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Pandit Ravi Shankar (1920-2012)

Legendary Hindu Musician and Sitar Guru


Pandit Ravi Shankar (1920-2012)

Ravi Shankar performing at the Barbican Centre, London on June 4, 2008 during his Final Tour of Europe.

Photo by Howard Denner/Photoshot/Getty Images

"To me, his genius and his humanity can only be compared to that of Mozart's." ~ Yehudi Menuhin

Down Melody Lane
Ravi Shankar was born on April 7, 1920 in a Bengali Hindu Brahmin family settled in Varanasi, the holy city on the banks of the Ganges, the sacred river of the Hindus. [Not be confused with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar].

His father was an eminent barrister, and his family was full of artistes - all his brothers being achievers in different spheres of performing arts. Robu, as he was called lovingly, was the youngest son, and at the age of ten he accompanied his elder brother - the world famous dancer Uday Shankar - to Paris with his troupe of gifted dancers and musicians. He attended school in Paris, and initiated himself in the world of dance and music.

The Early Years
When he was 15, Uday Shankar invited the great sarod virtuoso Ustad Allauddin Khan to join his troupe, and Ravi Shankar, mesmerized by his genius, became his disciple. This made Ravi to return to India and spend years in intense study and practice under Allauddin Khan, whose guidance and guardianship helped him master the sitar. Thereafter, Ravi Shankar joined the All India Radio, established the National Chamber Orchestra, and by 1955 he became one of the most sought-after musicians in India. In 1956, he debuted as a sitarist in the European and American stage, which began his conquest of the West.

Memories of His Mother
Reminiscing about his mother, Ravi Shankar writes in his autobiography: "...The day came when we were due to sail, and we all felt the sadness of the departure. My mother, who had come to Bombay to see us off, was going to remain in India, and already, she was feeling the loneliness of our absence. Somehow, she and I both had the premonition that we might not see each other again. While we stood on the pier, getting ready to go aboard the ship, she took my hand and put it in Baba's hand and told him, "I'm not going with you, and I don't know if I'll ever see my child again, so please take him and consider him as your own son." We all had tears in our eyes as we said goodbye, and as it happened, it was the last time I saw my mother.

"We finished our last tour and the troupe returned to India in May, 1938. While we were still in Paris, in the fall of 1936, a telegram arrived from India informing us of the death of our mother…The news greatly saddened us, and me especially, because I had seen her so little since she returned to India in 1932."

Boyhood Leisure
The only entertainment Robu had was "...going for walks along the river or on the lovely hillside, for there were no cinemas or "city" diversions. Often Ali Akbar accompanied me, and we would spend hours walking and discussing all our ideas…We would return to the house by dark and all have dinner about seven-thirty, then spend a few more hours practicing."

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