Page 1

1968_08_10--055_SP [Ravi Shankar]

M RA •• NKAR SHA "I WAIX =Y ALFRED G. AUGHT 41(cD)Y8eRIA- f(Hs RopE: B Y JAY MAISEL At 48, Ravi Shankar has survived the Beatles' interest in him. "I admit," he said, "that my association with George Harrison has given my music a push in a certain direction to the very end I was trying to achieve, but you must remember I was not completely unknown-1 hod already established myself at the jazz, classical and folk levels of music. . . ." He was sitting cross-legged on a rug bordered by trooping elephants, one of the props in a photographer's studio in the building that houses Carnegie Hall. Across the street, a chorus of potted trees spread their shade over a penthouse, and Shankar kept interrupting himself to marvel at how so much green could be found on a rooftop when there was so little in the streets. When he first came out of the East 13 years ago, a self-proclaimed messenger of the spiritual mysteries of the sitar as well as a virtuoso of its magic sound, he was already one of India's most celebrated classical musicians. Now America was selling his records in the pop-music racks of drugstores. "You know," he said, "this was not a sudden, overnight thing for me...." The photographer shoved a lens in his face, and Shankar smiled with all the charm of a country that has learned how to make cobras dance. Shankar's two accompanists, Alla Rakha, a short, pudgy man dressed in a kirta with a vest over it, and Kamala, a handsome woman gift-wrapped in the colors of her sari, arrived at the studio carrying their instruments. Rakha plays the tabla, a set of two finely tuned drums. Kamala, her head bobbing and weaving, plays the tambour°, o fivestringed instrument which has no frets and which is plucked to maintain a constant drone. Shankar greeted them in Bengali, pointed out the forest atop the building across the street and picked up his sitar, a massive instrument for a man barely five feet tall. "In England. Donovan once told someone, 'I have mastered the sitar in six months,'" Shankar said. "I have spent almost 36 years of my life and I don't think I have come near to mastering the sitar." Actually, the sitar, which evolved in India some 700 years ago, is a sacred instrument and must be practiced through several incarnations by anyone who wants to become a virtuoso. Shankar, for example, looks upon Beatle guitarist George Harrison as a beginner, with no more knowledge of the sitar than the basic fingerings. "George, you know, came to see me in India and spent about seven days with me." Shankar said. "I think he might be coming this summer to California when I visit my sitar school in Los Angeles." The teaching of the sitar is as formal, solemn and ritualized as the playing of it. There are morning ragas, afternoor ragas, evening ragas and night ragas, and to play one of them out of turr. would be blasphemous. As a pop star Shankar has been accused by India's Puritans of committing his own form of blasphemy. His greatest outrage against Indian prudery was when he compared playing the sitar to making love. "It created a great furore when I sale' that," Shankar remembered. "I was misunderstood, but it's really true—it is the height of ecstasy for me. It becomes one, the spiritual feeling and the sensual feeling. You know, the time has come for Westerners to try to understand and appreciate Indian music on its own terms and not through the music they know. They must take a little more pain tc understand all the mystic qualities and 55


1968_08_10--055_SP [Ravi Shankar]
To see the actual publication please follow the link above