Ravi Shankar – I’m missing you
Ravi Shankar ( 7 April 1920 – 11 December 2012), born Robindro Shaunkor Chowdhury, his name often preceded by the title Pandit, was an Indian musician and composer who was one of the best-known exponents of the sitar in the second half of the 20th century as a composer of Hindustani classical music.
Shankar was born to a Bengali family in Benares, India and spent his youth touring India and Europe with the dance group of his brother Uday Shankar. He gave up dancing in 1938 to study sitar playing under court musician Allauddin Khan. After finishing his studies in 1944, Shankar worked as a composer, creating the music for the Apu Trilogy by Satyajit Ray, and was music director of All India Radio, New Delhi, from 1949 to 1956.
In 1956 he began to tour Europe and the Americas playing Indian classical music and increased its popularity there in the 1960s through teaching, performance, and his association with violinist Yehudi Menuhin and Beatles guitarist George Harrison. Shankar engaged Western music by writing compositions for sitar and orchestra, and toured the world in the 1970s and 1980s. From 1986 to 1992 he served as a nominated member of Rajya Sabha, the upper chamber of the Parliament of India. He continued to perform up until the end of his life. In 1999 Shankar was awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna.
Shankar was born on 7 April 1920 in Varanasi, India, to a Bengali family, as the youngest of seven brothers. His father, Shyam Shankar, was a Middle Temple barrister and scholar from East Bengal (now Bangladesh). A respected statesman, lawyer and politician, he served for several years as dewan (chief minister) of Jhalawar, Rajasthan, and used the Sanskrit spelling of the family name and removed its last part. Shyam was married to Shankar’s mother Hemangini Devi who hailed from a small village named Nasrathpur in Mardah block of Ghazipur district, near Benares, and her father was a prosperous landlord. Shyam later worked as a lawyer in London, England, and there he married a second time while Devi raised Shankar in Varanasi, and did not meet his son until he was eight years old. Shankar shortened the Sanskrit version of his first name, Ravindra, to Ravi, for “sun”. Shankar had six siblings, only four of whom lived past infancy: Uday, Rajendra, Debendra and Bhupendra. Shankar attended the Bengalitola High School in Benares between 1927 and 1928.
At the age of ten, after spending his first decade in Varanasi, Shankar went to Paris with the dance group of his brother, choreographer Uday Shankar. By the age of 13 he had become a member of the group, accompanied its members on tour and learned to dance and play various Indian instruments. Uday’s dance group toured Europe and the United States in the early to mid-1930s and Shankar learned French, discovered Western classical music, jazz, cinema and became acquainted with Western customs. Shankar heard the lead musician for the Maihar court, Allauddin Khan, in December 1934 at a music conference in Kolkata and Uday convinced the Maharaja of Maihar in 1935 to allow Khan to become his group’s soloist for a tour of Europe. Shankar was sporadically trained by Khan on tour, and Khan offered Shankar training to become a serious musician under the condition that he abandon touring and come to Maihar.
Training and work in India
Shankar’s parents had died by the time he returned from the European tour, and touring the West had become difficult due to political conflicts that would lead to World War II. Shankar gave up his dancing career in 1938 to go to Maihar and study Indian classical music as Khan’s pupil, living with his family in the traditional gurukul system. Khan was a rigorous teacher and Shankar had training on sitar and surbahar, learned ragas and the musical styles dhrupad, dhamar, and khyal, and was taught the techniques of the instruments rudra veena, rubab, and sursingar. He often studied with Khan’s children Ali Akbar Khan and Annapurna Devi. Shankar began to perform publicly on sitar in December 1939 and his debut performance was a jugalbandi (duet) with Ali Akbar Khan, who played the string instrument sarod.
Shankar completed his training in 1944. Following his training, he moved to Mumbai and joined the Indian People’s Theatre Association, for whom he composed music for ballets in 1945 and 1946. Shankar recomposed the music for the popular song “Sare Jahan Se Achcha” at the age of 25. He began to record music for HMV India and worked as a music director for All India Radio (AIR), New Delhi, from February 1949 to January 1956. Shankar founded the Indian National Orchestra at AIR and composed for it; in his compositions he combined Western and classical Indian instrumentation. Beginning in the mid-1950s he composed the music for the Apu Trilogy by Satyajit Ray, which became internationally acclaimed. He was music director for several Hindi movies including Godaan and Anuradha.
Style and contributions
Shankar developed a style distinct from that of his contemporaries and incorporated influences from rhythm practices of Carnatic music. His performances begin with solo alap, jor, and jhala (introduction and performances with pulse and rapid pulse) influenced by the slow and serious dhrupad genre, followed by a section with tabla accompaniment featuring compositions associated with the prevalent khyal style. Shankar often closed his performances with a piece inspired by the light-classical thumri genre.
Shankar has been considered one of the top sitar players of the second half of the 20th century. He popularised performing on the bass octave of the sitar for the alap section and became known for a distinctive playing style in the middle and high registers that used quick and short deviations of the playing string and his sound creation through stops and strikes on the main playing string. Narayana Menon of The New Grove Dictionary noted Shankar’s liking for rhythmic novelties, among them the use of unconventional rhythmic cycles. Hans Neuhoff of Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart has argued that Shankar’s playing style was not widely adopted and that he was surpassed by other sitar players in the performance of melodic passages. Shankar’s interplay with Alla Rakha improved appreciation for tabla playing in Hindustani classical music. Shankar promoted the jugalbandi duet concert style and claims to have introduced new ragas Tilak Shyam, Nat Bhairav and Bairagi.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Join our list
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.