UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"Who wants tradition in the Beatle generation?" : Ravi Shankar, the Indian press, and the cultural politics of reception, 1966-68 Stockill, Zachary Francis


During the 1960s, the new exposure of Hindustani classical music in Europe and America, and the increasing popularity of Ravi Shankar's music within the Western counter-culture was primarily inspired by the Indian sitarist's friendship with Beatles guitarist George Harrison. Aside from resulting in a much larger audience for Hindustani classical music in the West, this interaction also provoked criticism and scrutiny in Shankar's native India. In early 1968, the English-language newspaper coverage in India spanning the Beatles visit, and Ravi Shankar's return to his home country offered a valuable portrait of India in a moment of spiritual and cultural flux. Upon his return to Indian in 1968 following an extended stay in Europe and America, Ravi Shankar found himself at the centre of a debate concerning the rightful place of "tradition" in Hindustani classical music, and Indian culture more generally, with cultural critics engaged in a debate around the influence of the West in a rapidly modernizing nation. The self-appointed guardians of "tradition" associated with Hindustani classical music expressed a desire to keep the art form "pure" in the context of the Beatles and the Western counter-culture's new appreciation for, and consumption of the music as promoted by Ravi Shankar. At the same time, Indian intellectuals critical of the traditionalist viewpoint celebrated the Western counter-culture's embrace of Ravi Shankar as an artistically productive outcome of the globalization of Indian culture. This controversy demonstrates that in a nation in which colonialism was a fresh memory, some felt it essential to protect what was imagined as a purely indigenous tradition against the threat of new Western influence. Indians engaged in this debate were forced to negotiate new trends in global information flows with the ripple effects of the 1960s socio-cultural revolution in the West, along with ancient customs and venerated traditions that supported the narratives upon which the nation was founded.

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