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Dec 12, 2012, 12.45 PM IST | Source: PTI

Pt Ravi Shankar: A global ambassador of Indian music

Labelled the 'godfather' of world music, Ravi Shankar undertook an extraordinary journey from the banks of Ganges to the heart of the west mesmerising them with Indian ragas and partnering with musical greats like Beatles' George Harrison and Yehudi Menuhin.

Pt Ravi Shankar: A global ambassador of Indian music

Labelled the 'godfather' of world music, Ravi Shankar undertook an extraordinary journey from the banks of Ganges to the heart of the west mesmerising them with Indian ragas and partnering with musical greats like Beatles' George Harrison and Yehudi Menuhin.

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.

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 also composed for ballets and films in India, Canada, Europe and the United States. He created music for the 'Apu Trilogy' by Satyajit Ray.

Credited with incorporating many aspects of Carnatic music in the north Indian classical system, Shankar was music director of All India Radio, New Delhi, from 1949 to 1956.

A three-time Grammy award winner, Shankar last performed in California on November 4 along with his daughter Anoushka Shankar.

Shankar has also been nominated for the 2013 Grammys for his album "The Living Room Sessions Part-1" and was pitted against Anoushka in the same category.

He was awarded the three top Indian national civil honours - Padma Bhushan in 1967, Padma Vibhushan in 1981, and Bharat Ratna in 1999.

Shankar befriended Richard Bock, founder of World Pacific Records, on his first American tour and recorded most of his albums in the 1950s and 1960s for Bock's label. The Byrds recorded at the same studio and heard Shankar's music, which led them to incorporate some of its elements in theirs, introducing the genre to Harrison.

The sitar legend authored violin-sitar compositions for Yehudi Menuhin and himself, music for flute virtuoso Jean Pierre Rampal, music for Hosan Yamamoto, master of the Shakuhachi and Musumi Miyashita - Koto virtuoso, and has collaborated with Phillip Glass (Passages).

A Magsaysay award winner, Shankar was nominated as a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1986.

Believing in the greatness of Indian classical music and blessed with charisma and intelligence, he pursued a dream of taking Indian music out to the Western world.

Shankar won the Silver Bear Extraordinary Prize of the Shankar won the Silver Bear Extraordinary Prize of the Jury at the 1957 Berlin International Film Festival for composing the music for the movie Kabuliwala.

He was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for 1962 and was named a Fellow of the academy for 1975. In 2001, Shankar was made an Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Elizabeth II for his "services to music". Shankar married Allauddin Khan's daughter Annapurna Devi in 1941 and had a son, Shubhendra Shankar.

He separated from Devi in 1940s. An affair with Sue Jones, a New York concert producer, led to the birth of Norah Jones in 1979. Jones became a successful musician, winning eight Grammy Awards in 2003. His second daughter Anoushka was born in 1981 with Sukanya Rajan, whom Shankar had known since the 1970s. He married Sukanya in 1989.

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