Breathing Under Water: Anoushka Shankar

Breathing Under Water: Anoushka Shankar

The love relationship between the West and the sitar began with George Harrison’s sincere desire to learn the rudiments of this complex stringed instrument under Ravi Shankar. He recorded its sound in “Norwegian Wood” and other songs. Later—at Woodstock— Ravi Shankar mesmerized already stoned-out audiences who were given a crash course in “snorkeling” in the ocean of classical Indian music.

The image of “deep water” connected to the sitar is appropriate. Long ago, in ancient times, sages— schooled in the power of vibrations and their connection to creation—composed music that conveyed the “soma” or bliss of higher awareness at its many different stages.

Even the most rigid of Westerners can’t help but move into a temporary “trance” state when listening to the sitar and its percussive counterpart, the tabla. Without training of the “inner ear” one might feel annoyance, irritation, or even nod off to sleep. However, if one has practiced meditation or has accrued some experience of relaxed alertness, hearing the sitar can move one immediately under the water of ego consciousness without the feeling that one is drowning. A fitting description of genuine meditation is “breathing under water.”

Relaxed alertness. An enlivening but peaceful state. Many in our world today move between the extremes:  from an anxious state to a dead sleep. If one is overly relaxed, then one goes to sleep. If one is overly alert, then one becomes anxious. And so it goes, the pendulum swing in the world of illusion. And the drug companies make a great living from us. Xanax or ambien tonight— prozac or welbutrin tomorrow morning. What a mess we’re in.

Below I have four brief videos: two of them  introduce the sitar, beautifully mixed with western stringed instruments. Next, an interview with George Harrison and Anoushka’s father, Ravi Shankar; then finally a proper sitar solo performed by Anoushka.  Enjoy . . . and be sure to bring your snorkeling gear:)


Anoushka Shankar (born, 1981) is an Indian sitar player and composer who lives between the United States, the United Kingdom, and India. She is the daughter of Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar and Sukanya Shankar. Through her father, she is the half-sister of Norah Jones.

Shankar began training on the sitar with her father as a child, and gave her first public performance at the age of thirteen at Siri Fort in New Delhi. By the age of fourteen, she was accompanying her father at concerts around the world, and signed her first record contract, with Angel Records (EMI) at 16.

She released her first album, Anoushka, in 1998 followed byAnourag in 2000. Both Shankar and Norah Jones were nominated for Grammy awards in 2003 when Anoushka became the youngest-ever and first woman nominee in the World Music category for her third-album, Live at Carnegie Hall.

2005 brought the release of Anoushka’s fourth album RISE, earning her another Grammy nomination in the Best Contemporary World Music category. In February 2006 she became the first Indian to play at the Grammy Awards.

Shankar, in collaboration with Karsh Kale, released Breathing Under Water on 28 August 2007. It is a mix of classical sitar and electronica beats and melodies. Notable guest vocals include Norah Jones, Sting, and Ravi Shankar who performs a sitar duet with his daughter.

Anoushka has made many guest appearances on recordings by other artists, among them Sting, Lenny Kravitz and Thievery Corporation. Duetting with violinist Joshua Bell, in a sitar-cello duet with Mstislav Rostropovich, and with flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal, playing both sitar and piano. Most recently Anoushka has collaborated with Herbie Hancock on his latest record The Imagine Project.

Anoushka has given soloist performances of her father’s 1st Concerto for Sitar and Orchestra worldwide. In January 2009 she was the sitar soloist alongside the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra for the series of concerts premièring her father’s 3rd Concerto for Sitar and Orchestra, and in July 2010 she premiered Ravi Shankar’s first Symphony for Sitar and Orchestra with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at London’s Barbican Hall.

Anoushka has also ventured into acting (Dance Like a Man, (2004)) and writing. She wrote a biography of her father, Bapi: The Love of My Life, in 2002 and has contributed chapters to various books. As a columnist she wrote monthly columns for India’s First City Magazine for three years, and spent one year as a weekly columnist for India’s largest newspaper, the Hindustan Times.

Anoushka recorded her next album in Madrid, Spain. Released in autumn 2011 “Traveller” is an exploration of the commonalities and differences between classical Indian music and Spanish flamenco, and features the talents of Shubha Mudgal, Tanmoy Bose, Pepe Habichuela, Sandra Carrasco and Duquende among others.

( “Breathing Under Water,”2006, composer, Karsh Kale, Anoushka Shankar on sitar)

(Oceanic, Pt 2, BUW 2006, composer, Karsh Kale; Duet: A. Shankar & Ravi Shankar)

(Interview with Ravi Shankar & George Harrison, circa 1990)

(From “Concert for George[Harrison],2003)


  • Diana Wentworth
    Posted at 16:48h, 17 March Reply

    Lovely! I will order some of this divine music.
    Thank you!

  • Michael Guidry
    Posted at 08:31h, 07 April Reply

    Neale, in 1967 when the Beatles played Within you-Without you, on the Sargent Pepper’s Album, I loved that different sitar sound that was played by George Harrison. Never hear this sound anymore (in pop records). Ms.Anoushka Shankar (Ravi Shankar’s daughter) is a great sitar player. It is in her blood line. Never realized that Norwegian Wood has the sitar in it also. This instrument makes an unique sound. Thanks for the information, Neale. I like it.

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