Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pandit Ravi Shankar has Left his Body

Pandit Ravi Shankar (Bengali: রবি শংকর; born Robindro Shaunkor Chowdhury, 7 April 1920 – 11 December 2012)

It is with some emotion that I begin this day. The first thing I read was a message from an online friend in India telling me the news that Pt. Ravi Shankar has passed on. While in recent years I have moved on to other sitar players, Pt. Shankar was were it all started for me. My father had a record of his music, which as a child I listened enraptured by the sounds. The Sounds of India (1968) was not just the amazing music of Ravi Shankar, but between each piece he spoke, about 'microtones' and 'ragas'. It seemed to me like a technology from another planet or some lost ancient civilization. Allmusic reviewer Adam Greenberg recommended listening to the album for "Shankar's amazing abilities" but singled out the album for its historic value as a work that introduced Western listeners to Hindustani classical music using short lessons before each performance. I would lie on the floor with the speakers at each side of my head and lose myself in the music.

In 1989 I was selected for an exchange program to work for two months on The Times of India newspaper in Delhi, Jaipur, Ahmadabad, Bombay and Bangalore (as they were known then). I was in Mumbai when on 26th January 1990 Ravi Shankar performed at St Francis Xavier school. My fellow exchange student from rural Queensland was not interested in seeing the performance so I went by myself, A scared 20 year old out into the vast night of the megalopolis. I found the school and watched and listened for 7 hours as Pt Ravi Shankar just blew my world apart. I was amazed. I had never seen anything like it. Somehow I got the idea that I wanted to learn to play the sitar.

I returned to Australia and studies. I met a girl who had a sitar in her cupboard. I remember she was a hippie and she agreed to lend it to me for an indefinite period. I think I had it for about 2 years. I had no idea what I was doing. in my summer holidays I worked in the local hospital, in the psychiatric section. One of the psychologists there was a follower of Osho and had been in India a lot. She had books on playing the sitar and I borrowed them from her. I now had information about ragas (this was in Toowoomba Queensland - not a center for music outside the dreaded Country and Western amalgam). About the same time I found the Monterey Pop Festival film on VHS and played the performance by Ravi Shankar endlessly:

Ravi Shankar - Festival Monterey Pop 1967

I finished university and went to Brisbane to begin life as a poet (yea.....really). I found a teacher of sitar, a very chaotic Hare Krisna devotee. He was the first of many influences in the sitar. I returned to India in 1996-1997 and spent a lot of time going to concerts of classical Hindustani music. I purchased the sitar I currently play in 2010 and while I am no expert, I can make it sound pretty. To be a true sitar player one must abandon so much of the world. To call Pandit Ravi Shankar a musician is to lessen the calling he took up. To live in the divine sound, as is the way in Indian classical music, means you follow the Nada Brahma. It is your teacher. Eventually it can becomes you. I trust Ravi Shankar found that union.

Radio France le jeudi 26 juin 1986 au studio 106 de la maison de la radio
b)jod(Vilambita,Madhya,Druta,Jhata) i)solo ii)avec tabla en cautala
Ravi Shankar : Sitar
Kumar Bose : Tabla
Vidya Bataju : Tampura
Jeevan Govinda : Tampura
An Mp3 of this performance can be downloaded from here.

Recent image of myself playing sitar. I was given a gift when I witnessed Pt. Ravi Shankar perform live. It remains with me to this day.

1 comment:

Gourish Yaji said...

He is one of the greatest musicians ,A truly global ambassador. The donations to bangladesh shows his human side. He had connected east to west, tradition to modernity in the world. The world loves him for his contributions