As any musician or a music fan will tell you, the music of the sitar is considered to be truly unique. Sitar music can quite simply enrich any tune or piece. But while sitar music is lovely to enjoy, it’s pretty difficult to master. If someone can play the sitar, they’ve accomplished a valuable musical feat in their life. When it comes to the most influential and famous sitar players, most of them are Indian and Middle Eastern descent. This is only natural because sitar music is one of the hallmarks of these regions.
Pandit Ravi Shankar (7 April 1920 – 11 December 2012 )
Pandit Ravi Shankar born was born on 7th April 1920 and died on 11 December 2012. Pandit Ravi Shankar is one of the most known classical musicians. Shankar spent his youth touring all over India and Europe with his brother Uday Shankar, later Ravi Shankar left dancing and started to learn sitar under the famous court musician Allauddin Khan. Shankar has also made an appearance at non-classical events, such as the original Woodstock and 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival. Pandit Ravi Shankar has known to be one of the top sitar players of the second half of the 20th century.
Pandit Nikhil Banerjee (14 October 1931 – 27 January 1986 )
Pandit Nikhil Banerjee was one of the greatest sitar players of his time, he died very early at an age of just 54. He was born in Calcutta in the year 1931. His journey as a sitarist started at an early age when he won the All Bengal Sitar Competition at the age of 9. He also was the youngest musician to be ever employed by All India Radio. Pt. Nikhil Banerjee studied northern Indian classical music with the sitarist Ustad Allauddin Khan and became a student of sarodist Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. He had his own distinct style of playing the sitar which was matchless and will remain so, but the influence of Allauddin Khan was profound on him.
In 1968 he was honoured with the Padma Shri. The dedication of Pt. Nikhil Banerjee towards sitar can’t be expressed in words, when he was at the pinnacle of his musical career before his untimely death, he had said that he practised for approx. four hours a day.
Ustad Vilayat Khan (28 August 1928 – 13 March 2004)
Ustad Vilayat Khan was the member of the famous Khan family, the Khan family included the most influential and multi-talented sitarists, like Ustad Kirit Khan, Ud. Chhote Rahimat Khan, Ud. Inayat Khan, Ud. Hidayat Khan, Ud. Imdad Khan, Ud. Imrat Khan, Ud. Irshad Khan, Ud. Nishat Khan, Ud. Shafaatullah Khan, Ud. Shujaat Husain Khan, and Ud. Wahid Khan. UD. Vilayat Khan has been known to introduce and develop gayaki and (gharana) on the sitar that forms the basis of a distinctive style which is admired and loved around the world.
The Khan Family gave many sitar ustads to the world, but most Indian classical musicians, sitar players, and rasikas think Pandit Nikhil Banerjee and Ustad Vilayat Khan as equal in talent. However, we cannot say who’s the best we just know they have their own styles that we admire and follow.
Annapurna Devi (23 April 1927 – 13 October 2018)
Annapurna Devi was a legendary musician, who was also the first wife of Pandit Ravi Shankar. She was the guru of great musicians like Pandit Nikhil Banerjee and Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia. She was the representative of the culture and legacy established by her father Allauddin Khan.
As mentioned in a report by livemint, She tried to preserve the essence of Indian classical music – the meditative, deep and uncompromising dhrupad style.
Ustad Rais Khan ( 25 November 1939 – 6 May 2017)
Ustad Rais Khan was born in Indore on 25th November 1939. His taaleem came from the Mewati gharana, where under his father Mohammad Khan he honed his beenkar style. His father was a rudra veena and sitar player. His mother was Ustad Vilayat Khan’s sister, from whom he received his training in gayaki ang. With his 2012 performance in Indian Parliament, he became the first Pakistani artist to do so. He was also honoured with the Pride of Performance in 2005 by the President of Pakistan. He was also honoured with the third-highest honour and civilian award in of Pakistan Sitara-i-Imtiaz in 2017.
George Harrison (25 February 1943 – 29 November 2001)
George Harrison was the lead guitarist of the Beatles and Traveling Wilburys, George was also one of the best-selling solo artists. The fact people know less was that he was also one of the world’s most famous sitar players, and was devoted to Indian music and culture, in general. George Harrison got sitar lessons from Pandit Ravi Shankar himself in the 1960’s. George Harrison plays a very keen role in spreading Indian music all over America. George got the idea of blending Indian music with pop music, which even confused the sitar maestro.
The daughter of the famous sitarist, Pandit Ravi Shankar, and a British-Indian sitarist. Anoushka also plays other instruments like tanpura and piano; Anoushka is also into vocal singing. Anoushka has won awards like British House of Commons Shield, 1998, Best Artist in the Songlines Music Award, 2012, Eastern Eye Arts, Culture & Theatre Awards (ACTA) Award in 2017; She was also nominated six times for Grammy awards.
Prem Joshua is a German sitarist, this multi-instrumentalist blends Eastern and Western musical influences. At the age of 18, Prem travelled to India to learn indigenous folk music, Joshua was the name given to him by his parents but later he added prem to it, (Prem means love in Hindi).
The List is Long,
Here in this article, we have listed just five from multi-generation. But the list is incomplete without the names of Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan, Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan, Annapurna Devi, Ustad Rais Khan and Ustad Abdul Jaffer Khan who are legacy sitar players.
The Bottom Line
The most admired sitar players include Baba Allauddin khan, Ud. Ali Akbar khan, Reenat Fauzia, Annapurnadevi ji, who are the best in their own styles. In this article, we have tried putting up the names of the sitar players that are famous and influencing the sitar generation. We are not judging or ranking talent here in the post, We think people should imbibe their own capacity to understand the genre they like and whom they want to listen or follow.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Who is the greatest sitar player of all time?
The list we present above is by no means exhaustive, and there are many excellent masters, but these are arguably the top sitar players of the past 50 years can not be listed under a few, there are many:
Mr. Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Vilayat Khan
Some other names of greatest sitar players include Pt. Manilal Nag, Pt. Kartick Kumar, Ud. Abdul Halim Jaffar, Mushtaq Ali, Ud. Rais Khan, Pt. Kartik Sheshadri, Ud. Imrat Khan, and Pt. Arvind Parikh.
What is the history of Sitar?
The sitar, a stringed instrument originating from India, has a Persian name. However, evidence suggests that it originated from ancient Indian lutes called veena. These instruments were similar in size and shape to present day sitars, but lacked several of the features found on modern sehtars. This provides crucial evidence to the origin of sitar from ancient indian lutes called veena and not persian sehtars.
Who is Pandit Ravi Shankar?
Pandit Ravi Shankar was a legendary musician who not only played the sitar with virtuosity, but also composed classical music. He was a vocalist as well and helped introduce Indian music to a global audience. Some of his most famous works include compositions of new ragas. His musical brilliance earned him a reputation as one of the greatest sitar players of all time.
Is Anoushka Shankar daughter of Ravi Shankar?
Anoushka Shankar is Norah Jones’ half-sister and the daughter of Pandit Ravi Shankar and Sukanya Rajan.