Legendary Indian musician and star of the sitar, Ravi Shankar, has passed on this auspicious Wednesday, 12/12/12, at the age of 92. Best known for bringing classical Indian music to the West, collaborating with the likes of Yehudi Menuhin, his sitar strumming really became popular in the 60s and into the 70s when he infamously influenced The Beatles’ George Harrison. A little song called “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown” is a proper example of George’s new sitar skills. It started to catch on with other bands like The Byrds, The Rolling Stones, The Turtles, The Mamas & The Papas…And so raga rock was born!
However, the spotlight might have proved too much for the Harrison-dubbed “Godfather of World Music. ” He told an Indian television channel in a 2009 interview,
“All four [of The Beatles] came. All of them were very sweet but George was so special. He would corner me and ask me about the relation between spirituality and music, religion and music,” he said.
“He met me a few times and then I started teaching him. And that news spread all over. That did help me. When people say that George Harrison made me famous, that is true in a way.
“Then what happened was that I became a pop star all of a sudden. All young people, bearded, long hair, wearing beads and not normal. They would behave like Naga sanyasis [cannabis-smoking holy men] if they were permitted. And I was not happy at all. I would tell George, ‘What have you done?’,” he added.
“What I was not happy about was that though they gave me all the adoration and I was like a pop star. They all would sit down and say, ‘Tell us guru’. And I said, I am not your guru.”
Still, he remained close friends with George Harrison and Paul McCartney.
Highly regarded in his own country Shankar was awarded India’s highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna, in 1999, and besides musical nods to his work, has been celebrated in the US, receiving three Grammy Awards. We probably don’t need to tell you the influence his music has had on your yoga class playlists.
We leave you with a one of his most standout performances as well as some expected and maybe some unexpected popular music influences. Namaste.
Steely Dan’s 1972 hit, “Do It Again” (an electric sitar solo by original guitarist Denny Dias)
Stevie Wonder “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours”
Metallica “Wherever I May Roam”