Lucky chants

Flower-power guru Ravi Shankar has put the Sixties behind him. So why is George Harrison producing his new album and editing his autobiography ?

Flower power, hippies, the Swinging Sixties, Ravi Shankar - the names are forever linked. The fans wanted to turn on to his sitar music, but he felt only repugnance for them and their disrespectful ways. He hated it when they addressed him - guru and maestro - as "Hi, Ravi" or "Hi, Rav", and in the end he dropped out, disappearing during the Seventies precisely so that he could escape his decadent followers.

Now he is back, preparing to appear at the Womad festival as part of a 16-week tour, but, at 77, pacing his life more carefully after undergoing a quadruple heart bypass.

He lives most of the year now in a glorious home near San Diego, with his wife Sukanya and their 16-year-old daughter Anoushka. He has always been a beautiful man, though now he is frail, his thick black locks have thinned and greyed, his cheeks have sunk, though his jawline is still strong. He talks animatedly and gestures gracefully with his hands and arms, his movements are measured and he is certainly not decrepit.

He turns down more concerts than he feels able to carry out, but the work load is still heavy. He has a new album, Chants of India, coming out at the beginning of September, and comprising his own original compositions based upon the traditional chants and ancient prayers and mantras of his homeland. Produced by ex-Beatle George Harrison, and commissioned by Steve Murphy of Angel Records - the company that brought you the multi-million- selling album of Gregorian chant by the monks of Santo Domingo de Silos - it aims to do for Indian chant what the Spanish Benedictines did for liturgical plainsong. He also has an autobiography, Raga Mala, coming out this autumn in a limited edition, complete with accompanying two-CD set.

He may be trying to pace his life better in order to preserve it, but it still sounds as if he's got a lot left that he wants to squeeze in. Does he think about death? "Now more so, because I am getting nearer to it. But for many years I never thought of it. It is one of those things that is bound to happen to everyone.

"I have no fear of death at all," he continues, "excepting that, like everyone else, I guess, I don't want to suffer physically. I would like to keep it at bay for a while because of her," he gestures to his daughter Anoushka, sitting by his side, "and to some extent because of certain unfinished things that I feel I would like to complete." Among those are having Chants of India performed live, composing a few more ballets and operas based on Indian mythology, and passing on the mantle of sitar maestro to Anoushka.

Shankar has released more than 65 albums but feels that Chants of India is "one of the most meaningful things I have done". It's also one of the most unusual because, except for some strumming, there is hardly any sitar on it. There is, though, a choir of 12 or 15 voices, and a musical backdrop made up of traditional Indian and a few Western instruments. The result, the Indian equivalent of Western plainsong, is subtle and spiritual; it has a calming quality. Shankar finds music more spiritually rewarding than he does religious ritual. He is reluctant to talk about it but admits to having had mystical experiences in the course of creating Chants of India.

Has he ever gone into a trance-like state? "I consider all this very personal but, as you ask, I can tell you that I have - more through my music, when I am performing, than when I am sitting and meditating."

Is he holy? "Very unholy."

Then he retracts. "No, no. I think I am in the middle path, but slightly tilted towards the holy feelings at least. Being in this world, witnessing everything, it is very difficult to feel holy constantly. I am very much a see-saw, I go from one extreme to the other. Sometimes worldly and sometimes I feel `What's the use of all this?' Very extreme feelings."

Unlike too many supposedly pious people, he admits to his failings. That only enhances the aura of spirituality that surrounds him. As India's greatest ambassador of culture through the mystical power of the sitar, he has sought to spread the message of his music despite maulings from "so-called cultured people who have positions and talk of tradition not knowing anything about it."

His association with George Harrison, who incorporated the sitar and raga rhythms and melodies into his song-writing for The Beatles, was the catalyst for Shankar's burst of Sixties super-stardom (although he had already enjoyed a successful career in the West, including collaborations and friendship with Yehudi Menuhin). The relationship with Harrison has endured and, except for a period of severance in the Seventies, deepened..

"George, since the day I met him, was a very introverted and very spiritual person. He was a young boy then and very superficial, with a very child- like groping. Now he is very mature. He has studied and has such a deep love for our old culture, the Vedic culture especially."

Their collaborations have included the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, the first major fund-raising rock concert. Harrison co-produced the four- CD box set In Celebration to celebrate Shankar's 75th birthday and also edited Shankar's autobiography, as well as enthusiastically embracing production on Chants of India, which was recorded partly in India, partly at Harrison's country home.

"We have become so close really. It's a beautiful relationship - like a father / son, guru / disciple - and we laugh and have fun so much together."

The guru / disciple roles are reversed, however, whenever they go into the recording studio. "When we were mixing the sound, I let him lead because that is something which he has so much experience in, but composition- wise I made all the decisions. In fact it was my idea to utilise him, though not in a major way, just as part of the chorus, using some strums of the acoustic guitar or just a few notes on the vibraphone or auto harp."

Shankar would like to see Chants of India performed live, although neither he nor Harrison would be among its performers, much as Harrison would like to be. "There comes the catch. If it is George, then the attraction becomes George Harrison being there, and it loses its whole approach. George doesn't want to exploit that. It's not fair to him either as such a famous musician and neither is it fair to the production."

Shankar has been comfortable in the role of guru and father. His early experiences of the loss of his own father made him more detached than he feels he should have been. His father Pandit Dr Shyam Shankar, a once- wealthy landowner, left his family in poverty in India to come to the West, where he studied at the bar in London, taught Indian philosophy at Columbia University, and eventually became a member of the Privy Council.

For years Ravi had a low opinion of his father, although they eventually became reconciled. "I connected later on and maybe spent a few weeks with him. I really found him not to be the person that I thought he was. I didn't have a very good opinion about him, but the whole world respected him, he was such a learned person, wise person, a good person."

"He was a very detached person. He was many things but never took anything for a long time and never made any money."

Shankar's surrogate father was his sitar guru, Baba Allauddin Khan. "I found my father actually in my guru, he gave me that love when I went to him and met him." He married his guru's daughter Annapurna Devi and they had one son, Shubhendra, who died in his forties leaving two children.

The detachment inherited from Ravi Shankar's father stayed with him. "I am sorry to say I am very detached in that way. I mean I have all the love, but I have never been able to be like a normal person because from very early childhood I have been a nomad - travelling and hotel rooms have been like my home. Only in the last few years I am feeling those things that I lost."

The transformation has come about through the love of his wife Sukanya, 35 years his junior, and Anoushka. He is making up for the time he failed to spend with Anoushka in her first seven years after she was born and brought up alone by Sukanya in London's Willesden Green. Sukanya was in a previous marriage when she met Ravi Shankar and became his mistress. Their affair was revealed by an Indian magazine under the headline "How love conquered lust"!

They moved in together and married when Anoushka was eight and a half, moving to India for two years, then back to London for a year, before settling in California for his health. Anoushka has now become a bit of a California girl - at least her accent has, though she has agreed not to have any boyfriends until she is 17 or 18, only going out with boys in groups. You can see the devotion to her father in her eyes.

"I am working very hard with her. I wish she could work as hard as I want her to, but you know how difficult it is for a kid of 16, going to school and being a teenager, and she's also doing piano, Western music, so, poor thing, I feel sorry for her, because it's really very much strain on her and she's now touring with me. Being a teenager and being in California is very very difficult. But we have tried to maintain a balance and she is a very wise girl and I have tremendous admiration for her."

Ravi Shankar appears this Friday at the Womad Festival, Reading. Booking: 01225 74449

Sport
Lionel Messi pictured after reaching the final
world cup 2014
Sport
Lionel Messi and Thomas Muller have shone brightest for Argentina and Germany respectively on their way to the World Cup final
Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

    £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?