Sitar great and Beatles mentor Ravi Shankar dies

Ravi Shankar performing in Switzerland. Photo/AP
Ravi Shankar performing in Switzerland. Photo/AP

Legendary Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar, a major influence on musicians ranging from The Beatles to violinist Yehudi Menuhin, has died at the age of 92 after surgery in the United States.

Shankar, the father of the American singer-songwriter Norah Jones, died in a hospital in San Diego, California, where he had recently undergone heart-valve replacement surgery.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hailed Shankar as "a national treasure and global ambassador of India's cultural heritage".

"An era has passed away... The nation joins me to pay tributes to his unsurpassable genius, his art and his humility," he said.

Shankar, who had houses in both California and India, was born into a high-caste Bengali Brahmin family in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi in northern India on April 7, 1920.

He taught close friend the late Beatle George Harrison to play the sitar and collaborated with him on several projects, including the groundbreaking Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. The Beatles called him The Godfather of World Music.

Shankar, a three-time Grammy winner, also played in front of nearly 500,000 people at the Woodstock Festival in New York state in 1969 one of the most iconic cultural events of the century, which also featured Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.

In a statement released from New York via his official Twitter feed, Shankar's wife Sukanya and his daughter Anoushka described him as a "husband, father, and musical soul".

"His health has been fragile for the past several years and (last) Thursday he underwent a surgery that could have potentially given him a new lease of life," they said.

"Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the surgeons and doctors taking care of him, his body was not able to withstand the strain of the surgery. We were at his side when he passed away.

"Although it is a time for sorrow and sadness, it is also a time for all of us to give thanks and to be grateful that we were able to have him as a part of our lives."

His family and the Ravi Shankar Foundation said he had been suffering respiratory and heart problems.

The statement said that Shankar performed his last concert on November 4 in Long Beach, California, with his daughter and fellow sitar player Anoushka.

Memorial plans would be announced shortly, it said.

"Mourn (the) passing of a musical genius and gentle soul," Nirupama Menon Rao, the Indian ambassador to the United States, said on her Twitter feed.

Sanjay Sharma, whose family made sitars for Shankar for more than 30 years, told AFP that their client was demanding but appreciative.

"He was the biggest innovator in music," Sharma told AFP. "He wanted to revolutionise the sitar as an instrument. It was very challenging to work with him but every moment spent with him will be god's valuable gift for our family."

- AFP

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