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The “karmic connection” between The Beatles’ George Harrison and Ravi Shankar

by Ajoy Bose: There is no easy explanation for such vastly dissimilar people as George (Harrison) and Ravi Shankar instantly connecting with each other,

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almost as if their relationship was preordained. Their family backgrounds were completely different. The Beatle was the son of a bus conductor father and a shop assistant mother, both with modest means and even more modest educational qualifications. The sitar maestro’s father was a statesman, lawyer and scholar, and his mother the daughter of a wealthy landowner. George grew up in a working-class suburb of Liverpool.

There is no easy explanation for such vastly dissimilar people as George (Harrison) and Ravi Shankar instantly connecting with each other, almost as if their relationship was preordained. Their family backgrounds were completely different. The Beatle was the son of a bus conductor father and a shop assistant mother, both with modest means and even more modest educational qualifications. The sitar maestro’s father was a statesman, lawyer and scholar, and his mother the daughter of a wealthy landowner. George grew up in a working-class suburb of Liverpool.

Yet, within an incredibly brief period, George and Ravi Shankar drew close to each other. Hardly any time passed since their first meeting before the music maestro agreed to give the Beatle personal lessons in the sitar, a privilege for which many advanced students in India had to wait for years. The two would be in constant touch after that and, in less than three months after they met at the Angadi dinner, they had reworked their busy schedules to travel together across India for a month and a half.

Many years later, Ravi Shankar sought to explain at length this mysterious instant bond with George:

Yet, within an incredibly brief period, George and Ravi Shankar drew close to each other. Hardly any time passed since their first meeting before the music maestro agreed to give the Beatle personal lessons in the sitar, a privilege for which many advanced students in India had to wait for years. The two would be in constant touch after that and, in less than three months after they met at the Angadi dinner, they had reworked their busy schedules to travel together across India for a month and a half.

Many years later, Ravi Shankar sought to explain at length this mysterious instant bond with George:

Then George expressed his desire to learn the sitar from me. I told him that to play sitar is like learning Western classical music on the violin or the cello. It is not merely a matter of learning how to hold the instrument and play a few strokes and chords, after which (with sufficient talent) you can prosper on your own, as is common with the guitar in western pop music.

Ravi Shankar asked George if he could devote time and energy to learn the sitar. The Beatle said he would do his best, and they arranged a date then and there. The sitar maestro went twice within a week to George’s Esher house to give him some basic instructions on how to hold the sitar properly, the correct fingering for both the hands, and some exercises.

We fixed it that he would come to India to learn in more depth. I felt strongly that there was a beautiful soul in him, and recognised one quality which I always have valued enormously and which is
considered the principal one in our culture—humility. Considering that he was so famous—part of the most popular group in the world ever!—he was nevertheless quite humble, with a childlike quality that he has retained to this day.

Used to teaching students with far greater technical skill and experience with the sitar, the veteran musician realized after the first few lessons with his new pupil that it would take great patience and effort on his part to make him a proper sitarist. George was also unaware of basic etiquette in Hindustani classical music. Once he horrified his teacher by casually stepping over his sitar to answer the phone and promptly got a sharp whack on his leg for not showing enough respect for his instrument—a fundamental creed of all Indian musicians, unlike in the West.

George, in his introduction to Raga Mala, described him as a friendly person who was easy to communicate with. He said the sitarist impressed him in a way that went beyond his celebrity:

Ravi was my link into the Vedic world. Ravi plugged me into the whole of reality. I mean, I met Elvis—Elvis impressed me when I was a kid, and impressed me when I met him because of the buzz of meeting Elvis, but you couldn’t later on go round to him and say, ‘Elvis, what’s happening in the universe?’

The Beatle was overwhelmed by Shankar’s personality and dedication to his craft.

The moment we started, the feelings I got were of his patience, compassion and humility. The fact that he could do one of his five-hour concerts, but at the same time he could sit down and teach somebody from scratch the very basics: how to hold the sitar, how to sit in the correct position, how to wear the pick on your finger, how to begin playing. We did that and he started me going on the scales. And he enjoyed it, he wasn’t grudging at all, and he wasn’t flash about it either.

Ravi Shankar visited George’s home and showed him the basics of playing the sitar—how to sit properly and how to cradle the bowl of the instrument against his left foot. The Beatle was taught some elementary scales and melodies and also told that the instrument was not meant merely for entertainment. The sitar maestro taught his student that in India ragas were passed down from the ancient Vedas and had a spiritual intent, and that the patterns of sounds had the capability to elevate consciousness. George was enraptured:

I felt I wanted to walk out of my home that day and take a one-way ticket to Calcutta. I would even have left Pattie behind in that moment.

George, in his introduction to Raga Mala, described him as a friendly person who was easy to communicate with. He said the sitarist impressed him in a way that went beyond his celebrity:

Ravi was my link into the Vedic world. Ravi plugged me into the whole of reality. I mean, I met Elvis—Elvis impressed me when I was a kid, and impressed me when I met him because of the buzz of meeting Elvis, but you couldn’t later on go round to him and say, ‘Elvis, what’s happening in the universe?’

The Beatle was overwhelmed by Shankar’s personality and dedication to his craft.

The moment we started, the feelings I got were of his patience, compassion and humility. The fact that he could do one of his five-hour concerts, but at the same time he could sit down and teach somebody from scratch the very basics: how to hold the sitar, how to sit in the correct position, how to wear the pick on your finger, how to begin playing. We did that and he started me going on the scales. And he enjoyed it, he wasn’t grudging at all, and he wasn’t flash about it either.

Ravi Shankar visited George’s home and showed him the basics of playing the sitar—how to sit properly and how to cradle the bowl of the instrument against his left foot. The Beatle was taught some elementary scales and melodies and also told that the instrument was not meant merely for entertainment. The sitar maestro taught his student that in India ragas were passed down from the ancient Vedas and had a spiritual intent, and that the patterns of sounds had the capability to elevate consciousness. George was enraptured:

I felt I wanted to walk out of my home that day and take a one-way ticket to Calcutta. I would even have left Pattie behind in that moment.

Source: Quartz India

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