Pandit Ravi Shankar was a great friend of Russia

The legendary Indian musician was popular across the former Soviet Union and is well remembered for his concerts in Moscow.

Pandit Ravi Shankar, the greatest Indian musician of all time passed away at the age of 92 at San Diego, California, closing an entire era in global music history. In his death, while India lost its most eminent artist, the world of music lost one of its ablest exponents of sitar. Ravi Shankar, recipient of almost all high honours of India starting from the Padma Bhushan in 1967, Padma Vibhushan in 1981 and Bharat Ratna, the highest Indian award in 1999, became India’s cultural ambassador abroad for decades. A perfect embodiment of India’s soft power, Ravi Shankar took eastern music mainstream to the West in 1960s.

Beatle legend George Harrison learnt music sitting near his feet. Shankar’s dream to popularise Indian music in the West took him around the world in 1950s. But this wonderful journey began with his first foreign tour to the Soviet Union as the leader of a cultural delegation in 1954. This was the time when India and Soviet Union were trying to discover each other.  Cultural diplomacy played a key role in this endeavour.

He began working with legendary Soviet violinist Yehudi Menuhim in the 1950s. Highlights from their performances were produced into an album called “West meets East: The Historic Shankar Menuhin Collection,” which earned them a Grammy.

Ravi Shankar’s popularity had reached its peak in the USSR in 1970s and 80s. His performances in the framework of the unique and unprecedented India festival in the former Soviet Union in 1987-88   was in many ways the hallmark of the year-long festival that took tens of hundreds of Indian artists to the remotest areas of that vast country. It was next to impossible to get tickets for Ravi Shankar’s most sought after concerts in Moscow.  Tickets for his concert were being sold for many times more than the real price.

Alexander M. Kadakin:

"The world of music and arts has suffered an irreparable loss with the passing away of your beloved husband and father, iconic maestro Ravi Shankar. Maestro Shankar gifted to the world the unique musical heritage. As the sacred ragas will be reaching out to people’s souls for eternity, Ravi Shankar will be never forgotten by grateful Russia."

Ravi Shankar composed music for Russian orchestra, choral and folk singers to perform together with Indian classical musicians during a historic concert inside the Kremlin palace to mark the closure of the India festival in the Soviet Union. All together 140 musicians from  Ravi Shankar’s Indian ensemble, the Russian Folk Assemble and the  Government Choir of the Ministry of Culture of Soviet Union and the Chamber of Orchestra of the Moscow Philharmonic took part in the concert  Ravi Shankar composed all seven of the pieces as a collage of Indian and Russian music.

While ‘Prarambh,’ the opening piece, was an  ethereal sort of sound, created by combination of Indian and Russian instruments  both playing Ragas, Shanti-Mantra is based  on Raga Devagiri Bilawal, as well as  the Shanta Ras, performed  by both the Indian vocalists and the Government Choir .Three Ragas were performed solely by the Moscow Philharmonic musicians. The maestro’s composition of “Unity of Friendship and Love” is a unique and unforgettable piece of musical art. On the whole, the Kremlin concert is a master piece of synthesis of Indian and Russian music. The record of that concert known as “Ravi Shankar inside the Kremlin” is considered to be one of his best creations.

Ravi Shankar‘s popularity in the Soviet Union may have reached its zenith in 1980s, but his love affair with the Soviet Union began long before that when he joined the IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association), an organisation that had immense love and sympathy for the Soviet Union and had played a key role in cementing cultural ties between our two countries. Imbibing progressive politics and values during his IPTA years, he became a staunch admirer of the Soviet Union and it is this special quality that earned him immense popularity among the larger Indian public.  He composed music for films made by Chetan Anand and K.A. Abbas, the eminent movie personalities of those years who were champions of friendship with the Soviet Union. Ravi Shankar composed music for Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar, a film inspired by Maxim Gorky’s Lower Depths, and also for Dharti Ke Lal, directed by K.A. Abbas and based on eminent progressive short story writer Krishan Chander, yet another great friend of the Soviet Union.                   

 It is not only Ravi Shankar who was close to the Soviet Union. His elder brother, legendary dancer Uday Shankar, a frequent visitor to the Soviet Union with his troupe, danced with equally legendary Soviet Ballet dancer Anna Pavlova. There are myriad legends about Uday Shankar’s love affair with Anna Pavlova, and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s opposition to their marriage.

With the demise of Pandit Ravi Shankar while India lost its best known music geniuses, Russia lost one of its great friends.

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