Pandit Ravi Shankar or Rabindra Shankar Chowdhury was a celebrated Indian musician, widely regarded as one of the most influential sitar players in history. Born in 1920 in Varanasi, Shankar was the youngest of seven brothers and grew up in a Bengali Brahmin family with a strong background in law, politics, and the arts. His early exposure to music and dance through his brother Uday’s dance group led him to become a skilled dancer at a young age. However, it was his encounter with Allauddin Khan, the legendary musician of Maihar, that proved to be a turning point in Shankar’s life, leading him to give up on dance and follow a lifelong pursuit of Indian classical music.
Ravi Shankar went on to develop his own unique style of playing the sitar, which combined traditional Indian classical music with a more experimental approach. He performed extensively both in India and abroad and was known for his virtuosity and technical prowess on the instrument. He also collaborated with many Western musicians and composers, including Philip Glass, Yehudi Menuhin, and George Harrison of The Beatles.
In the late 1960s, Pandit Ravi Shankar became one of the foremost ambassadors of Indian classical music to the Western world, and his performances and recordings helped to popularize the genre globally. He was awarded numerous honors and awards throughout his career, including several Grammy Awards, and was also named a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.
Below is a list of his few achievements
- Grammy Awards: Pandit Ravi Shankar won three Grammy Awards for Best World Music Album for his recordings “Full Circle: Carnegie Hall 2000,” “The Living Room Sessions Part 1,” and “The Living Room Sessions Part 2.”
- Padma Vibhushan: In 1981, he was awarded India’s second-highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan.
- Padma Bhushan: In 1967, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian award.
- Royal Philharmonic Society Award: In 1972, he was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Award in London.
- UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador: In 1985, he was named a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.
- Kennedy Center Honors: In 1997, he was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington D.C.
- Sangeet Natak Akademi Award: In 1986, he was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, India’s highest honor in the field of performing arts.
- Bant Singh Memorial Award: In 2001, he was awarded the Bant Singh Memorial Award.
- Fellowship of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers, and Authors: In 2005, he was awarded a fellowship from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers, and Authors.
- Crystal Award: In 2006, he was awarded the Crystal Award by the World Economic Forum.
Varanasi influenced his music and life. Being surrounded by the city’s rich cultural heritage, he was exposed to various musical traditions and styles from a young age. The city’s ancient temples and Ghats, as well as its long history of spiritual and philosophical traditions, provided a backdrop for his musical education and development.
Varanasi’s musical heritage was an important source of inspiration for Pandit Ravi Shankar’s musical style and approach. He learned from several renowned musicians and gurus in the city, who taught him the classical traditions of Indian music. He also absorbed the musical styles and forms of various regional and devotional music from around India, as well as the musical traditions of Sufism and the bhakti movement.
Furthermore, Varanasi’s spiritual and philosophical traditions also played a significant role in shaping Pandit Ravi Shankar’s musical philosophy. He saw music as a means of expressing the divine and creating a connection between the individual and the divine. He often referred to his music as “Nada Yoga,” or the yoga of sound, and saw it as a path to inner peace and spiritual enlightenment.
With regards to Varanasi, Pandit Ravi Shankar always had a deep connection to his hometown, which he considered to be a spiritual centre of India. He referred to Varanasi as “the city of music and learning,” and often spoke of the influence that the city’s rich cultural heritage had on his musical style and approach.
Varanasi was a major source of inspiration and influence for Pandit Ravi Shankar’s music, shaping both his musical style and his philosophical approach to music. Through his music, he sought to express the rich cultural heritage and spiritual traditions of his hometown and to share these with the world.
Pandit Ravi Shankar passed away on December 11, 2012, due to respiratory failure. He had been admitted to a hospital in San Diego, California, a week earlier after complaining of breathing difficulties. Despite the efforts of doctors, his condition worsened, and he ultimately succumbed to his illness. Pandit Ravi Shankar was 92 years old at the time of his passing.
His death was mourned by musicians and music lovers around the world. His influence on the world of music continues to be felt today, and his legacy as a master musician and a cultural icon of India remains strong.