Was born in Bombay and received his first musical education under the guidance of his father Mehli Mehta, who was a noted concert violinist and the founder of the Bombay Symphony Orchestra. In 1954 he entered the Orchestral Conducting program at the AkademiefürMusik in Vienna. He won the Liverpool International Conducting Competition in 1958 and was also a prize-winner of the Summer Academy at Tanglewood. By 1961 he had already conducted the Vienna, Berlin and Israel Philharmonic Orchestras and has recently celebrated 50 years of musical collaboration with all three ensembles.
He was Music Director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra from 1961 to 1967 and also assumed the Music Directorship of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1962, a post he retained until 1978. In 1969 he was appointed Music Adviser to the Israel Philharmonic and in 1981 he was awarded the title of Music Director for life. He has conducted over three thousand concerts including tours spanning five continents. In 1978 he took over the post as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, commencing a tenure lasting 13 years. From 1985 to 2017, he was chief conductor of the Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence.
As an opera conductor he has conducted at the New York Metropolitan, the Vienna State Opera, the London Covent Garden, alla Scala in Milan and the opera houses of Chicago and Florence as well as the Salzburg Festival. Between 1998 and 2006 he was Music Director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich.
Together with his brother Zarin he is a co-chairman of the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation in Bombay, where children are educated in Western Classical Music. The Buchmann-Mehta School of Music in Tel Aviv develops young talent in Israel and is closely related to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.