Music has lost music, Maihar gharana, its melody and three generations of disciples across the world, their guru. Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravi Shankar, the performer who made the sitar the sound of music and experiment worldwide passed away in San Diego on Wednesday, after a long period of illness. He was 92.
Pandit ji performed the last time barely three weeks ago at a concert in the US. What made him the great musician and the “God”? The world knows him as the man whose music pulled the hippies to ragas, the pot smokers to Woodstock and the Beatles to Indian melodies, philosophy and spirituality. He became George Harrison’s mentor. Co-artists and accompanists in India knew him for his genius improvisations, his tenacity, skills as a composer and arranger and a guy with temper-tantrums.
Pt Kishan Maharaj, the late tabla legend, would often say, “Vilayat (Ustad Vialayat Khan) was the Sun of music, and Ravi the Moon.” But the fact that the sitar was designed, re-designed, its versions tweaked and twisted, its strings adjusted, the chikari re-tuned to suit Pandit Ravi Shankar’s style of playing, the frequency of his travel and his failing shoulders made him an unparalleled artiste.
He expanded the musical canvas by popularising the concept of orchestras during his days at the All India Radio to strengthen his guru Ustad Allauddin Khan’s tradition.
Panditji would remember his brother, the legendary Uday Shankar and his guru in the same breath over a childlike chuckle. “My brother was the first music I heard,” he would say. Uday Shankar had whisked away young Ravi from a French woman at a Europe tour concert. She had wanted to adopt the boy “with beautiful eyes and a charming face.”
Musicians across the world would be compelled to out-perform themselves to be able to think music as deeply as Pandit Ravi Shankar could.
Panditji revered the singing of Ustad Amir Khan and Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur and would compel his loved ones to appreciate the complexities in their styles. He was introduced to art by his brother, dance legend Uday Shankar.
Baba Allaudin Khan, the hard task master, mentor and friend who had himself learnt music the hard way in his early days, taught Ravi Shankar the serious Dhrupad style of sitar and surbahar playing. He expected the maestro to toe the conventional style. Ideological clashes between Baba and a young and ambitious Ravi Shankar followed.
He shifted to the United States. Annapurna, Baba’s daughter and Ravi’s first wife and duet partner, disapproved of the free flowing and runny imagination of Ravi Shankar’s mind and music. Pandit Ravi Shankar moved on to other partners and Annapurna ji -- to self confinement and loneliness. In death, Pandit Ravi Shankar has left the surbahar pining, heart-broken, lonely, incomplete and waiting like Annapurna ji.
Since 2007, when he performed in Chennai after three decades, Panditji would often lose the microphone to people who would like to speak for him. But in the little moments he would get to talk, he would be firm and full of expression.
His last wish was to bring the orchestras back in vogue in India.
Unfortunately the wish remained unfulfilled.
He will live the wish in the heavens and name it after the Tanamana project - the music of the mind and soul.