From East To West: Remembering The Great Ravi Shankar

The master Indian musician did more to introduce the music and culture of his home land than almost any other.

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Ravi Shankar - Photo: Ebet Roberts/Redferns
Photo: Ebet Roberts/Redferns

As so often, George Harrison put it most profoundly. “The first person who ever impressed me in my life was Ravi Shankar,” he said, “and he was the only person who didn’t try to impress me.”

The master Indian musician, who did more to introduce the music and culture of his home land than almost any other, was born on April 7, 1920. We might add, in his spirit of breaking down barriers between different backgrounds, that he came into the world in Varanasi, sometimes called “the Athens of India,” on the day that that Billie Holiday turned five.

Ravi had decades of important and interesting work to his name by the time he met, and made such an impression on Harrison in 1966. He had been a member of his brother Uday’s group from the age of 13, and was learning various instruments and travelling with them to concerts in the United States and elsewhere from the mid-1930s onwards.

Ravi tours Europe

In the 1940s, Shankar wrote ballet music, recorded for HMV India and was music director at AIR, All India Radio, now blending the music of east and west in his compositions and playing. He travelled to London to record his first album, Three Ragas, released in 1956, and, as he toured in Europe and elsewhere, expanded his horizons even further by writing for non-Indian films.

It was the Byrds who were the first Western pop-rock group to hear Ravi’s music, and pass it on to their friend George Harrison. The effect on the deep-thinking George, already in search of spiritual enlightenment, was immediate and profound. He was playing sitar, on The Beatles’ Rubber Soul track “Norwegian Wood,” by late 1965, before he and Shankar even met.

Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)

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‘Ravi was my patch cord’

“If you’re trying to find something, to find the source of that is very difficult,” Harrison said, later quoted in his wife Olivia’s book Living In The Material World. “But my blessing was to be able to have Ravi as my patch cord, and he could plug me into the real thing. So my experience of it was always the best quality.”

The pair remained friends for the rest of George’s life, and the association with such a famous pop musician had a great benefit on Shankar’s own work. His 1967 LP West Meets East, with another of his great collaborators, Yehudi Menuhin, won a Grammy for Best Chamber Music Album. Shankar had three more US chart records in 1967 and 1968, and another in 1973. He added further to the cultural marriage by playing at Woodstock in 1969, and at Harrison’s Concert For Bangla Desh in 1971.

I Am Missing You

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When Harrison formed his Dark Horse label, he brought Ravi and his family group to the fold, producing their 1974 album Shankar Family & Friends. The Indian musician’s achievements continued to be numerous and awe-inspiring. They included playing in the White House and composing original music for the 1982 film Gandhi, which brought an Oscar nomination.

The Shankar dynasty

Shankar also brought his great wisdom to bear as a member of the Indian Parliament from the mid-1980s to the early 90s. He wrote two autobiographies, the second edited by Harrison. Ravi also mentored his daughter Anoushka, who emerged as a notable sitar player in her own right, and they toured together. Another daughter, Norah Jones, herself became a world-famous, multi-million-selling success.

Full Circle, recorded at Carnegie Hall in New York in 2000 when he was 80, won a Grammy for Best World Music Album. Shankar remained active until the very end of his life, playing his final concert with Anoushka in November 2012, just four weeks before he passed away at the age of 92. His legacy of musical brilliance, and his advocacy of tolerance and interaction between religions and cultures, live on.



  1. Fátima Alves da Silveira.

    April 8, 2015 at 12:07 am

    Eu gosto muito do Ravi shankar . Gosto muito das músicas dele.

  2. churanmati

    April 8, 2015 at 1:56 am

    fantastic musician. they say music is the essence of life, he did inspired a lot of famous like the Beatles. HAPPY BIRTHDAY where ever you are.

  3. Glenn

    April 8, 2015 at 8:07 am

    I really introduce his music to my class…

  4. Bhanu Roy.

    April 8, 2015 at 9:06 am

    ‘M thnkful honoured n obliged for my kind Inclusion. Thnq.

  5. Bhanu Roy.

    April 8, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    ‘M thnkful honoured n obliged for my kind Inclusion.Propogating His Music as His Disciple/Torch bearer. Thnq.

  6. Denise

    April 8, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    Ravi, the Man and his Music, touch the soul like no other !…except maybe George Harrison who also let his spiritual essence shine through his music !
    Ravi and George were destined to meet and share this Love with the world who were fortunate enough to pay attention…I was blessed to see Ravi and Anoushka in Detroit, his last concert there…Peace and Joy and Happiness to all his Friends and Family and Fans…Namaste

  7. Ingrid

    April 9, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    Ravi and George celebrating together – Namaste

  8. Maitreyee Sarcar HF FRSA [Mrs]

    April 11, 2015 at 1:50 am

    Panditji was one of the most honoured patrons of our society Surdhwani which was founded by my husband, myself and 10 other connoisseurs of Indian classical music.

    We love his music and we often play his music tracks via Surtarang Broadcast.

    We have been privileged to have known Panditji closely. His music will remain with us forever.

    We paid tribute to Panditji on his 95th Birth Anniversary on the 2nd of April.

    Please do listen to our broadcast via [Listen Again] and spread the news of Surtarang so that many can get to hear about Panditji’s music through our broadcasts.

    I really like this post.

    Thank you.

    Maitreyee Sarcar HF FRSA [Mrs]
    Co-Producer & Co-Presenter of Surtarang Broadcast worldwide [Listen Again]

  9. Tina mullen

    April 7, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    I loved Ravi Shankar’s music since hearing it in the 60’s.I first heard the sound of the sitar on Beatles and Rolling Stones albums.I was fortunate to have seen him in concert twice in Boston at Symphony Hall when i was a teenager.The love of Indian music has stayed with me since then.His music is beautiful and hyonotic .Happy birthday Ravi,I’m sure you are filling heaven with amazing music.

  10. Frederick Harrison

    April 8, 2016 at 4:48 am

    I originally posted parts of this article in the newsgroup. I was contacted for permission to reprint on a musicology website and expanded it with assistance from the fellow who contacted me – he was especially helpful in the details on modal music and the Kinks recording details. It is still a bit too rough for my liking and I’ve since found a bit more information on the Byrds-Shankar connection that I would like to incorporate in a revised version of the article.

  11. Lillian DiMartini

    April 8, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    It was a great privilege to have been present at a concert given by Ravi Shankar, which took place at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC in the 70’s. It was and all night concert that I will never forget, Happy Birthday Ravi, I love your music.

  12. riche1

    April 7, 2017 at 9:52 pm

    He would have been 97 today, not 96. It’s 2017.

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