The raga, Indians say, is music that
colors the mind. Rising from the deep well of Hindu civilization, the
well-rendered melody of a raga can convey ecstasy and sorrow, sunlight and
rain, dawn and twilight -- any mood in man or woman, or in nature. It
resonates with India's past and, in its infinite and subtle variations,
imparts the complex truth of India itself. The raga, says RAVI SHANKAR, "is
the heart of our music." Yet few can master it, and fewer still can reveal
its beauty to those outside India. RAVI SHANKAR has mastered the raga. And
on the sitar, he plays ragas for the world.
RAVI SHANKAR was born in 1920 to a Bengali Brahmin family. As a boy he
followed his older brother, Uday Shankar, to Paris where Uday was forming
Europe's first Indian dance company. Here young RAVI gathered what few
shards of formal education he was to possess and, on his own, pored through
the classic Indian stories of the Ramayana and Mahabharata and the modern
works of Rabindranath Tagore. Joining in the work of the troupe, he became
an acclaimed solo dancer and a competent player of the sitar, sarod, bamboo
flute, and the drums. He moved in the orbit of Europe's best young musicians
and traveled in Europe, England, and America.
At the age of eighteen, RAVI SHANKAR abandoned this heady life and returned
to India. Shaving his head and accepting the stern rules of discipleship, he
placed himself under a renowned master of the sitar, Ustad Allauddin Khan.
He became his teacher's favorite pupil, married his daughter, and, after
seven and a half years of ceaseless study, struck out for Bombay to
establish his career.
Persevering through lean years, RAVI SHANKAR became a versatile professional
musician, performing in recitals the classical ragas learned under his guru,
but also creating new music for dance, radio and films. He composed hundreds
of songs in both the folk and classical traditions for All India Radio, and
won acclaim for his ballet-opera based on Jawaharlal Nehru's Discovery of
India and his film scores for Satyajit Ray's seminal Apu trilogy.
RAVI SHANKAR began performing the sitar internationally in 1956, attracting
audiences that grew over the years from a handful of overseas Indians to
large cosmopolitan crowds that filled the premier concert halls of New York
and London. He was driven, he said, to make Indian music intelligible to
non-Indian audiences. Patiently, and with wit, he explained his music before
he played it. With Westem musicians he initiated an East-West dialogue,
performing alongside virtuosos such as Yehudi Menuhin and Jean-Pierre Rampal.
Through the Beatles, sounds of the sitar gained celebrity in the global mass
culture of electronic music. In time RAVI SHANKAR became a celebrity
himself, sharing his music in gala international concert tours and more than
a hundred recorded albums.
Although a brilliant innovator, in concert with the sitar RAVI SHANKAR
remains a purist and adheres strictly to the fixed form of the raga. The
remarkable spontaneity of his playing, the complex, psychological undertones
that make his music feel so modern -- these effects are achieved through
improvisations that occur wholly within the raga's traditional framework.
Where the raga is concerned, says one admirer, RAVI SHANKAR is "a thorough
grammarian." Yet his stunning interpretations have helped to restore
classical Indian music to robust popularity in India and to inspire a new
generation of disciples.
In electing RAVI SHANKAR to receive the 1992 Ramon Magsaysay Award for
Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts, the Board of
Trustees recognizes his enriching India and the world with his sublime
mastery of the sitar and with music "that colors the mind."