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Sitar Virtuoso Ravi Shankar

He brought Indian music to the world. We’ll remember sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar.

In this Aug. 3, 1967 file photo, George Harrison, of the Beatles, left, sits cross-legged with his musical mentor, Ravi Shankar of India, in Los Angeles, as Harrison explains to newsmen that Shankar is teaching him to play the sitar. Shankar, the sitar virtuoso who became a hippie musical icon of the 1960s after hobnobbing with the Beatles and who introduced traditional Indian ragas to Western audiences over an eight-decade career, died Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. He was 92.  (AP)

In this Aug. 3, 1967 file photo, George Harrison, of the Beatles, left, sits cross-legged with his musical mentor, Ravi Shankar of India, in Los Angeles, as Harrison explains to newsmen that Shankar is teaching him to play the sitar. Shankar, the sitar virtuoso who became a hippie musical icon of the 1960s after hobnobbing with the Beatles and who introduced traditional Indian ragas to Western audiences over an eight-decade career, died Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. He was 92. (AP)

Ravi Shankar did not play with the Beatles on “Norwegian Wood.”  That was George Harrison learning the sitar.  But it was Ravi Shankar, sitar virtuoso and master of classical Indian music, who built the bridge between East and West.

Inspired John Coltrane.  Jammed with Yehudi Menuhin.  Played for Zubin Mehta.  For Bangladesh.  For India.  Opened up the world.  Died this week at 92.

This hour, On Point:  remembering the great Ravi Shankar.  Zubin Mehta is with us.

-Tom Ashbrook


Ken Hunt, music critic, broadcaster and lyricist. He’s Ravi Shankar’s approved biographer.

Karthik Seshardi, sitarist and musical disciple of Ravi Shankar.

Zubin Mehta, Indian conductor of western classical music. He collaborated with Ravi Shankar and the London Philharmonic Symphony on Shankar’s second sitar concerto in 1981.

From Tom’s Reading List

BBC “Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar has died in a hospital in the US, aged 92. His family said he had been admitted to the Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego last week, but had failed to recover fully from surgery. Shankar gained widespread international recognition through his association with The Beatles.”


Here Ravi Shankar plays with Beatle George Harrison in India in 1968.

Here’s Ravi Shankar on the Dick Cavett Show in 1969.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/robmccausland Robert G.H. McCausland

    Thanks for this show!  I’d just like to mention one of Shankar’s masterworks, which gets too little attention, in my opinion – “Inside the Kremlin.” http://www.allmusic.com/album/inside-the-kremlin-mw0000198706

  • Wahoo_wa

    Oh deary me!  That has got to be the creepiest picture I have ever seen of George Harrison!

  • John_M_Green

    Anyone who was interested in international films was exposed to Ravi Shankar’s music years before George Harrison gave him a wider audience. I was a sophomore in high school back in the 50′s when I went to see “Pather Panchali” by the great Indian director Satyajit Ray, with music composed by Shankar. The music on the soundtrack was like nothing I’d ever heard, and I thought it was wonderful. I’m sure many others shared the same experience.

    • http://www.facebook.com/arunava.chatterjee.923 Arunava Chatterjee

      John, what you said is very true about Raviji’s music getting international exposure many years before he met George Harrison. But i suppose that would have been limited to people with your level of education and exposure to world art. I think for the common westerner, who used to earlier think the sitar sounded rather like a “sick cat” (in the words of Ravi Shankar himself), the Sitar became an object of interest  through this association. The interest in Indian Classical music came much later.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/2JWX5K2XM5QEXCVGGKQ4NBC7OU christopher

    Some years ago I went to an Indian festival in Charlotte NC. The sitar captured my attention the musician told me about Ravi Shankar… I was hooked. I wish I had an Indian friend to teach me how to play.

    • ekmulgi

       I am sure you can find someone in NC if you search Indian Classical music classes. Me and my daughter learn sitar and sarod via skype. In Boston we have many teachers.

  • wgdrdarrah

    Have you guest speak about Ravi and Ali Akbar Khan. I believe Ravi studied with his uncle and that they studied together. What’s the history here?

    • teentalgat

      Pandit Ravi Shankar studied under Ustad Allaudin Khan who was Ustad Aliakbar Khan’s father.

  • ehjhone

    I remember wandering around the halls of New London High in the fall of 1967.  I was a senior and as I walked past the main entrance, I noticed a man holding a sitar in what appeared to be a clear plastic bag (it was raining).  It turned out to be Ravi Shankar and entourage.  They were a bit lost, they wandered into our school accidentally while looking for the Colby Junior College auditorium.  It was really exciting for me.  Later that day, our class walked to the Colby Auditorium where we were treated to a free concert.  I sat in the front row…and had my mind blown.  Incense burning, 3 musicians sitting on the floor of the stage…. the interaction between tablas and sitar was unlike anything I had seen…those memories left a very strong imprint. I can still feel the joy, and intensity of that performance.  So sad that he is gone and we just lost Dave Brubeck last week. …

    • ekmulgi

       wow! lucky you. I saw Pt. jis concert in 1997 at Simphony Hall, Boston. That was best day of my life for sure. Indeed a great loss

  • andrea5

    I am so glad that you are airing this show about Ravi Shankar. He was a musical giant. George Harrison did us all a favor by helping to draw the attention of the average western listener. 

  • Andrew Griffin

    Stumbled across this wonderful program on Ravi Shankar’s life this morning. So informative. And I happen to be working on a book about the sitar and its place in Western popular music. Thank you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001855156973 David Evans

    A slightly different Ravi Shankar story…Anoushka’s publicist was a friend of mine. She and Ravi came to town (LA) to perform together and my friend asked if I wanted to meet Ravi. So I went to the hotel in Santa Monica, valet parked my car and went in. After a few minutes I met Ravi and Anoushka and we had a nice chat, shook hands and I left. On the way home I went to make a call on my car phone (this was the 90s) and it stunk of cologne. I thought the valet guys used my phone (very expensive in those days) and I was livid. I went the next 40 miles thinking of how I was going to complain and working through all the various scenarios of getting the valet parking guys in trouble. Then it dawned on me – it wasn’t the valet and it wasn’t me phone, it was the handshake from Ravi! He was absolutely drowning in cheap cologne!

  • Regular_Listener

    In a way, the Ravi Shankar meets the West tale has a bit of sad ending.  It should have been the beginning of something, a cross-cultural interaction, a growing mutual awareness.  And in some circles I’m sure it was, and still is.  But most young American music fans still don’t know what a sitar is, although a few will know the name Ravi Shankar.  And I am guilty too, despite being a pretty serious fan of many kinds of music – Ravi Shankar is still the only sitar player I can name.  But perhaps this doesn’t have to be a bad thing – maybe we are just at the beginning stages, and eventually Indian classical music – which is wonderful, amazing music, you don’t have to be born in India or burn incense or wear a sari to appreciate it – eventually it will be widely known in America.  It doesn’t help that our media has so little interest in sharing world culture.

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