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Tribute to a musical wizard
It has taken a while for me to reconcile with the fact that the wizard of mandolin is no longer with us to enthrall and mesmerise us with his wizardry. It is a strange feeling that his music still holds you spellbound every time you hear him essay with effortless ease a complex idiom like raga Bindumalini for instance and the Thyagaraja krithi “entha muddo entha sogaso”. Every time I hear this melodic krithi I recall the magical cadence which Mandolin U. Shrinivas imparted to it as a young boy of about 12. This melodic treat is available in YouTube courtesy Podigai TV’s Thyagaraja Aaradhana recordings from Thiruvaiyaaru.  I salute Shrinivas every time I hear him play this song with an ease that can well be the envy of established veterans:

Actually my tryst of saluting Shrinivas and his mandolin music began first in the exquisite auditorium of hotel Oasis in the Arabian Gulf State of Doha, Qatar, some 31 years ago. “Master Shrinivas I salute you”, I wrote in a review of the concert which he gave as a boy prodigy of 14 years. The salutation came about in the Gulf Times, the newspaper for which I was working then. The year was 1984 and the music concert of Shrinivas and the magical evening he created with the mandolin, then a relatively new instrument for Carnatic classical music, is still fresh in my memory. Shrinivas’ essay into ragas Kalyanavasantham, Sunadavinodini and an RTP in Keervani I can recall with much fondness.

Years have rolled by since then and Shrinivas is no longer in our midst. But I recall my visit to his house in Chennai in July 1985, almost some eight months after his Doha concert. Shrinivas was a fledgling lad of 14 then and was staying with his parents in the Kumaran colony of Vadapazhani area of the city. Shrinivas and his parents welcomed us with warmth since they knew us from Doha days. Over the hour that we spent at his house (I and my son, 13 years old then), Shrinivas engaged and entertained us with inimitable boyish charm and youthful exuberance.  At our request, he played briefly raga Bahudari  and the kriti “Brova baramma.” We were swept away into dizzy musical stratosphere. I fondly remember how Shrinivas urged upon my son to pursue his interest in violin repeatedly stressing “practice regularly” to achieve perfection something which he intuitively imbibed and displayed while regaling his listeners.

Yes, I have heard him bring grace and beauty to Carnatic classical music in the many concerts he gave over the years. I fondly recall the waltzing, amazing “Vatapi Ganapatim” he essayed on one occasion paying a trbute in memory of  the spiritual  guru  Satya Sai Baba in Puttaparti.  Shrinivas brought effervescent exuberance to this Muthuswami Dikshitar kriti, displaying an incredible range and variety in the sangathis (phrases) of this composition considered as one of the all-time fundamental kritis in Carnatic music. What however simply mesmerised me was the effortless grace and unique swara patterns he coaxed and eschewed out of the mandolin , at once gripping and colourfully exciting. In short a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I rate this Hamsadwani piece among the best he has played on the kriti. Music lovers will I am sure agree with me if they had listened to this particular concert. For those who have missed this need not worry, it is available on YouTube:

In the same concert Shrinivas also played a beautiful raga Amritavahini composition of Thyagaraja.  The  “ Sree Rama Padama “ song emerged in all its pristine glory, a mood that brought total sublimation to Lord Rama, the deity,  after the exuberant exhortation one saw in the invocatory piece on Lord Ganesha. These were followed by a racy Kathanakuduhalam composition with Raghuvamsa Suda, an ever popular ditty with lovers of Carnatic music. After this Shrinivas settled down to play the haunting melodic raga Hindolam and followed it with the krithi Samajavara Gamana, another well-known composition of Thyagaraja popularized by many stalwarts too. These were followed by quite a few bhajans and popular devotional numbers. I particularly liked the effortless ease with which Shrinivas displayed his total command over the idiom and skill and the feeling he brought forth while playing the beautiful Sindubhairavi kriti Venkitachala Nilayam. Once again I feel like saying “Shrinivas I salute you for the melodic  joy you brought to lovers of Carnatic music  and carrying  it as a sacred mission and popularizing  mandolin the worldover as an exceptional instrument for dwelling deep into the rich treasure trove of Carnatic classical music.”

Lovers of Carnatic music will ever pay homage to another musical genius, the violin maestro Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, who passed away last year. Lalgudi Jayaraman is admired by many including Shrinivas who was alive then and paid a glorious tribute in a short and sweet concert. The occasion was the launch and release of the book “The Incurable Romantic”, an eminently readable  biography of the violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman.

Strange as it may seem, Lalgudi Jayaraman loved Shrinivas and his music and to an extent was instrumental, pun intended, in promoting Shrinivas’ mandolin music worldwide. It was at Lalgudi Jayaraman’s behest that Shrinivas then prodigy at 14 came to tour the Arabian Gulf states including Doha, Qatar, in 1984. Lalgudi Jayaraman was responsible in exploding one more myth that instrumentalists don’t promote another instrumentalist. Lalgudi Jayaraman is an exception. Shrinivas verily pays his gratitude and admits Lalgudi Jayaraman’s role in furthering his mandolin career.

In the concert in honour of and in memory of Lalgudi Jayaraman, Shrinivas recalls encouragement given by the violin maestro and describes how it was Lalgudi Sir who persuaded him to take on the Gulf states tour of Muscat, Bahrain, Doha and Dubai when as a teenager he was already away from his mother for more than two months touring in the U.S. and was keen to come back soon as he was missing his mother. “It is Lalgudi Sir who told me to tour the Gulf states saying it will be only for seven more days. Don’t worry they will take good care of you and I will speak to your mother!” The rest, as they say, is history.

Shrinivas starts this concert before commencing with the Charukesi varnam. This composition by Lalgudi Jayaraman is acknowledged by saying “Lalgudi Sir inda Charukesi varnathile Charukesi ragathodu essence sa appadiye puzhinju eduthirukaar!” (Lalgudi Sir has in this varnam wrung out the full essence of the charukesi raga). What is even more remarkable is how Shrinivas captivates the listener with the sheer melodic beauty of the raga in the very first few opening phrases of playing the varnam. It is one of the most delightful Charukesis you end up hearing and you are suddenly in awe of the genius of both musicians. Then comes out verily the mandolin wizards magically engrossing treatment of the rare raga Hamsaroopini, another  noteworthy creation of Lalgudi Jayaraman. This rare raga it is explained has the swaras of raga Mohanam in the arohanam (ascending scale) and Madhyamavathi in the avarohanam (descending scale). For the next twenty minutes or so, Shrinivas displays his superb grip over the rare raga and simply clean bowls you with his virtuosity. So brilliant is the delineation that Lalgudi’s son G.G.R.Krishnan, a top notch violinist in his own right, says in his thanks-giving speech that he had given Lalgudi Sir’s tape on that raga to Shrinivas only a few days back but “he has played  it as if has practiced it for 30 years!” Rich deserving tribute indeed for sheer magical endorsement on the mandolin of the raga Hamsaroopini created by violin Chakravarthy (emperor) Lalgudi Jayaraman:

Shrinivas also talks of the “standing ovation” that he received, not once but thrice, for the Lalgudi Jayaraman thillana in the raga Mohanakalyani. As he begins to play it again you suddenly discover why it proved a big hit with the Boston audience during that concert in 1984. This Lalgudi Jayaraman thillana is set to catchy phrases like ‘ga pa da sa ni paa ma ga ri ga saa ni da saa ri gaa’ at once making you keep rhythmic beats to go along with the song. The effervescence and ethereal beauty of the thillana was once again captured by Shrinivas, his deft fingers coaxing magical melody and leaving the audience humming and tapping along in sheer delight. He also played another masterpiece of Lalgudi’s thillana in raga madhuvanti, a truly haunting melody indeed, with great panache and delicacy showing the exceptional mastery he had over even uncommon musical genres.You cannot help but applaud and say kudos to Lalgudi Jayaraman for his creative genius and to Shrinivas for portraying it so very enchantingly. You end up saying once again “Shrinivas I salute you!”

Lalgudi Jayaraman’s son G.G.R.Krishnan did that and more while speaking on the occasion of release of the book “The Incurable Romantic” and Shrinivas ’concert. “I have had many occasions to travel to various places and seen Lalgudi Sir smiling on listening to the sound of mandolin being played while going up on the elevator. Whether it (the smile) was for hearing his composition or for it being played by Mandolin Shrinivas playing his Thillana, or for both, I don’t know. I wish I could answer that.”

I will conclude by referring to the excellent homage paid by many stalwarts including Vidwan and Sangeetha Kalanidhi Madurai T.N.Seshagopalan who on hearing a Music Academy concert by Shrinivas was so moved by his music that he spontaneously presented the then teenage   Shrinivas with a golden chain. Soon after Shrinivas passed away, one of the rising stars of Carnatic vocal music Abhishek Raghuraman paid a rich tribute in honour of Shrinivas by singing the raga Saranga and a composition of violin virtuoso Kumaresh. The  song is in praise of the pranava nadam Omkara and says : “eyes are shedding tears; and the mind is melting; daily the desire is to see you is nurtured  within myself.” A beautiful song sung melodiously in honour of a melodious musician who brought the magic of mandolin sound to Carnatic music and enriched it with exquisite grace and dexterity:

I cannot but conclude by saying Shrinivas your music was divine and will live long. And I salute you all over again after more than three decades after I first heard you live.