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Ravi Shankar 90 Not Out - a Tribute to the legendary Sitar Maestro

The Indo American Friendship Association, New Delhi organised a special event: Ravi Shankar 90 Not Out!!at the Islamic Cultural Centre, Lodhi Road New Delhi on Friday July 2nd 2010 to celebrate the 90th birthday of the legendary Sitar Maestro Pt Ravi Shankar. Dr Karan Singh, President ICCR & MP was the Chief Guest while Dr Abid Hussain Former Amb. to USA chaired the programme .Pt Birju Maharaj, renowned Kathak Maestro, Dr Sonal Mansingh an exponent of Bharatanatyam & Odissi dance, Amb.Lalit Mansingh, Amb to USA, HE Jerome Bonnafont Amb.of France, HE Thomas Matussek, Amb of Germany, Gurcharan Das ,bestselling author, Ruth Gee Dir of the British Council for India & Sri Lanka, Suresh Goel Dir Gen ICCR, Michael Pelletier Minister for Public Affairs at the US, Saswati Sen ,popular Kathak dancer & Amb.Surendra Kumar(R) were other members of the distinguished Panel who paid glowing tributes to the Sitar Maestro and commented on his achievements, contributio and legacy for the Next Gen. Saswati Sen, a senior disciple of Pt Birju Maharaj was the MC. The event attracted guests from different walks of Delhi’s social life included foreign Ambassadors, serving and retired civil servants/diplomats, and academics, Members of the IAFA and lovers and connoisseurs of Indian classical music. And the Maestro compensated for his absence by sending a special message on the occasion.

In his introductory remarks, Amb. Surendra Kumar, founding President of IAFA quoted Pandit Ravi Shanakr’s oft repeated line that music, for him, was above all, a Sadhna. He stressed that while Pandit ji opened the flood gates of Western countries to Indian classical music, he never shied Away from experimenting, and played with several Western Greats like Yehudi Menuhin, Ramphal and charmed the famed Beatles, particularly George Harrison who became a lifelong friend. But Ravi Shanakar’s ’s feet remained firmly planted in the centuries old traditions of Indian classical music. Kumar also drew attention to universal appeal of Ravi Ji and how his music fascinated a military dictator in Chile, charmed Queen Elizabeth II and her family and how his fans did not mind shelling out high price for tickets to be seated on the dais behind him just to experience that inexplicable joy of being in the same auditorium with the Maestro.

Peter Eisenhauer, Cultural attaché at the US Embassy narrated his personal experience of interaction with Ravi Shankar when he visited him at Ravi Shankar Institute of Performing Arts in Chanakyapuri along with some Jazz singers from USA.

Suresh Goel, Dir Gen ,ICCR asserted that Ravi Shanakr’s role in popularising Indian Classical music abroad has been path breaking and pioneering.

Admitting that he was an unabashed admirer of Pt Ravi Shanakr, Amb Mansingh listed five factors which led to the evolution of the legend called Ravi shanakr: unique talent, opportunity to have a guru Like Ustad Aluddin Khan and to learn with the likes of Ustad Ali Akbar, exposure and experience which he received while travelling with his famous brother Udai Shankar, irresistible charisma, exceptional ability to articulate and explain the intricacies of classical music in simple and intelligible manner and abundance of luck which included having found Sukanya and Anoushka!!

Gurcharn Das recounted how he met Ravi Shankar in New York some 40 years back and how he had requested Pandit ji to compose music for his play called Meera.

Maharaja Gajsingh of Jodhpur pointed out how his family has known Ravi Shankar for decades and how deeply he admired his music. He also complimented Anoushka who was emerging as a worthy heir of her illustrious father.

Thomas Matussek stressed that in the post Second World War Germany where Bache and Beethoven were the daily diet for lovers of classical music, Ravi Shanakr offered a new genre so different still fascinating. He added that he has always enjoyed listening to Ravi Shankar’s concerts whether in Delhi or New York or Berlin/Bonn or Geneva.

Jerome Bonnafont pointed out that France has conferred the two highest honours on Pt Ravi Shankar for his contribution to the world of music .The French Amb. Mentioned that Ravi ji has had three love affairs with France: in early 50s when he lived there with his brother, in 60s & 70s when he was riding the crest of his popularity and now when his daughter Anoushka was winning hearts in France. He revealed that it was quite common to hear Ravi Shankar’s music on the cruise on river Seine in the evening.

Ruth Gee stressed the deep and strong links which Ravi Shankar has enjoyed with UK and British Musicians for many years and how he has become a household name. Since the album, east meets west in 60s till the present day, Pt Ravi Shanakr has collaborated with several western musicians. Most recently he presented a symphony with London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall on the Thames.

Pt Birju Maharaj recounted his days in 50s when Pandit ji used to live at Phiroz Shah Road and they used to interact; Sometimes Maharaj ji played tabla for Ravi ji. According to Birju Maharaj, Ravi Shankr displays a certain degree of diwanapan (passion) for music which explain his creativity even at this advanced age.

Dr Sonal Mansingh, while extolling Ravi Shanakr’s enormous contribution mentioned that he was a sort of Gandharva in human form whose feet were planted in the ground but head was soaring to skies.

Dr Karan Singh traced links between him and Pt Ravi Shankar going back to half a century and confessed that he misses the fascinating music which Ravi ji created when he used to direct the orchestra at the AIR. He underlined the spiritual aspect of Pandit ji’s music and how he plays for the Creator rather than for the audience before him. He combines the three great elements: satyam shivam and sundaram in his music.

Summing up, the chairman, Dr Abid Hussain stressed that many people may have gyan (Knowledge) but only vidwan(wise man) raises the level of gyan to higher level and disseminates it for the benefit of millions. That’s what RAVI SHANKAR HAS been doing for years. He has raised the music to a higher level and spread it’s message all over the world and affected lives of millions of people; for his matchless services, the whole country owes him deep gratitude and thanks.

The session of tributes was followed by Sitar recital by Shubhendrarao, one Pandit Ravi Shankr’s most talented disciples and Bharatanatyam dance recital by Neha Bhatnagar, a disciple of Dr Saroja Vaidyanathan.

The commemorative event dedicated to Pt Ravi Shankar was supported by the ICCR.