Mr. Shankar, who began his performing career as a young dancer, toured extensively as a musician after learning sitar from one of India’s great musicians. The skill with which he played the traditional Indian stringed instrument inspired several pop and rock bands in the 1960s to incorporate the sitar, most notably the Beatles with its songs “Norwegian Wood” and “Within You, Without You.”
Mr. Shankar took his music to the stages of Carnegie Hall in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington. The London and New York philharmonic orchestras performed his concerto compositions for sitar and orchestra. During the height of the countercultural music revolution of the 1960s, he also was in the lineups at the Woodstock music festival in Upstate New York and the Monterey Pop Festival in California.
In 1971, Mr. Shankar and Beatles guitarist George Harrison organized and played at a fundraising concert to aid the war and famine victims of Bangladesh, giving birth to the modern megastar benefit concert.
Besides Harrison, who was his best-known disciple, Mr. Shankar’s musical collaborators over the years included jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, composer Philip Glass, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal. He composed music for film, radio and stage, including the score for Richard Attenborough’s movie “Gandhi” (1982) and director Satyajit Ray’s acclaimed “Apu Trilogy” in the 1950s.
Mr. Shankar’s association with the Beatles made him a household name in the West and created “an avalanche of such experiments in the rock and pop world,” South Asian music authority Gerry Farrell once wrote. But first and foremost, Mr. Shankar remained an Indian classical musician who kept the core aesthetics of his ancient art intact in the face of social, artistic and commercial shifts during the 20th century.
One reason Mr. Shankar’s music had such influence over audiences and musicians was the otherworldly quality of its tones and rhythms; the sitar produces more tones than a guitar and is based on a different theory of music. He became appalled at how this aspect of Indian music was integrated into what he called the vulgarity of rock theatrics and the association of his art with drug use.
At the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival in California, Mr. Shankar refused to be in the same evening’s lineup with Jimi Hendrix because of the way the rock guitarist was using his instrument. Hendrix made sexual motions on stage with his guitar and then lit it on fire as a finale.
“People went gaga for it, they loved it,” Mr. Shankar told the London Guardian in 2008. “But for me, the burning of the guitar was the greatest sacrilege possible. I just ran out of there. I told them that even if I had to pay some kind of compensation to get out of playing the festival, I just couldn’t do it.”