasure and global ambassador of India’s cultural heritage”.
“An era has passed away with Pt. Ravishankar. The nation joins me to pay tributes to his unsurpassable genius, his art and his humility,” the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said in a message on micro-blogging site Twitter.
Dubbed the “godfather of world music” by George Harrison of the Beatles, Ravi Shankar was born in Varanasi. He spent his youth touring Europe and India with the dance group of his brother Uday Shankar. He gave up dancing in 1938 to study sitar playing under court musician Allauddin Khan.
A performer, composer, teacher and writer, Ravi Shankar is well known for his pioneering work in bringing Indian music to the West.
After finishing his studies in 1944, Shankar worked as a composer, creating the music for the “Apu Trilogy” by Satyajit Ray and Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi”. For the latter film, he shared with George Fenton an Oscar for best original score in 1983.
After working as music director of All India Radio, New Delhi, from 1949 to 1956, he made Indian classical music popular in the West in the 1960s through teaching, performance, and his association with violinist Yehudi Menuhin and George Harrison.
George Harrison produced and participated in two record albums, “Shankar Family & Friends” and “Festival of India” both composed by Ravi Shankar.
Shankar engaged Western music by writing concerti for sitar and orchestra and toured the world in the 1970s and 1980s.
From 1986 to 1992 he served as a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha.
Shankar was awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, in 1999, and received three Grammy Awards. He was nominated for a Grammy award for 2013 too.
Shankar continued to perform in the 2000s, often with his daughter Anoushka.
His main companion for decades was dancer Kamala Shastri. He also had a relationship with New York concert producer Sue Jones, with whom he fathered singer Norah Jones.
Son “Shubho” Shankar was also a musician who often toured with him. He passed on the baton as it were to his daughter Anoushka, also an accomplished sitarist.
On learning of Shankar’s death, India’s ambassador to US Nirupama Rao tweeted, “Pandit Ravi Shankar. Mourn passing of a musical genius and gentle soul. Attended his last concert Nov in Calif. He played with such passion.”
“His last concert was particularly poignant. Anoushka and he played together in perfect unison. A torch was passed,” she said.
“The music that I have learned and want to give is like worshipping God. It is absolutely like a prayer,” she quoted him as saying.