Mandolin Shrinivas, the child prodigy, is no more

September 19, 2014 01:19 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 11:24 pm IST - CHENNAI:

File photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam

File photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam

U. Shrinivas, who cast a spell on audiences with his Western instrument, the mandolin, died here on Friday. He was only 45 and is survived by his father, mother, two sisters and brother Rajesh, who is also a mandolin player.

Mandolin Shrinivas, as he came to be known, had been ailing for a while. He reportedly was being treated for liver failure at the Apollo Hospital. He had lately received a liver transplant and had recovered, but a lung infection proved fatal. In a statement, Apollo Hospital said "the transplant procedure was uneventful, and his liver function showed signs of recovering. After initial improvement of five days, he developed a secondary lung infection leading to shock and multi organ failure." Shrinivas was a man of clean habits, and had been ignoring an infection for a long while, friends told The Hindu.

Born in Palakol in Andhra Pradesh in 1969, Shrinivas was the son of clarinet player Sathyanarayana. Young Shrinivas, however, was attracted by mandolin used by his father’s friend in recording studios. He quickly mastered it and his skills were further honed by Rudraraju Subbaraju, a student of late Chembai Vaidhyanatha Bhagavathar.

>Pay your tributes to Mandolin U. Shrinivas here

His first concert was held at Kudivada in 1980 and later mridhangam player organised a concert for him in Kumbakonam in 1981. As Chennai is the capital of Carnatic Music, his family settled here and he was promoted by Updendran and his uncle, late thavil maestro Valangaiman Shanmugasundaram, who accompanied him in thavil.

As a child prodigy, a permanent smile on his face and with joy apparent while playing his instrument, he created waves in the Carnatic music world.

He instantly caught the attention of late Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran, who declared him the musician of the Tamil Nadu Government when he was just 11 yeas old. He was awarded Padmashree in 1998.

“After listening to him play in a temple, I recorded him for the Doordarshan. The audition test was attended by great musicians such as Emani Sankara Shastry. When we telecast the programme, we received a call from the then Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran, requesting a copy of the recording and his address,” said Sampath Kumar, who worked for both the All India Radio and Doordharsan.

Humility personified

Shrinivas, humility personified, always gratefully acknowledged the contribution made by others towards his career.

Mridangam maestro Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman, who accompanied Shrinivas since he was 10, said his greatest quality had always been to absorb the best from the stalwarts and infuse nuances into his magical instrument.

Even though western instruments such as violin, clarinet and saxophone were metamorphosed into a complete carnatic classical instrument by the handlers, Shrinivas secured an unparalleled status for the mandolin. He performed along with the English guitarist John McLaughlin and top Indian musicians Zakir Hussain, V. Selvaganesh, Shankar Mahadevan, Shivkumar Sharma, and Hariprasad Chaurasia.

In India, the instrument was mostly used in light music and Hindustani musicians, it was Shrinivas brought it to the mainstream Carnatic music world. I am still not able to understand how he was able to produce ghamakas in a Western instrument,” said Mr. Sampath kumar, who also produced a documentary on Shrinivas.

Recalling his association with MGR, Shrinivas once told The Hindu that since he did not have a telephone, the Chief Minister’s secretaries visited his house.“The Chief Minister’s secretaries visited my house and wanted to know whether I could perform at a function. Since I had a concert on the same day, they gave me another date and the occasion — a felicitation function for actor Kamal Hassan for his role in the film ‘ Ek duje ke liye’ . Mr. MGR and our present Chief Minister Jayalalithaa listened to the entire concert,” Shrinivas once reminisced.

At one concert, T.N. Seshagopalan, moved by his music, presented a gold ring to Shrinivas.

Shrinivas joins late N.C. Vasanthakokilam, Karukurichi Arunachalam and Needamangalam Shanmugavadivel, other Carnatic music greats who left the world when they were at the peak of their career.

Carnatic music world mourns its loss

The Carnatic music world is in a state of shock over the untimely death of Mandolin U. Shrinivas here on Friday.

He was reportedly being treated for liver failure at the Apollo Hospital here. He had lately received a liver transplant and had recovered, but a lung infection proved fatal.

The greatness of his place in this world is probably best explained by a small story that the late violinist Lalgudi G. Jayaraman’s family recounts.

It happened when Jayaraman, along with his son Krishnan and daughter Vijayalakshmi stepped into the elevator of a restaurant. While everyone wondered how he was able use a western instrument so successfully to render gamaka-laden Carnatic music, Shrinivas explained the modifications he made to achieve the result, says Ms. Vijayalakshmi.

“We happened to listen to the sweet strains of Shrinivas playing our guru’s [Jayaraman] Yamunakalyani tillana. With a smile our guru stood there listening to it, not minding that the elevator doors had closed and we were moving on to the next floor,” recounts Mr. Krishnan.

“Doing away with the eight-string model, I transformed the instrument into a four-stringed one early in my career. Later, I added a fifth string on the advice of my father,” Shrinivas used to say. His achievement is explained by music historian V. Sriram: “It is not often that someone gets to introduce a new instrument in Carnatic Music and yet be welcomed with open arms.”

For mridangam player Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman, his death is a great personal loss. He provided accompaniment to Shrinivas in hundreds of concerts. “We were to play two concerts this December. Alas! it is a great loss,” he says.

Describing Shrinivas as a great scholar and inventor both in melody and rhythm, Mr. Sivaraman said that his name became synonymous with the instrument and made him an icon. He was humble and respectful.

Another senior musician who accompanied Shrinivas in a number of concerts is Ghatam maestro Vikku Vinayakram. Unable to overcome his grief he said, “Only his body is dead. His music will continue to live on.” Music director Ilayaraja, one of the great fans of Shrinivas, paid homage to him at home. Music composer A.R. Rahman (@arrahman) has tweeted his message: “Emotionally shaken to hear of Carnatic shining star Mandolin Shrinivasji's demise... May God bless him with happiness in the next world.”

Noted playback singer S.P. Balasubrahmanyam on his Facebook page, said Shrinivas had elevated Indian classical music to “universal level.” He recalled his first meeting with him at Gemini Studios in 1980 where he was doing the background score for Hum Paanch directed by Telugu director Bapu who passed away recently.

Playback singer Shankar Mahadevan who performed with Shrinivas for ‘Remember Shakti,’ is poignant in his message. “A very important part of my music is over.... praying for your soul U.Shrinivas, my friend my brother …in extreme sorrow.”

Tabla maestro Zakir Hussain tweeted: “Today mother India cries, today a part of Indian music died and we are orphaned, RIP my dear brother Mandolin Shrinivas.”

“I got to know today that Shrinivas is no more. I am very sad to hear that. When he was 14-year-old, I saw his performance on TV. He used to play Indian classical music brilliantly. It was quite tough to play classical music on mandolin... May his soul rest in peace,” noted playback singer Lata Mangeshkar tweeted.

Sonu Nigam tweeted: “The great mandolin exponent U. Shrinivas is no more unfortunately. Was going through a liver transplant.”

(With additional inputs from PTI)

>Pay your tributes to Mandolin U. Shrinivas here

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