April 7, 2016
Pandit Ravi Shankar’s 96th birthday
Today we celebrate Pandit Ravi Shankar, who was born 96 years ago today. Shankar evangelized the use of Indian instruments in Western music, introducing the atmospheric hum of the sitar to audiences worldwide. He performed frequently with the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, and composed a concerto with sitar for the London Symphony Orchestra. Shankar also taught George Harrison of the Beatles how to play the sitar, and widely influenced popular music in the 1960s and 70s.
Shankar's music popularized the fundamentals of Indian music, including raga, a melodic form. Raga, as Shankar explained, has "its own peculiar ascending and descending movement consisting of either a full seven-note octave, or a series of six or five notes in a rising or falling structure." The distinctive character of Shankar's compositions attracted the attention of composer Philip Glass, with whom Shankar wrote the 1990 album Passages.
The centerpiece of today's Doodle, by artist Kevin Laughlin, is a sitar. It has two bridges, one for the "drone" strings and the other for the melody strings. Laughlin's design shows the style of sitar Shankar played, which includes a second gourd-shape resonator at the top of the instrument's neck.
Happy birthday, Pandit Ravi Shankar! See archival photos of Shankar at the Google Cultural Institute.