Pandit Ravi Shankar: Sitar maestro that changed The Beatles

7 Apr 2016

Today’s Google Doodle marks what would have been the 96th birthday of Pandit Ravi Shankar, the Indian musician who introduced The Beatles to the sitar.

Pandit Ravi Shankar, or Robindro Shaunkor Chowdhury to give him his full name, was born to a Bengali family in India in 1920 and during the 1960s he established himself as the most famous Indian musician in the world thanks to his collaboration with pop icons The Beatles.

From the age of 10 Shankar began following in his family’s footsteps by training to become a musician, spending eight years in Paris, before returning home to learn under the tutelage of Ustad Allauddin Khan, one of the most respected musicians in India at that time.

Quickly gaining attention from those in the music and film industry in the 1940s, Shankar went on to work in radio, before deciding to compose the scores for some of the biggest Indian films of that era, including Dharti ke Lal, and  Neecha Nagar.

However, it was in 1966 that his world turned upside down after he befriended Beatles guitarist George Harrison who had come to Shankar to learn about the Indian artist’s most familiar instrument, the sitar.

Now instantly familiar to anyone hearing it, 1960s western culture was only just beginning to hear the high-pitched Indian guitar-like instrument with bands like The Kinks and, perhaps most famously, in The Rolling Stones’ 1966 classic Paint It Black.

However, it was Harrison and The Beatles with whom Shankar had a long-lasting friendship as the latter’s protégé, despite the fact that Shankar had been quite vocal about the issues he had with being an idol for ‘drug-smoking hippies’ and with the rock music scene in general.

Regardless, his stature within the music scene remained high, right up until his death in 2012 at the grand old age of 92.

Married twice, he had three children, one of whom is well-known singer Norah Jones.

And, today, Google celebrates the life and music of Shankar with his own Google Doodle, designed by artist Kevin Laughlin, to mark what would have been his 96th birthday.

Ravi Shankar Google Doodle

Sitar image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic