Pandit Shankar spent his youth touring India and Europe with the dance group of his brother Uday Shankar. He gave up dancing and started learning sitar playing under the guidance of court musician Allauddin Khan. His relation with Beatles guitarist George Harrison aided the spread of Indian music in abroad, leading to the raga rock trend.
He died on December 11, 2012, in San Diego, California, after undergoing heart valve replacement surgery.
The music that I have learned and want to give is like worshipping God. It’s absolutely like a prayer. I try to give to my music the spiritual quality, very deep in the soul, which does something even if you are not realizing it or analyzing it – that’s the duty of the music.
I was admired by all these hippies, and it was wonderful playing at Monterey and Woodstock, performing for half a million people.
There are thousands of ragas, and they are all connected with different times of the day, like sunrise or night or sunset. It is all based on 72 of what we call ‘mela’ or scales. And we have principally nine moods, ranging from peacefulness to praying, or the feeling of emptiness you get by sitting by the ocean.
In India, I have been called a ‘destroyer.’ But that is only because they mixed my identity as a performer and as a composer. As a composer I have tried everything, even electronic music and avant-garde. But as a performer I am, believe me, getting more classical and more orthodox, jealously protecting the heritage that I have learned.
In the U.K., classical music is composed by individuals and written down. Indian music is based on certain sequences called ragas. When I perform live, 95% of the music is improvised: it never sounds the same twice.
In our culture we have such respect for musical instruments, they are like part of God.
In the olden days, I believe Mozart also improvised on piano, but somehow in the last 200 years, the whole training of Western classical music – they don’t read between the lines, they just read the lines.