Ravi Shankar - All about the musician

The story of Ravi Shankar. Full biography of the musician

Ravi Shankar: full biography of the musician

Ravi Shankar is an Indian musician and composer best known worldwide for popularizing the classical Indian instrument, the sitar. Shankar was fond of music since childhood, and, having matured, he began touring as part of his brother's dance troupe. Leaving his position as director of All-India Radio, he embarked on a tour of his homeland and the United States. During this period, he managed to work with many famous musicians, including George Harrison and Philip Glass. He even collaborated with The Beatles, popularizing his favorite Sitar to a greater extent. Recipient of three of India's highest honors, Shankar passed away in California in December 2012 at the age of 92.


Ravi Shankar was born into a Bengali family on April 7, 1920. His father, Shyam Shankar Chowdhury, went to London to build a brilliant career as a lawyer, leaving the service of a local barrister under the British. Shankar was raised by his mother, the boy did not see his father until the age of eight.

In 1930, the young man moved to Paris to become part of a local musical troupe, and then joined the troupe of his brother, Uday Shankar. He was already touring at the age of 10, but even as a child, Shankar gave a hundred, maybe even a thousand unforgettable performances as a dancer!

Ravi Shankar
Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar was introduced to the sitar much later, at the age of 18. The basis of this acquaintance was a concert in Calcutta, where the guy heard the play of Amiya Kanti Bhattacharya on this classical instrument. Touched to the core by the performance, Shankar decided that from now on he would devote himself to learning to play the sitar. So, the sitar entered his life and stayed with him until his last breath.

Early career and connection with "Air (AIR)"

Having learned the mastery of the sitar under the guidance of his guru, Ustad Inayat Khan, Shankar went to Mumbai, where he got a job with the Indian Folk Theater Association. There he composed musical accompaniment for ballets. Then, in 1946, the young man became director of the radio station in New Delhi, All-India Radio (AIR). He held the position for a short time, until 1956. During his radio tenure, Shankar composed works for orchestra that mixed the sounds of the sitar and other classical Indian instruments with Western ones. At the same time, he became close to the American violinist Yehudi Menuhin. Both musicians began to compose and successfully perform the impressive fruits of their joint work.


Ravi Shankar has released a long list of albums. The following are just a few of his bestsellers:

  • Three Ragas. Released in 1956, his first work. Later, in 2000, the album was re-released digitally by Angel Records.
  • Tana Mana. This album was an experimental work by Pandit, who mixed the sound of traditional instruments with electronic music of the 80s.
  • Goodbye, my friend. When Shankar heard about the death of Satyajit Ray, he spontaneously composed this album. The work was subsequently recorded and released by HMV.
  • The Sounds of India. Originally released in 1968 as an LP album, 'The Sounds of India' was re-released in CD format in 1989.

With George Harrison

Ravi Shankar and George Harrison
Ravi Shankar and George Harrison

In June 1966, George Harrison, a member of the famous Beatles group, met Ravi Shankar in London. Harrison befriended Shankar and began taking sitar lessons from him. Their rallying immediately brought Shankar and Indian music unprecedented popularity in the West. The sounds of the sitar in the sound of The Beatles gave impetus to a new genre of music known as ragga rock. Later, Harrison became the producer of Ravi Shankar, who perceived him as the Godfather of world music. Twenty-three years older than Harrison, Shankar described their relationship as that of a father and son, with the younger being the father.

Concert for Bangladesh

George Harrison
George Harrison

In 1971, Bangladesh became the hotbed of armed conflict between Indian, Muslim and Pakistani forces. Along with this, the country was flooded. Seeing the famine and hardship faced by the country's civilians, Shankar and Harrison organized a concert for Bangladesh. It took place at Madison Square Garden on August 1st. It was attended by such famous performers as Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton. Proceeds from the show, considered the first major charity concert, went to UNICEF to help Bangladeshi refugees. In addition, recordings made during the concert won the 1973 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

Major Success

Ravi Shankar
Ravi Shankar

In 1954 Ravi Shankar gave a solo concert in the Soviet Union. In 1956 he made his debut in the USA and Western Europe. In the mid-1960s, Shankar performed at the Monterey Pop Festival, further boosting his fame.

Difficult stage

George Harrison and Ravi Shankar
George Harrison and Ravi Shankar

His association with The Beatles led to accusations that he belonged to a hippie culture that promoted drug use. In fact, Shankar was very critical of drug addicts. Despite his affection for Harrison, this period proved to be quite difficult for Shankar, who was not into rock music. In the 1970s he distanced himself from hippie circles and cemented his status as a classical Indian musician, but their friendship with Harrison continued.

Political career

For his contribution to the development of Indian music, Shankar was nominated in the Rajya Sabha by the then Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi. From May 12, 1986 to May 11, 1992, he was a member of the upper house of the Indian Parliament.

Ravi Shankar
Ravi Shankar

Composition "Saare Jahan Se Accha"

The song "Saare Jahan Se Acchha" was set to the tune of Ravi Shankar. Written by Muhammad Iqbal in 1904, it was more lengthy until Shankar was asked to shorten it in 1945. Many don't know about it, including HMV, which certifies the melody as traditional in an album with patriotic songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar.


Throughout his career, Shankar has been criticized by some traditionalist compatriots for not being a classical purist. But Ravi Shankar took the remarks lightly and continued his musical journey.

Awards and honorary titles

Ravi Shankar
Ravi Shankar
  • In 1962, he was awarded the "Sangeet Natak Akademi Award" by the National Academy of Music, Dance and Drama of India.
  • The Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship is the highest honor bestowed by this organization. He received this award in 1975.
  • "Padma Bhushan". In 1967, Ravi Shankar was awarded India's third highest civilian award.
  • "Padma Vibhushan-Padma Vibhushan". India's second highest civilian award, was presented to him in 1981.
  • "Bharat Ratna". In 1999 Sitar maestro was awarded the country's highest civilian award.
  • Grammy Award. Ravi Shankar has won five Grammy awards in his lifetime. In 1967, his collaborative album with Yehudi Menuhin won a Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance. In 1973, Concert for Bangladesh won the Album of the Year award. In 2002, his album Full Circle: Carnegie Hall 2000 won the "Best World Music Album" award, and in 2013 "The Living Room Sessions" again won the award in the same category.
  • Lifetime Achievement Award. He was honored with this prestigious award at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards.

Personal life

Ravi Shankar with family
Ravi Shankar with family

Ravi Shankar married Annapurna Devi in 1941. Their son Shubhendra Shankar was born the following year. In the late 1940s, Ravi Shankar had an affair with a dancer named Kamala Shastri, which proved fatal to his marriage, which eventually ended. In 1981, he ended his relationship with Kamala Shastry and began an affair with Sue Jones, a New York concert producer. This relationship also ended in 1986. He then married Sukanya Rajan. In this union, his daughter Anushka Shankar was born in 1981.

In 1992, Ravi Shankar's son Shubhendra Shankar died of pneumonia. After the death of his son, Ravi Shankar became more spiritual and gave up meat in his later years.

Death and legacy

Ravi Shankar died on December 11, 2012 in San Diego, California at the age of 92. The musician reportedly suffered from upper respiratory and heart conditions and underwent heart valve replacement surgery shortly before his death. His last performance was with his daughter at the Terrace Theater in California. The daughter, Anushka Shankar, also plays the sitar, having inherited her father's talent.

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