The Ravi Shankar International Festival of Arts brings the joy of live music back to the capital

Speaking to us from London, Sukanya Shankar looks both relieved and joyful. After more than two years, the Ravi Shankar Center in Delhi will reopen its doors and host a live event. “You could have a million people watching on Zoom, but it’s still a machine. What’s missing is that vibe that you get from human beings sitting in a room, listening and responding to music,” says For all its flaws and tragedies, Covid, Shankar believes, has taught us just how valuable a live gig can be.

Speaking to us from London, Sukanya Shankar looks both relieved and joyful. After more than two years, the Ravi Shankar Center in Delhi will reopen its doors and host a live event. “You could have a million people watching on Zoom, but it’s still a machine. What’s missing is that vibe that you get from human beings sitting in a room, listening and responding to music,” says For all its flaws and tragedies, Covid, Shankar believes, has taught us just how valuable a live gig can be.

As founding trustee, Sukanya Shankar sometimes refers to the Center, or RIMPA (the Ravi Shankar Institute for Music and Performing Arts), as “our baby,” a space she helped build with her husband, maestro of the sitar Pandit Ravi Shankar. “The Center has always been a place where Guruji’s students can come, stay and learn from him. He wanted every student to be a complete artist, so there were rooms for them to perform. Musicians like Herbie Hancock and Ravi Coltrane have given masterclasses here.

Starting April 7, the 102nd anniversary of the birth of the Hindustani classical music legend, the 2022 Ravi Shankar International Festival of Arts includes some of Shankar’s famous students—Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (Mohan veena), Bickram Ghosh (tabla), Shubhendra Rao (sitar) – but it also includes an Odissi recital by Arushi Mudgal and a folk music performance by Malini Awasthi. Simran Mangaram, a RIMPA administrator, explains: “The idea has always been for this space to be a center of creativity. All the performing arts are promoted here. We have never been limited to classical music alone.

Bickram Ghosh, a disciple of Ravi Shankar, says he has played nearly 750 concerts with his guru. For him, “the Center is the seat of the Ravi Shankar legacy in India, and everything that happens there is very important”. Arguing that next week’s festival is just a sign of what we can expect in the months to come, Ghosh speaks of the Center’s post-Covid future with some excitement. He says: “For artists who haven’t performed for two years, it’s encouraging to see the auditoriums filling up.

Pandit Ravi Shankar at a classical music event in Delhi, 2009 (photo by Ravi Shankar Centre, New Delhi); Tabla player Bickram Ghosh (Photo by Yasir Iqbal)

Shubhendra Rao echoes Ghosh’s sentiment when he says India’s arts and entertainment industry has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic. “We don’t have a union. We do not have a backup support system. Many, many artists who live hand to mouth have been badly affected.

In May 2020, Rao, along with his wife, cellist Saskia Rao-de Haas, organized ‘Music for Hope’, an eight-hour marathon concert, in an effort to raise funds for his beleaguered fellow musicians. Today, as he prepares to return to the stage in Delhi, the sitarist sees a glimmer of hope there. He says he’s doing what he can to make sure the Ravi Shankar festival gets out to a wider audience: “Someone from Jamaica might now be able to see you play in Kolhapur. The range has become larger for concerts.

Darcy J. Skinner