1. The Polar Music Prize Ceremony
2. Childhood
3. Touring as a teenager
4. Musical studies
5. Theatre, radio & films
6. International breakthrough
7. Grammy awards & pop scene
8. The Concert for Bangladesh
9. Classical, orchestral, east & west
10. 1990s–2010s
1998 Laureate


Ravi Shankar – legendary sitar player, composer, teacher and, in recent years, far and away India’s most outstanding ambassador of music, is awarded the 1998 Polar Music Prize for nearly six decades of achievement as a brilliant performer and explorer of his country’s art music and at the same time a leading representative and communicator to western civilisation of the musical traditions of the Orient. Through innumerable concert tours, gramophone recordings and joint projects in large parts of the world, Ravi Shankar has done more than anybody else to build bridges of growing understanding and interest between Eastern and Western music.


Stockholm, May 1998

Ravi Shankar and Ray Charles were the two Polar Music Prize Laureates of 1998.

The 7th ceremony was held at Berwaldhallen, followed by a banquet at Grand Hôtel.

Anoushka Shankar, Ravi Shankar and Ray Charles at Grand Hôtel.

Ravi Shankar receives the prize from HM King Carl XVI Gustaf.

Ravi Shankar’s daughter Anoushka Shankar, also a famous sitar player, accompanied her father to Stockholm and performed at the ceremony.

Other performing artists were Sweden’s Lisa Nilsson and Nils Landgren, among others.

The Laureates and Anders Öhman at a press conference held before the ceremony.

The banquet at Vinterträdgården, Grand Hôtel.

Anoushka Shankar performs her father's composition "Tilak Shyam - 3" at the prize ceremony.
Arrival at Berwaldhallen.
Ravi Shankar at the banquet next to HM Queen Silvia.
Ravi Shankar's speech at the banquet, Grand Hotel.

“Music transcends all languages and barriers and is the most beautiful communicative skill one can have. Music makes us all experience different emotions or the Navarasa as we call it. Different types of music, whether it is vocal or instrumental, Eastern or Western, Classical or Pop or folk from any part of the world can all be spiritual if it has the power to stir the soul of a person and transcend time for the moment.”

– Ravi Shankar

Pandit Ravi Shankar, 2012 (Source: Wikimedia commons)


Ravi Shankar was born Robindro Shaunkor Chowdhury on April 7, 1920 in Varanasi, India. His father, Shyam Shankar, was a scholar and employed as a diwan (minister) by the Maharajah of Jahlawar, but worked during most of Ravi’s childhood as a lawyer in London. Ravi rarely saw his father during this period and was raised by his mother, Hemangini Devi, at home in Varanasi.

Varanasi along the Ganges River, where Ravi Shankar was born and spent the first ten years of his life. Varanasi, also commonly known as Benares, is India's oldest city and regarded as a holy city by both Hindus and Buddhists. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Touring at an early age

At an early age Ravi Shankar started to tour with his brother, choreographer Uday Shankar’s dance troupe around India and Europe.

Ravi first went to Paris with the troupe at the age of ten and by the time he was 13 he had become a full time member of the group, touring and learning to dance and play various Indian instruments. During the 1930s Ravi continued to tour around Europe and America, travels that introduced him to Western classical music, jazz, cinema and customs.

In 1930, at the age of ten, Ravi Shankar came to Paris with the dance troupe of his brother and in 1938 they performed in New York.

Uday Shankar (1900–1977) (Source: Wikimedia commons)

Uday Shankar and musicians in Berlin, April 1932 (Source: Deutsches Bundesarchiv)

Musical studies

Ravi Shankar gave up his dancing career in 1938 to go to Maihar and study Indian classical music - as the pupil of the lead musician for the Maihar court, Alauddin Khan. The story is that Ravi’s brother Uday heard Khan at a music conference in Kolkata and convinced the Maharaja of Maihar to allow Khan to become his group’s soloist for a tour of Europe in 1935. Young Ravi was sporadically trained by Khan on tour and Khan offered Shankar training to become a serious musician - under the condition that he abandon touring and come to Maihar. Also, Shankar’s parents had died by the time he returned from a European tour and touring the West had become difficult due to political conflicts that would lead to World War II.

Alauddin Khan, Ravi Shankar's teacher from 1938 to 1944. (Source: Wikimedia commons)

Sitar, "Ravi Shankar style" (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Music for theatre, radio & films

Ravi Shankar began giving public recitals in 1939 and came out of training in 1944. Until 1948 he based himself in Bombay and gave programs all over India. He toured and wrote for films and ballets. He began to record music for HMV India and worked as a music director for All India Radio (AIR) in New Delhi from 1949 to 1956. He formed the Indian National Orchestra at AIR and composed for it, experimenting with a combination of Western instruments and classical Indian instrumentation.

Beginning in the mid-50s Shankar composed music for films, in particular the Apu Trilogy by famous indian film maker Satyajit Ray which became internationally acclaimed.

Ravi Shankar 1937–1965

A scene from the third of Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy (1955–1959), internationally acclaimed for its soundtrack.

Satyajit Ray (left) and Ravi Shankar (right) during the music recording for the Bengali-language film Pather Panchali (1955). (Source: Wikimedia commons)

International breakthrough

While working as music director for All India Radio, Ravi Shankar’s international star was on the rise. In 1954 he performed in the Soviet Union. In 1956, he played his debut solo concerts in Western Europe and the U.S. He played for smaller audiences and educated them about Indian music, incorporating ragas from the South Indian Carnatic music in his performances. First album Three Ragas was recorded in London in 1956. From 1961 he toured Europe, the U.S. and Australia.

The Three Ragas album, 1956.

Norwegian Wood, from The Beatles album Rubber Soul, 1965.

During one of the recordings for Richard Bock’s label World Pacific Records The Byrds recorded at the same studio. They heard Shankar’s music, which led them to incorporate some of the elements in theirs and introducing the genre to their friend George Harrison of The Beatles. Harrison became interested in Indian classical music, bought a sitar and used it to record the song “Norwegian Wood”. This led to Indian music being used by other musicians.

The Byrds, Fifth Dimension, 1966

Ravi Shankar makes a US television appearance in 1967 on the show Hollywood Palace hosted by Bing Crosby.
Ravi Shankar and George Harrison (Source: Unfinished Side Prod.)

Grammy awards & the pop scene

George Harrison and Ravi Shankar met in London in 1966, and Harrison visited India for six weeks to study sitar under Shankar. In 1967 Shankar performed at the Monterey Pop and won a Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance for West Meets East, a collaboration with violinist Yehudi Menuhin.

West Meets East from 1966. The recording was awarded a Grammy in 1967 for Best Chamber Music Performance. (Source: EMI Classics)

1967 also saw The Beatles’ album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band which included “Within You Without You” by George Harrison, a song influenced by Indian classical music. Shankar opened a Western branch of his Kinnara School of Music, first started in Bombay in 1962, in Los Angeles in 1967. He published his autobiography My Music, My Life in 1968 and performed at the Woodstock Festival in 1969. Ravi Shankar was by now the most famous Indian musician on the planet.

Ravi Shankar 1966–1971

Within You Without You, 1967

Performance at the Woodstock festival, together with tabla player Alla Rakha, August 1969.
Ravi Shankar performing on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971.

The Concert for Bangladesh

In the 1970s Ravi Shankar distanced himself from the pop scene and the hippie movement, but he inspired George Harrison to, and joined him for the charity concert for Bangla Desh at Madison Square Garden in New York in August 1971.

The concert marked the first time rock musicians collaborated for a common humanitarian cause. The album was a great success and won Shankar his second Grammy Award.

(Source: )

Interview with Ravi Shankar and the Concert for Bangladesh for UNICEF USA.

Classical, orchestral, east & west

Ravi Shankar toured and taught for the rest of the 1970’s and the 1980’s and released his second Concerto for Sitar and Orchestra, Raga Mala, conducted by Zubin Mehta, in 1981. His first had been by invitation from London Symphony Orchestra in 1971 and was conducted by André Previn. In 1982 Shankar was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Music Score for his work on Gandhi, but lost to John Williams' ET.

Raga Mala, 1981

Ravi Shankar with student Partho Sarothy, 1985. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Between 1986 and 1992 he served as a member of the upper chamber of the Parliament of India, Rajya Sabha, after being nominated by Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. His interest in cooperation and crossing musical boundaries, especially between east and west, led him to collaborate with contemporary composer Philip Glass, with whom he released the album Passages in 1990.

Passages, 1990


In the mid 90’s Ravi Shankar wrote a second autobiography, Raga Mala, edited and introduced by George Harrison. He released a career compilation, In Celebration, in 1996 and performed between 25 and 40 concerts every year during the late 1990’s. He also taught his daughter, Anoushka Shankar, to play the sitar and they have toured together. His elder daughter is artist and musician Norah Jones. Ravi Shankar won a Grammy Award for Best World Music Album for Full Circle: Carnegie Hall 2000, recorded 62 years after his first performance in Carnegie Hall – as a dancer in 1938!

Ravi Shankar 1982-2000

Ravi Shankar with Anoushka Shankar at the World Sacred Music Festival in Fes, Morocco, June 2005. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

His third Concerto for Sitar and Orchestra was performed by his daughter Anoushka and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in 2009. In October 2011, at the age of 91, he invited his long-time tabla accompanist, Tanmoy Bose, to his home in Encinitas, California for an informal recording session. The album The Living Room Sessions, Part 1 was released in 2012, the same year he sadly passed away.

The Living Room Sessions, Part 1, 2012

Content of biography is presented here as it was published in 2012.

All pictures from the ceremony and the banquet © Polar Music Prize.

In memoriam Ravi Shankar 1920–2012.

(Source: Unfinished prod.)

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