Ravi Shankar, arguably the greatest sitarist in Indian music’s history and certainly its most famous musician, has died at age 92.
Shankar’s contributions to Indian music are myriad, from his composing and performing of complex ragas to his popularizing of Indian musical forms with Western audiences. And he leaves behind two immensely talented daughters, Anoushka Shankar and Norah Jones.
But to most Europeans and especially Americans, Shankar’s claim to fame was through his relationship with Beatle George Harrison and to others of sixties rock royalty. Brian Jones and Donovan Leitch as well as Harrison took sitar lessons from him. Harrison, famously, embraced not only Indian music but Indian culture and religion, too, and he and Shankar were lifelong friends. Shankar accompanied and assisted Olivia and Dhani Harrison when Harrison’s ashes were sprinkled on the Ganges. From Shankar Harrison learned much about Hindu religion and its focus on tranquility and humility.
An anecdote about Shankar and Donovan illustrates Shankar’s well known humility – and wit.
Donovan had been studying the sitar for roughly a year after taking several lessons from the master. He ran into Shankar at a gathering at Harrison’s home and announced to him that after his year of study he believed he had mastered the sitar.
Ravi Shankar, smiling bemusedly, responded, “That is interesting. I have been studying the sitar for over 30 years and I believe I have just begun to understand it – although I am not sure that is so.”
Donovan, suitably chastened, apologized and made a hasty retreat – perhaps to go work on his sitar skills.
Namaste, Master Ravi….