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Why Pandit Ravi Shankar regretted playing at Woodstock festival in 1969

ravi shakar in woodstock 1969

A name like Pandit Ravi Shankar need no introduction. He is remembered as pioneer of Indian Classical music. Born in Varanasi (earlier Benares) on 7 December 1920. He started at early age (around 10) as a dancer in his dada’s (brother), Uday Shankar, group and grew up learning more about music while touring India and Europe.

Pandit means ‘wise one’. It can be a priest in temples, Indian classical artist or someone Bhramin. So a druggy connection cannot be associated with Pandit Ravi Shankar. When performing Indian Classical dance, it more of spiritual connection. Lord Shiva is a cosmic dancer depicted as ‘Natraja’ (god of dance). So first worship Natraja to learn Classical dance, because it teach discipline and purify energy. And same goes to Indian Classical music, it is a spiritual connection.

ravishankar_dance
Ravi Shankar performing classical dance

For Shankar ji, playing music is religion. And that goes to everyone whose into Indian Classical art & culture. It is a spiritual connection by listening music with pure mind. He made his appearance in Monterey Pop Festival in California. Ravi Shankar was invited to Woodstock by his friend and apprentice, George Harrison of Beatles fame after first they met in 1966. Ravi Shankar also taught sitar to Harrison (For which Harrison had to came to India in disguise)

George Harrison learning Sitar from Ravi Shankar in 1968 in Rishikesh, India.

Ravi Shankar played Woodstock festival on 15th August 1969. After Tim Hardin completed playing, Ravi Shankar started at 10 pm and played on 40 minutes throughout the rain. (Below is YT video of him playing)

Ravi Shankar – On Sitar

Ustad Alla Rakha – On Tabla

Maya Kulkarni – On Tambura

Tracklist

  1. Rāga Puriya-Dhanashri (Gat In Sawarital)
  2. Tabla Solo In Jhaptal
  3. Rāga Manj Kmahaj
  4. Unknown raag (21 minutes evening Raag)

But he was not happy after performing at Woodstock festival because he didn’t liked drug and sex culture. In an Interview at NPR, He said – “So many times I had to walk out with the sitar and I had to explain them, please try to listen with a pure mind, because I assure you that our music has that power that it can make you feel high. But if you are already gone to – so spacey, you know, what you hear is not the real thing… later on I had to fight with my young friends, whom I loved very much, in the mid-’60’s onward, the hippies. You know, almost same thing, because George was my student and I was the guru of George, it become like a cult sort of thing, you know. Along with the music, they took me as a guru, yeah. What happened, they came to my concert with the same spirit, being stoned, absolutely high on drugs, LSD or whatever, shouting, shrieking and misbehaving, doing all these sort of things that they should not do. So I had to tell them that, look, when you go to listen to Bach or Beethoven or Mozart, do behave like that? I’m sure they don’t go to listen to these people.”

This made him regret the opportunity to play at Woodstock festival. But it’s also true that many western crowd knew him only after performing at Woodstock festival. Pandit Ravi Shankar died in 2012 and was a legend who influenced lives of many. May god rest his soul in peace.

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