Ravi Shankar @ 100: how this exhibition celebrates India’s pioneering global musician
Launched in 2014, PhotoSparks is a weekly feature from YourStory, with photographs that celebrate the spirit of creativity and innovation. In the earlier 465 posts, we featured an art festival, cartoon gallery. world music festival, telecom expo, millets fair, climate change expo, wildlife conference, startup festival, Diwali rangoli, and jazz festival.
A centennial exhibition on sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar has been organised at Bengaluru’s Indian Music Experience (IME) museum, to celebrate his contribution to music. Born on April 7, 1920 Ravi Shankar played a key role in putting Indian music on the global map, and pioneered a wide range of collaborations with international musicians and composers.
I was fortunate to hear Ravi Shankar and his daughter Anoushka Shankar together perform in Bengaluru during his last tour of India in 2012 (see my earlier write-up here). The consummate musician continued to perform right till just weeks before he passed away.
IME is also an institutional affiliate of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. Titled ‘Ravi Shankar @100 - India’s Global Musician,’ the exhibition is supported by the Ravi Shankar Foundation.
The three-month exhibition, launched on March 7, was to be followed by a tour to other cities in India and abroad. These plans are on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak, but the artefacts can be viewed in an online video. In Part II of this photo essay, we explore how IME is repositioning its activities online and adapting to the COVID-19 crisis.
In this pictorial essay, we showcase some of the historic photographs, graphic panels, costumes, actual instruments, and interactive listening stations that chronicle the life and work of this celebrated artiste. There is an ‘experience zone’ for meditative listening, with sound design by Bengaluru-based Grammy-award winner Ricky Kej.
“The exhibition also looks at several lesser known aspects of Ravi Shankar’s life, such as the fact that he had perforated eardrums and used hearing aids! Or the fact that his relationship with George Harrison was more like father and son,” explains IME Director Manasi Prasad, in a chat with YourStory.
(Note: These photographs were taken before the national lockdown due to the coronavirus, and the visit to the gallery was not in violation of any public safety guidelines. In future editions of this column, we will explore the response of the artistic community to the COVID-19 crisis.)
“Putting the exhibition together was overall a six-month effort, of which the intense activity was in the last three months,” she adds. The IME team was supported by journalist Akhila Seetharaman. Most of the exhibits were provided by the Ravi Shankar Foundation and his wife Sukanya Shankar’s personal collection.
While Sukanya is in the US and London for most of the year, the Ravi Shankar Institute in Delhi also has a lot of material. “So it was a sort of coordination between us in Bengaluru, US and Delhi for the material,” Manasi adds.
“Ravi Shankar was India’s greatest musical ambassador and a true cultural icon,” according to Robert Santelli, Founding Executive Director of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. “His music and spirituality profoundly touched millions of people worldwide,” he adds.
Bob Santelli and The Grammy Museum team were completely involved with the storyline of the exhibit, Manasi explains. The exhibition design was handled by Fuel India. “Exhibits are very collaborative exercises,” she adds. The exhibition spans 29 artifacts and nearly 100 photographs.
“Exhibits like this are meant to inform, interpret and inspire. How often do you get to see a REAL Bharat Ratna medal, a REAL Grammy, or a sitar played by a maestro,” Manasi asks. The exhibition provides a “much needed dose of inspiration,” she adds.
The inauguration of the exhibition was followed by a concert by Ravi Shankar's disciple, Grammy-award winner Vishwamohan Bhatt on the mohanveena, accompanied by tabla maestro Bickram Ghosh.
Located at JP Nagar in Bengaluru, the Indian Music Experience Museum (IME) is the first interactive music museum in the country. It is a non-profit initiative of the Indian Music Experience Trust, founded by the Brigade Group and supported by government and industry sponsors. It includes an Exhibit Area, Sound Garden and Learning Centre (see highlights in Part I and Part II of our earlier photo essays).
A life and legacy of music
Pandit Ravi Shankar was born on April 7, 1920, in Benares. Robindro Shaunkor Chowdhury (later renaming himself Ravi Shankar) began performing at the age of 11 along with his eldest brother Uday Shankar’s dance troupe. He learnt sitar from his guru Allauddin Khan, in the Maihar gharana.
For more than 80 years, Ravi Shankar promoted Indian classical music to the world and advocated peace through music, education, and performance. In 1999, he was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour.
The Ravi Shankar Foundation was established in 1997 to promote music and cultural collaboration. With Ravi's passing away in 2012, the Foundation carries on this mission in earnest.
His international music collaborations have featured Yehudi Menuhin, George Harrison (of the Beatles), Jean Pierre Rampal, Phillip Glass, and Hosan Yamamoto. The legendary American jazz saxophonist John Coltrane named his son Ravi Coltrane after Ravi Shankar; Ravi Coltrane is now a full-fledged star as well.
In the 1960s, Ravi Shankar gave memorable concerts at the Monterey Festival and Woodstock. Deeply moved by the refugee crisis during the Bangladesh freedom struggle, Ravi Shankar and George Harrison organised the fundraiser ‘Concert for Bangladesh.’ The recorded triple album featured guests musicians like Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Ringo Starr, and Billy Preston.
Ravi Shankar is the father of singer Norah Jones and sitarist Anoushka Shankar, both established stars in their own right. See my review of Anoushka’s raga-flamenco ‘Traveller Tour’ concert in Bengaluru here.
“Ravi Shankar, the peerless musician, put Indian music and our culture on the global map. Achieving that in a non-digital era is no small feat. His music continues to enthrall, inspire and touch hearts,” explains Sukanya Shankar, wife of Ravi Shankar and President of The Ravi Shankar Foundation.
“He dedicated his life to peace through music and left a great legacy in both his daughters and disciples,” she adds. “It is heartening to know that IME will be giving a glimpse into his amazing life and showcasing some collections for people to enjoy,” Sukanya Shankar proudly says.
Now, what have you done today to pause in your busy schedule to explore and honour our deep cultural heritage?