Ravi Shankar's extraordinary life: A timeline

Categories: Obituary
Ravi-Shankar-sitar.jpg
The great Ravi Shankar has passed at the age of 92, and we have a life timeline to chart his majestic artistic development.

Back on August 3, 1967, George Harrison holds a press conference at the Kinarra School of Music in Los Angeles to promote a performance the following night by Ravi Shankar, then forty-seven years old and already the most famous Indian musician in the world. Shankar and the sitar, the instrument on which he has been teaching the Beatle, are nonetheless largely unknown to the American public. To many Shankar's association with Harrison provides an introduction, but much has happened before and since.


Early 1934 - Ravi Shankar hears Amiya Kanti Bhattacharya play the sitar while touring with his brother's dance troupe. At fourteen Shankar has already seen much of Europe, learned French and been introduced to Western classical music and jazz. He wishes to study with Bhattacharya's guru, Ustad Inayat Khan, but on the eve of the ghanda bandhan ceremony where is is to be taken as a disciple Shankar is hospitalized with typhoid. Believing this to be a sign, Shankar searches for a new teacher, perhaps beginning his life-long rivalry with Ustad Vilayat Khan, son of the guru.

December 1934 - Ravi Shankar hears Allaudin Khan, the lead musician for the Maihar Court. He is invited by Khan to live with his family in a gurukul, or vedic school, and becomes his disciple. Shankar studies alongside Khan's children, Ali Akbar Khan and Annapurna Devi. Five years later, he makes his public debut on the sitar, performing a duet with the younger Khan. In 1941 Shankar marries Annapurna.

February 1948 - Ravi Shankar is asked by All India Radio (AIR) to perform "mournful music without tabla accompaniment" following the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi. Using sargam notes that approximate the Mahatma's name - Ga, Ni, and Dha - Shankar develops a theme based on the raga Malkauns. His live performance of the new raga, which he calls Mohankauns, is heard by millions.

February 1949 - Shankar is hired to be the musical director for All India Radio, a position he will hold for the next seven years. During this time he founds the Indian National Orchestra and begins recording music for the British conglomerate HMV. His scores for Satyajit Ray's Bengali films, the Apu Trilogy, earn his first international praise.

1952 - Shankar is invited to perform for the legendary violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who is on his first concert tour of India. Menuhin is so moved by the experience that he invites Shankar to perform at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Citing concerns for his fractured family, Shankar declines the invitation and so it is Ali Akbar Khan who first performs Indian classical music for an American audience. Shankar and Menuhin eventually collaborate together, releasing a highly praised album in 1966.

1956 - Shankar follows Khan and travels to the United States, resigning from his post at All India Radio. His tour attracts small audiences and little media attention, but his first Western album, Three Ragas, attracts favorable reviews. Shankar's albums for World Pacific Records are studied by jazz pianist and theorist George Russell and by John Coltrane, who is introduced to him in 1961. Coltrane studies briefly with Shankar and is so moved by the experience that he names his son for the sitarist in 1965. Coltrane dies two years later just before he was to travel to India and study with Shankar at his gurukul in Srinagar. This is where George Harrison had studied just a year before.

August 15, 1969 - Shankar's harrowing experience at Woodstock turns him off from American popular music. He later describes the stoned crowd as reminding him of "the water buffaloes you see in India, submerged in the mud." He does not perform again in the United States for nearly two years, and his subsequent tours focus on concert halls rather than jazz and rock venues.

August 1, 1971 - Shankar hosts the prototypical benefit concert at Madison Square Garden before an audience of 40,000. The star-packed performance raises millions for victims of the 1970 Bhola cyclone and the ongoing civil war in Bangla Desh, but the funds are mired in an IRS escrow account for nearly a decade. The performance is immortalized in a triple-LP set for Apple Records later that year, including a bizarre moment when the audience enthusiastically applauds Shankar and his accompanists simply for tuning their instruments. "If you appreciate the tuning so much," says Shankar, "I hope you will enjoy the playing more."

November 1974 - While touring with George Harrison's Music Festival from India tour, Shankar suffers a heart attack in Chicago. His sister-in-law, Lakshmi Shankar, fills in for the remainder of the tour. At the invitation of John Gardner Ford, he and Harrison visit the White House the following month but he does not perform.

May 12, 1986 - Shankar is sworn into the Rajya Sabha, the upper chamber of the Parliament of India, where he will serve until 1992. He was nominated for the seat by the Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. After his service he relocated to the United States, where he became a Regent's Lecturer at the University of California, San Diego. Shankar continued to perform as many as forty concerts a year throughout the remainder of his life. In 1999 he is honored with the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award.

February 26, 2002 - Blue Note Records releases an album by Norah Jones, Shankar's estranged daughter from an affair with New York concert promoter Sue Jones. Shankar's fractured relationship with his daughter becomes the subject of speculation and controversy. He taught his second daughter, Anoushka Shankar, to play the sitar and she, as well as her father, was nominatedfor a 2013 Grammy for Best World Music Album. It was with his daughter that Shankar made his final appearance before an audience at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach, California just last month.

December 11, 2012 - Pandit Ravi Shankar passes away in San Diego at 92, after undergoing heart-valve replacement surgery a few weeks earlier. He is remembered around the world for his extraordinary work, preserving the legacy of Indian classical music while introducing it to millions and collaborating with other cultures.



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