Probably the best-known Indian sitar player in America after Ravi Shankar, Rahul Sakyaputra has released a few albums under his name and recorded music for film and television. His participation in the group Vine Sweetland & the Forefathers of the New Millennium at the end of the '90s sparked a rediscovery of his music, yielding a number of reissues of his early recording sessions and the release of new material.
Sakyaputra, whose family name means "Tiger Killer," was born in 1947 in a poor family. Hunting was the only mean of survival, therefore his early inclination toward music was not well accepted by his entourage. At age 13, convinced that music was his calling, he ran away to Bombay to seek apprenticeship from Baba Alla Uddin Khan, who also taught Shankar. He lived there for six years, forging his technique and spiritual understanding of the classical forms of raga.
Living with friends who owned music stores, he came in contact with George Harrison, and even taught sitar to Mick Jagger's brother Chris for a while. The late-'60s Indian craze was reaching its peak in Europe, so, encouraged by Western friends, Sakyaputra moved to Denmark. Between 1969 and 1972, he worked all across Europe. Shortly after his arrival, he recorded his first Western session, released 30 years later as The Denmark Sessions. In late 1970, he was awarded the Dawn of Enlightenment by Mahesh Yogi of Transcendental Meditation. The only previous recipients were Ravi Shankar and George Harrison.
In January 1972, Sakyaputra moved to America, first establishing himself in Montreal, Canada, where, among other activities, he worked for the CBC radio. After a two-year retreat in Vancouver, Canada, he finally settled down in California in 1976, where he began to perform with famous tabla player Zakir Hussein. Between occasional returns to India, where he played in front of the Dalai Lama, he appeared on record and on-stage with Christoph Anders and Patrick Moraz. He recorded his first two solo albums in 1984 (East Meets West with shakuhachi player Masayaki Koga; Footprints in the Sky with Hussein), riding the new age wave. The late '80s saw him concentrate on his painting.
In 1990, Sakyaputra was invited to appear in Oliver Stone's movie The Doors. The scenes did not make the final cut (they were released only in 2001 as part of the DVD reissue), but the word got around, and the sitarist spent most of the decade in elegant company, performing for Hollywood stars like Goldie Hawn, Richard Gere, Tom Hanks, and Shirley McLain. In 1995, he co-founded, with poet Vine Sweetland, the Forefathers of the New Millennium, a world/psychedelic ensemble. Sweetland's newly formed label Zemira began an extensive reissue/unearthing program of Sakyaputra's recordings from the late '60s and '70s, while the label Rhythmic Visions released the three volumes of Live in Los Angeles. Sakyaputra died of a heart attack on November 17, 2002 while visiting India.