Ravi Shankar, the Maestro Who Made the Sitar Cool

His unexpected friendship with Beatles guitarist George Harrison brought Indian classical music to the world and changed global music forever.

PH12 - RS GH - 1967 LA ravi shankar foundation
Ravi Shankar and George Harrison in Los Angeles in 1967 (Courtesy of the Ravi Shankar Foundation)

Vaishnavi Naidu


April 8, 2024


12 min

It all started with a sitar. The 10-year-old Ravi Shankar discovered his love for the instrument in 1930. Over 30 years later, in 1965, 22-year-old George Harrison picked it up on the set of Help!, a musical about The Beatles’ meteoric rise. Harrison’s fiddling birthed the song, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” that same year and set him on the path to find someone who could teach him to play the darn thing. 

A friend recommended Shankar, and the sitar master obliged. When asked in 1997 what he thought of Harrison’s first tryst with the sitar in “Norwegian Wood,” Shankar answered: “To tell you the truth, I had to keep my mouth shut...it sounded so terrible.” His self-restraint created one of the most unique guru-shishya relationships to exist, bringing Indian classical music to the world.

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