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Pandit Ravi Shankar - A global ambassador of Indian music

Darling of the hippie movement in the 1960s, Shankar trained for seven years under Ustad Allauddin Khan and was known for his characteristic sitar sound with powerful bass notes. Shankar, 92, whose health had been fragile for the past several years, died today at the Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, California after undergoing heart-valve replacement surgery on Thursday.

Photos: Reliving the magic of Pandit Ravi Shankar

Pandit Ravi Shankar with wife and daughter Anoushka
Pandit Ravi Shankar with wife and daughter Anoushka. Pic/ MiD DAY Archives

The Bharat Ratna awardee started as a dancer with the group of his brother Uday Shankar but gave it up in 1938 to learn sitar under Allauddin Khan. During the tour of Uday's dance group in Europe and America in the early to mid-1930s, Shankar discovered Western classical music, jazz, and cinema, and became acquainted with Western customs.

The music doyen composed his first raga in 1945 and embarked on a prolific recording career. In the 1950s and 1960s, he became the unofficial international ambassador for Indian music, enthralling audiences in the USSR, Japan, North America. However, it was his association with Harisson that got him international stardom. In the 1970s, they collaborated on two albums and toured the USA together. A Bengali Brahmin, Shankar was born Robindra Shankar on April 7, 1920 in Varanasi, the youngest of four brothers, and spent his first 10 years in relative poverty, brought up by his mother. He was almost eight before he met his father, a globe-trotting lawyer, philosopher, writer and former minister to the Maharajah of Jhalawar.

As a performer, composer and teacher, Shankar was an Indian classical artist of the highest rank, and he spearheaded the worldwide spread of Indian music and culture, said writer and editor Oliver Craske, who provided additional narrative for Shankar's autobiography 'Raga Mala'. Through his influence on Harrison, and appearances at the Monterey and Woodstock festivals and the Concert for Bangladesh, he became a household name in the West, the first Indian musician to do so. 

"Shankar had suffered from upper-respiratory and heart issues over the past year and underwent heart-valve replacement surgery last Thursday. Though the surgery was successful, recovery proved too difficult for the 92-year-old musician," said another statement issued by the Ravi Shankar Foundation and East Meets West Music. In recent months, performing, and especially touring, became increasingly difficult for the musician.

However, health couldn't prevent Shankar from performing with Anoushka on November 4 in Long Beach, California. "This, in what was to be his final public performance, was in fact billed as a celebration of his tenth decade of creating music," the foundation said. It said the memorial plans will be announced later.

A Bengali Brahmin, he was born Robindra Shankar on April 7, 1920 in Varanasi, the youngest of four brothers, and spent his first 10 years in relative poverty, brought up by his mother. He was almost eight before he met his absent father, a globe-trotting lawyer, philosopher, writer and former minister to the Maharajah of Jhalawar. In 1930, his eldest brother Uday Shankar uprooted the family to Paris, and over the next eight years Shankar enjoyed the limelight in Uday's troupe, which toured the world introducing Europeans and Americans to Indian classical and folk dance.

As a performer, composer and teacher, Shankar was an Indian classical artist of the highest rank, and he spearheaded the worldwide spread of Indian music and culture, said writer and editor Oliver Craske, who provided additional narrative for Shankar's autobiography 'Raga Mala'. Shankar achieved his greatest fame in the 1960s when he was embraced by the Western counterculture.

Through his influence on his great friend George Harrison, and appearances at the Monterey and Woodstock festivals and the Concert for Bangladesh, he became a household name in the West, the first Indian musician to do so.

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