India has always had a history of expressing the loftiest truths through music, and in the last hundred years, this wealth of music has now become available to the West.
The first great musician to come to light in the West was Rabindranath Tagore from Bengal. His poems were championed by such luminaries as Ezra Pound and W.B Yeats, and earned him the Nobel Prize in 1913. Over two thousand of these poems were put to music, and their haunting melodies remain sung to this day by both the educated and illiterate classes all over India. Kazi Nazrul Islam was another great singer to come out of Bengal; and wrote many songs expressing his appreciation for bot the Hindu and Muslim religions. The singer Dilip Kumar Roy was known as ‘the golden voice’ and legend has it that wherever he went, people would stop the trains he was travelling on to hear him sing. He travelled all over India collecting music from all the great teachers. In recent times, the composer Sri Chinmoy has written over thirteen thousand songs in his native Bengali, and regularly holds concerts all over the west playing his compositions on a variety of instruments.
The instrumental music of India has been more widely received in the West than its vocal music. In the early part of the 20th century, the Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan came to the West as an exponent of spiritual music. Nowadays, the most famous name in Indian music is of course that of legendary sitar player Ravi Shankar. His association with George Harrison in the 1960’s brought Indian music to a whole new audience. Many other Indian instrumentalists have come to prominence since the 1960’s, including Ali Ustad Khan on sarangi, Zakir Hussain on tabla and Nikhil Bannerjee on sitar.