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Friday, 7 April, 2000, 01:58 GMT 02:58 UK
India celebrates Ravi's birthday
Ravi Shankar with sitar
Shankar received a lifetime achievement award last month
By arts correspondent Razia Iqbal

In India, the world of classical music is celebrating the 80th birthday of Sitar maestro, Ravi Shankar.

The Indian Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is expected to wish him happy birthday from the nation and special compositions have been commissioned and will be performed.

Ravi Shankar has been playing the sitar for more than 60 years, and during his early years, to great acclaim in his native India.


I think the beauty of his music is quite definitely inspired by the flow of the Ganges

Cultural historian Shashank Singh
But he achieved international superstar status in his mid-40s, following his association with the Beatles. He taught George Harrison and when the group stopped off in India after a tour in the Philippines, he was dubbed the Beatles' guru, and that has stuck ever since.

While he would be the first to acknowledge his enjoyment of that period, for Ravi Shankar, the spirituality inherent in playing the sitar always takes him back to the discipline the instrument requires.

'Magical' childhood

Much of that spirituality is rooted in his childhood in the holy city of Benares, on the banks of the River Ganges.

"There used to be so much entertainment, singing, dancing, little dramas going on," he once said.

" You saw everything of life, from birth to death. It was really like magic."

Ravi Shankar will probably always be viewed as the man who's done more than anyone else to build cultural bridges between the east and the west, but his greater contribution has been in his playing of an instrument which has come to be identified as the sound of India. His improvisations have created a new style of playing the sitar and a new sound.

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13 Feb 00 | South Asia
France honours Shankar
24 Jun 99 | South Asia
Indian music - now online
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