Ravi Shankar Biography, Career, Awards

Ravi Shankar Biography, Career, Awards

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Indian classical music is an ancient tradition dating back thousands of years. In the second half of the 20th century, Indian classical music became popular all over the world, and people also developed a strong interest in listening to and learning Indian classical music. Indian classical music has also had an impact on popular music as a whole, influencing the development of many musical genres such as psychedelic music and electronic music.

None of this would have been possible without one man. His name is Ravi Shankar, and few Indian musicians have been as influential as he has been. As a master of the sitar, he made the sitar one of India’s most recognisable instruments. This is thanks to his dedication to his craft and countless performances in India and around the world, as well as his efforts as a mentor to an entire generation of musicians. He has deservedly earned the title of “Godfather of World Music”.

Ravi Shankar was born Rabindra Shankar Chowdhury on April 7, 1920 in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. His elder brother, Uday Shankar, was a skilled dancer and is considered a pioneer of modern dance in India. At the age of ten, Ravi Shankar traveled to Paris with his brother and his dance troupe. By the age of thirteen, he had learned to dance and play various musical instruments. The troupe traveled through Europe and the United States, exposing young Ravi Shankar to Western music and culture.

In 1934, Ravi Shankar heard the legendary musician Aladdin Khan perform in Calcutta. Uday Shankar convinced Aladdin Khan to be a soloist on their tour and trained Ravi Shankar. Aladdin Khan offered to take Ravi Shankar on as his apprentice on the condition that he gave up touring and devoted himself to music studies. Ravi Shankar accepted the offer and became Aladdin Khan’s apprentice in 1938. Khan was one of the most famous music teachers of all time and he ensured that all his students received rigorous training in all aspects of music.

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ravi shankar biography career awards 1


After completing his training in 1944, Ravi Shankar moved to Bombay and joined the Indian People’s Theatre Association. He began recording music for HMV India and served as the music director of All India Radio from 1949 to 1956. In the mid-1950s, he collaborated with legendary director Satyajit Ray to compose music for his award-winning Apu Trilogy.

In 1956, he quit his job at All India Radio and began touring internationally. During his first tour of the United States in the 1960s, he met Richard Bock, the founder of World Pacific Records, whose studios were used by bands such as The Byrds. They were immediately impressed by his musicality and began to use the sitar in their music.

As his network among American musicians grew, he performed at the famous Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. The counterculture movement of the time welcomed him at the festival, and his performance was a big hit. The mostly hippie audience was fascinated by India and Indian culture, and his music was unlike anything they had heard before.

He later performed at the height of American counterculture, the 1969 Woodstock festival, alongside the greatest musicians of the day, such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Who and Joan Baez.

Ravi Shankar’s rising popularity in the West attracted the attention of George Harrison, a member of the Beatles. After meeting Ravi Shankar in London in 1966, George Harrison traveled to India several times to learn sitar from him and became very devoted to the instrument. The relationship between George Harrison and Ravi Shankar was one of the most fruitful in the history of music. George Harrison used the sitar in several of the Beatles’ hits, such as “Norwegian Wood” and “Tomorrow Never Knows”. This further promoted the popularity of the sitar, and many musicians used the instrument and imitated its sound in a wave of experiments. In 1997, George Harrison became the editor of Ravi Shankar’s second autobiography, Ragmala.

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He composed the score for the 1982 film Gandhi, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score, and his live album Full Circle: Carnegie Hall 2000 won a Grammy for Best World Music Album.

Ravi Shankar’s last concert was on November 4, 2012 at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach, California, along with his daughter Anoushka.


Ravi Shankar died on December 11, 2012 at the age of 92. The 2013 Swara Samrat Festival was held in his honour, featuring musicians such as Hariprasad Chaurasia, Shivkumar Sharma and Zakir Hussain.


  • 5 Grammy Awards-
    • 1967: Best Chamber Music Performance – West Meets East (with Yehudi Menuhin)
    • 1973: Album of the Year – Concert for Bangladesh (with George Harrison)
    • 2002: Best World Music Album – Full Circle: Carnegie Hall 2000
    • 2013: Best World Music Album – The Living Room Sessions Pt. 1
  • Padma Shri (1967)
  • The Padma Blessing (1981)
  • India’s National Treasure Award (1999)


Ravi Shankar’s first wife was Annapurna Devi, a famous music teacher and daughter of Ravi Shankar’s mentor, Alauddin Khan. The two had studied under Ravi Shankar and later married. They had one son, Shubendra Shankar, who died in 1992.

He has two daughters, Norah Jones and Anoushka Shankar.

Norah Jones is the daughter of him and producer Sue Jones. Norah Jones is a very accomplished singer who combines pop and jazz. She has won nine Grammy Awards.

Anushka Shankar was born to him and tanpura player Sukanya Rajan. Ravi Shankar taught her to play the sitar and she often accompanied him on tours. Anushka Shankar rose to fame as a sitar player but she did not limit herself to Indian classical music and experimented with various genres.

Ravi Shankar: Performer, composer, teacher, global ambassador - Rediff.com


Clash with Annapurna Dvi

Annapurna Devi and Ravi Shankar were both students of their father, Aladin Khan, and later married. Whenever they performed together, Annapurna Devi received more praise and applause than Ravi Shankar, and many people who saw them said that she was a better player than Ravi Shankar. This made him very jealous.

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Although Ravi Shankar never said he wanted her to stop performing, he often strongly hinted that he was unhappy with her superior talent, which led to many conflicts. He also had many scandals.

In an effort to save their marriage, Annapurna Devi stopped performing publicly. Unfortunately, this was in vain as Ravi Shankar left her for dancer Kamala Chakravarti. As a result of all this, Annapurna Devi became withdrawn and cut off from public life. She stopped performing altogether and only taught music, and that very selectively. Many people blamed Ravi Shankar for depriving the world of the reputation of a musical genius because of his ego.

The 1973 film Abhiman, starring Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan, was inspired by their relationship.

Check out the profiles of some other Indian classical musicians

Interesting Facts

  • He was the only Indian performer at the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock, two music festivals that represented a generation. He considers performing at Woodstock one of his biggest regrets, calling it a “horrible experience” because many in the audience were under the influence of different substances.
  • Ravi Shankar was a close friend and frequent collaborator of the legendary violinist Yehudi Menuhin
  • Virayat Khan is also considered one of the greatest sitar players in India and he had a fierce rivalry with Ravi Shankar. Ironically, Ravi Shankar initially wanted to become a disciple of Virayat Khan’s father, Inayat Khan.
  • The patriotic song “Sare Jahan Se Achha” was composed by him, but many people don’t know it
  • Ravi Shankar was a member of the Rajya Sabha from 1986 to 1992. He was nominated by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi

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