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Ravi Shankar, 'godfather of world music', dies at 92

The Indian prime minister has described the sitarist and composer as a 'national treasure'.

In this picture, from February 2012, Shankar performs a concert in Bangalore. Aijaz Rahi / AP
In this picture, from February 2012, Shankar performs a concert in Bangalore. Aijaz Rahi / AP

NEW DELHI // Indians yesterday mourned the loss of the sitarist and composer Ravi Shankar, who the prime minister described as a "national treasure".

Shankar, 92, had been admitted to hospital in the United States last Thursday after he complained of breathing difficulties.

He passed away on Tuesday in San Diego, California, where he has a home. The  three-time Grammy winner with legendary appearances at the 1967 Monterey Festival and at Woodstock in the US had been in fragile health for several years, his family said in a statement.

"Although it is a time for sorrow and sadness, it is also a time for all of us to give thanks and to be grateful that we were able to have him as a part of our lives," the family said. "He will live forever in our hearts and in his music."

The office of the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, called Shankar a "national treasure and global ambassador of India's cultural heritage" on Twitter.

"An era has passed away with ... Ravi Shankar. The nation joins me to pay tributes to his unsurpassable genius, his art and his humility."

Shankar had suffered from upper-respiratory and heart issues over the past year and underwent heart-valve replacement surgery last week at a hospital in San Diego.

"Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the surgeons and doctors taking care of him, his body was not able to withstand the strain of the surgery. We were at his side when he passed away," his wife, Sukanya, and daughter, Anoushka, said.

Labelled "the godfather of world music" by George Harrison, the late Beatles guitarist, Shankar helped millions of classical, jazz and rock lovers discover the traditions of Indian music.

"He was legend of legends," said Shivkumar Sharma, a noted santoor player who performed with Shankar. "Indian classical was not at all known in the Western world. He was the musician who had that training ... the ability to communicate with the western audience."

Relatives in Kolkata said it was hard to believe that Shankar had died.

"Ravi was like my friend, my brother. We spent together a lot of memorable days in childhood. I cannot believe that he is no more," said Amala Shankar, the wife of Shankar's late elder brother and Uday Shankar, himself a legendary dancer.

Danseuse Tanushree Shankar, one of Shankar's nieces, said: "At home he was not a musician, but a family member who always indulged in mischief and made others laugh with his wit and humour. Even at that age he was so full of life. We had so much to learn from him."

Another niece, Mamata Shankar, said he was a source for spiritual advice.

"He was more than a family member to us. He was like a friend, a guru who always guided us to the right path," she said.


* With additional reporting by IANS