Pt Ravi Shankar passes away at 92; India loses 'national treasure'

Ravi ShankarSitar maestro Ravi Shankar, who defined classical Hindustani music for a global audience, died on Tuesday at a hospital in La Jolla, California, where he was admitted for heart treatment last Thursday. He was aged 92, and his health had been fragile for some years past.

Born on 7 April 1920 as Robindro Shaunkor, Ravi as he later called himself was the son of a highly literate and travelled Bengali Brahmin who was once prime minister to the Maharajah of Jhalawar. Nonetheless, Shankar – the youngest of four sons – grew up in relative poverty, brought up by his mother.

Shankar started his career as a dancer with a group led by his brother Uday Shankar, touring Europe as well as India. In 1938 he turned to training on the sitar under Ustad Allauddin Khan.

After finishing his training in 1944, Shankar became a composer, creating the music for the 'Apu Trilogy' by Satyajit Ray, and was music director of All India Radio from 1949 to 1956. He began touring Europe a year later; and is credited with incorporating many aspects of Carnatic music in the north Indian classical system,.

Shankar shot to stardom in the late 1960s at the height of the 'hippie' movement, when there was much interest in the 'spiritual' Indian culture, including its music. Some cynics say he shot to fame riding piggy-back on late Beatle George Harrison; but much before that he was associated with other international greats like violinist Yehudi Menuhin.

He was also a teacher and mentor. Tabla player Ali Akbar Khan also achieved international fame after he was reluctantly propelled by Shankar to perform in New York – Shankar himself was going through marital problems, and needed a substitute. Khan, and later his equally famed son Allah Rakha, became frequent performers with Shankar.