On this day, April 7, sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar was born in 1920. Known as one of the greatest icons of Hindustani classical music, Ravi Shankar was appreciated across the globe. He was a great sitar player of post-Independence India and the country’s best-known classical musician in the West. He was born in Benares to a family of Bengali Brahmins originally from East Bengal (now Bangladesh). His father, Shyam Shankar Choudhury, was the Diwan of Jhalawar, a princely state in Rajasthan, and a scholar of Sanskrit. The young Ravi has interest in music and therefore would hear Vedic chants in the early morning in Benares.
Ravi Shankar gave his first concert in 1939 and soon he started performing for All India Radio. His relationship with films started in 1946 when he composed scores for Dharti kKeLal and Neecha Nagar. Later he became the director of the National Orchestra of All India Radio. He started going on foreign performance tours and was already a rising star. In the 1950s he, famously, composed music for master filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy.
In terms of core musical talent, Ravi Shankar is widely regarded as among the greatest sitar players of the second half of the 20th century. In his later years, Ravi at times expressed concern about the state of Hindustani classical music in the country and stressed the importance of learning from a guru. He established institutes in India and the United States dedicated to the cause of performing arts. He authored two autobiographies — the first one in 1968, and the second one in 1996 with inputs from George Harrison. Ravi Shankar’s daughter Anoushka wrote a book on her father’s life in 2002.
Ravi Shankar received Bharat Ratna, three Grammy Awards, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the Padma Bhushan, the Padma Vibhushan, and the Knight of the Legion of Honour. Shankar died in San Diego, California, on 11 December 2012, leaving behind a void too huge to fill. Indian classical music would forever feel his absence.
Other important events on April 7 in history:
1926: Prem Nazir, star of Malayalam cinema, was born
1934: Mahatma Gandhi suspended his campaign of civil disobedience in India
1935: Shankar Abaji Bhise, a famous Indian scientist, died
1942: Jeetendra, a Hindi film actor, was born
1962: Ram Gopal Varma, a Hindi film director and producer, was born
1998: Soli Sorabjee is appointed Attorney-General of India