(Last Updated on : 15/12/2012)
Contribution of Pandit Ravi Shankar can hardly be summed up in few words, as words fall short to map the parameter of his genius. The sunset years of Pandit Ravi Shankar
marks the epoch of a new era on music, transgressing the known territories of Indian music venturing into the depths of what we call World music. He made Indian music a sensation to world consciousness.
Contribution to the essence of Nationalism
Early decades of the twentieth century marked the absence of accomplished sitarists in the country. Ravi Shankar's own guru Ustad Allauddin Khan
, who set up the Maihar gharana, Ustad Enayat Khan who held up the Etawah gharana, Shankar's younger contemporaries Ustad Vilayat Khan
and Nikhil Banerjee, his one-time wife Annapurna Devi and such. However, it was Shankar who captivated the imagination of post-Independent India with his effortless creativity, the juxtaposition of ancient style of music making, even as he contributed to the idea of a new aesthetic nationalism. Musical identity effortlessly fused with national identity. Neecha Nagar had the essence of the same. As the film mirrored anti-imperialist subject, he generously used the dholak and the sitar.
Carnatic Music in the hands of Ravi Shankar
A world that has become used to packaged information and instantaneous communiqu‚ where subtleties often fall by the way side, Ravi Shankar's personality vouched for a celebration of life amidst music and music as the food for life. The pioneer musician to create several Carnatic ragas like Keeravani, Vachaspati Simhendramadhyamam and Charukeshi, however hardly played Carnatic compositions in these but created his own bandish and infused them with a typical Hindustani flavour in his improvisation. The renditions offered by his creative brilliance have made them automatic choices for numerous Hindustani artistes and infusing in international audience awareness and liking for Canatic music. As the violin legend Yehudi Menuhin, himself a close friend of Shankar, remarked in an after word to Shankar's 1999 autobiography, "...from mastering an instrument, we ourselves became instruments of something that possessed us". Ravi Shankar is the accredited lord over thirty new ragas as his creation - including Nat Bhairavi (created way back in 1945), Bairagi, Manamanjari, Parameshwari, Jogeshwari, Rajya Kalyan (composed on the occasion of his relinquishing membership of the Rajya Sabha, 1986-1992) and so on. Shankar had been vociferous about the debt he owed to Carnatic music for his inspiration. His 1999 autography "Raagmala" reads ' "I fell in love with Carnatic music in Madras at the age of twelve or thirteen when I first heard the great singer and veena
player Veena Dhanam.. It has therefore been extremely satisfying to have succeeded in popularizing among musicians in the North the ragas Kirwani, Charukeshi, Vachaspati, Simhendra Madhyama, Nata Bhairavi and others which are all of Carnatic origin... The Carnatic system's mathematical approach to rhythms and accurate application of them are also stunning. One of my greatest loves is for intricate sitar passages of mathematical precision filled with metric patterns and ending with complex tihais, all spontaneously improvised." An emblematic Ravi Shankar concert would slot in and syncopate these- a dhrupad kind of invocation, a khayal
kind of mid-concert colour, a Carnatic inspired climax and a racy finale created from a semi-classical thumri
or a folkish dhun.
Contribution to Bollywood and Film music
Though masked as an outsider in the Bollywood
world, he was his own competitor. Be it Hrishikesh Mukherjee
s abundant use of sitar Anuradha or Satyajit Ray
's kaleidoscopic classics he was a winner all the way beyond the rarefied confines of mainstream classical. His first foray into celluloid world was accompanying the musical strains of Chetan Anand's Neecha Nagar which incorporated a blend of classical ragas and earthen flavours of folk later followed by Panther Panchali, and Apu Trilogy films whose music was described as "at once plaintive and exhilarating." Anecdotes have it where Panditji met Ray, and as he hummed a tune it instantly became the signature theme of the film. The music of Pather Panchali evolved over long sessions, with Panditji indulging in abundant use of the bamboo flute and giving a free reign to the ragas Bhairavi and Todi in his compositions. Ray, despite frequent differences of opinion, gave Panditji his space and time.
While Neecha Nagar was inspired by Maxim Gorky's Lower Depths, Dharti ke Lal was a mimetic art form on a short story by Krishan Chander. Pather Panchali and Kabuliwala were based on the works of Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay
and Rabindranath Tagore
, respectively. A little after Anuradha, Panditji worked for Godaan, Raaj Kumar-Kamini Kaushal starrer based on Munshi Premchand
's work of the same name. The music caused mere ripples and Panditji decided to devote his energies to classical music. He returned only to give the music of Meera, Gulzar
's directorial venture, where he preferred to use the voice of Vani Jayram
instead of Lata Mangeshkar
in all the songs, helping the singer win the Filmfare award.
Contribution to American Cross Culture
Weaving in an eastern strand on his sitar, a somewhat bewildered Pandit Ravi Shankar viewed the American Cross culture. The magnitude of what happened in the 60s and 70s in America is still fragmented - it would have been wise to document his thoughts more comprehensively. It had been a time of influx and turmoil in America where the young were dropping out of society, questioning authorities a result of the Vietnam War, and just about anything as repressive as establishment and into it floated Ravi Shankar's music which arrived as a soothing balm for the aching drug doped hearts looking for meaning out of drug dew reality which was silhouetted by political trials and witch hunts. Psychedelic wings and hash cookies was pursuit of happiness to annihilate the plane of reality. Music was solace before the emotionally crippled reality. The crowning glory of the counterculture movement had been Shankar's glorious 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, aiding the refugees. Overnight, Bangladesh was etched on the western mind and donations poured in. Ustad Ali Akbar Khan
, Alla Rakha on tabla
and Shankar on the sitar led the show with a 45-minute set a time span for the fidgety audience who were typically conversant with Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Leon Russell who would follow. Though his contribution to both Indian music and what they call world music, referring possibly to his cross-cultural collaborations with musicians from different cultures, the maestro himself admitted vehemently that he never attempted to create anything as fusion.
While the boulevard of broken dreams of mortal millions was weaved anew by Shankar, he being the Beatles muse; his music had been an inspiration to many amidst the hurly burly of life "where fair is foul, and foul is fair." While his gifted soul may have been twinkling as a star as he died on December 12, the works still echo his genius as if whispering from deep down ; the tag line of his daughter's debut album-Come Away With Me.