One of the fullest, freest and most feted Indian lives of the last century came to an end Dec. 11, when Pandit Ravi Shankar passed away at the age of 92 in San Diego.
Shankar was, to most of his peers in India and a vast audience around the world, the greatest sitar player of his era. But his influence extended far beyond his own innovations in technique, composition and collaboration. Beginning in the 1950s, when the sitar wasn't widely known outside South Asia, Shankar took the sublime sound of his 17-stringed classical Indian instrument into the concert halls and homes and studios of the West, leading to a wave of cross-fertilization that included collaborations with George Harrison, John Coltrane and Philip Glass, as well as the Concert for Bangladesh with Harrison, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton at Madison Square Garden in 1971.
He won three Grammy Awards over a span of 35 years and was nominated to receive a fourth -- for Best World Music Album -- in 2013. For a few decades, Shankar was probably the best-known Indian in America. The flautist Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia summed up Shankar's towering career:
To him, Indian music was a religion and he made it his mission to spread it beyond India’s shores; that was his zeal and his reach. Today when I go overseas to perform, I do not have to explain the nuances of Indian classical music to anybody. If they understand, it is because of him.