Nearly every media outlet in the world is running obits on Ravi Shankar, the virtuoso sitarist who was India’s best-known musician of the 20th and 21st centuries. As well they should. (I recommend reading this piece for more information.) For most Westerners, Shankar, who died Dec. 11 at age 92 after struggling with upper-respiratory and heart problems, was their introduction to the profound, vast pleasures of Indian classical music, particularly ragas.
Given a huge profile boost in 1966 while mentoring Beatles guitarist George Harrison, Shankar became an iconic figure in both hippie circles and mainstream culture. He deserved the hype, and then some. One can dip in anywhere within Shankar’s sublime torrent of releases and instantly get a headful of dazzlement. You don't need to know a thing about the arcane technical aspects of this exotic, strange music to love its grandiloquent structures and spectwangularly rich textures. Shankar's mercurial, deeply soulful sitar playing—often accompanied by the riveting tabla specialist Alla Rakha's spellbinding slaps—flowed like multicolored, serpentine rivers, making your third eye roll around its socket in ecstasy. I’ve never put on a Ravi Shankar LP and not felt better after it ended than before it began. His music bestows timeless, deathless joy of the highest order. RIP, Pandit Ravi Shankar.