Conducted at SRF Encinitas Ashram Center
February 5, 2013
A memorial service for Pandit Ravi Shankar—renowned sitarist who was the foremost exponent of India's classical music in the West for more than half a century and a dear friend of Paramahansa Yogananda's work—was held December 20, 2012 on the grounds of the Self-Realization Fellowship Ashram Center in Encinitas, California. He had passed away on December 11 at the age of 92.
By special request of the Shankar family, Self-Realization Fellowship hosted the event outdoors on the grounds of the ashram, which was founded by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1936, and which Ravi Shankar had often enjoyed visiting, having lived in Encinitas since 1992.
Anoushka Shankar Wright, Pandit Ravi's daughter whom he trained as his protégée during the latter years of his life, and a renowned sitarist in her own right, was among the speakers at the service beneath the golden lotus towers on the ashram grounds facing Paramahansa Yogananda's Hermitage. "My father loved spending time here so much," she said, "and it feels so right for us to be here, celebrating his journey, in this beautiful and serene place."
It was during visits to the United States in his youth, as a performer in the classical Indian dance company of his elder brother Uday Shankar, that Ravi Shankar met Paramahansa Yogananda at SRF Headquarters in the 1930s. Later, in the mid-1950s, he read Autobiography of a Yogi, of which he recollected:
"I have read many books on yoga, by yogis, but I was never impressed like with this book. It has some magic in it. I read it a few times, in fact.… I gave it to so many of my friends in the West, and through it they have become attracted to Indian philosophy, religion, music. Many well-known people; even George Harrison, for instance, who happens to be my student.
"This was a book, I felt, which came straight from the heart. It was [Paramahansaji's] personal feeling—a personal frank statement of his own life, his background, his achievement; about his gurus, his devotion to his gurus, and what he received from them. That came out very strongly: the love and the understanding. All that was very sincere in this book. That book has meant a great deal to me; I was so impressed by reading it."
The service was attended by nearly 1,000 persons from all over the world. Speakers included (among others) renowned conductor Zubin Mehta (see photo, above), Olivia Harrison (wife of the late George Harrison), Anoushka Shankar (see photo, left) and her husband film director Joe Wright, and SRF minister Brother Sevananda (see photo, below right).
SRF/YSS president Sri Mrinalini Mata sent a letter of condolence and tribute to Ravi Shankar's wife Sukanya and family, from which the following excerpts are taken:
"Having given so much to the world in a lifetime devoted to sharing the joyous vitality, beauty, and spirituality of India's venerated musical heritage with East and West, Raviji will be greatly missed by the multitude of friends, admirers, and musical collaborators from all genres whom he embraced as his extended family and whom his magnetic and loving spirit lifted to higher planes of thought and consciousness.
"In his universal way, Pandit Raviji truly exemplified the ancient Indian word for musician—bhagavathar, "one who sings the praises of God." His offering to God was through India's profound and deeper-than verbal language of music; and his performances spoke not only to the Indian soul, but to all humanity, because his music drew from the wellspring of deepest universal truths, India's all-embracing spiritual philosophy. In the inspired feelings that flowed masterfully through his sitar, even listeners unfamiliar with India's teachings could apprehend, perhaps only subconsciously, the eternal beauty and elevating power of those ancient ragas that vibrate in harmony with the presence of Spirit that informs all noble forces in creation.
"Through the years we in Self-Realization Fellowship have treasured our friendship with Raviji, which was rooted in the spiritual ideals of India that were close to Paramahansa Yogananda's heart and in our common goal of furthering a harmonious exchange between East and West. I also recall how much Sri Daya Mataji enjoyed the warm friendship shared in their meetings and appreciated his historic role in introducing to the world the music and the universal spirit of India….
"We join you in honoring Pandit Ravi Shankar for all that he gave as an artist, a friend, and a mentor to many; and we send our love and friendship to his soul."
The Spring 2013 Self-Realization magazine will feature excerpts from a 1993 interview conducted by Self-Realization Fellowship at the great musician's home in Encinitas, California, in which Ravi Shankar reminisces about his personal meetings with Paramahansa Yogananda and the coming together of East and West that he observed through his long career.
Links to media coverage of the event:
Yahoo News - Ravi Shankar memorial: His music and influence live on
Encinitas Patch - Fans, family remember sitarist Ravi Shankar in Encinitas
UT-San Diego - Ravi Shankar memorial draws large crowd
India West - Family remembers Ravi Shankar at memorial service