Mridangam Maestro T. S. Nandakumar: A Cultural Ambassador of India

Featured & Cover Mridangam Maestro T S Nandakumar A Cultural Ambassador of India

Well known around the world for his mastery of the Mridangam, a percussion instrument that is a primary rhythmic accompaniment in Carnatic music ensemble, and with expertise in various other percussion instruments, including  konnakol (vocal percussion), thavil, ghatam, kanjira, and morsing, T. S. Nandakumar is a world renowned south Indian music artist, showcasing his versatility in Carnatic music, has devoted his entire life to the cause of popularizing Indian classical music around the world.

TSN Mridangam 02T. Shankaranarayanan Nandakumar, popularly known as “TSN” has played a pivotal role in spreading the knowledge about Indian drums, particularly the mridangam in the United States through his stage performances at prestigious orchestras, participation in global music events, educational initiatives and contributions, collaborations, global impact, and philanthropic endeavors. He has demonstrated a commitment to social responsibility through charity work, including organizing a 24-hour non-stop Akanda Seva Bhajan in aid of India’s tsunami victims.

Nandakumar’s belief that “Music is like a horizon which is never ending and has noTSN Mridangam 04 boundaries” has enabled him to take music wherever he went. TSN’s participation in international festivals and workshops has contributed to the global awareness of Indian percussion, showcasing the richness of Indian drumming traditions and  providing a platform for cross-cultural exchange. By actively participating in musical collaborations and performances in the United States, TSN not only showcases the beauty of the mridangam but also educates audiences about the intricacies and significance of this traditional Indian percussion instrument.

TSN Mridangam 06As a percussionist, TSN has accompanied luminaries in Carnatic music, including Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, M. D. Ramanathan, Bhimsen Joshi, T. N. Krishnan, M. Balamuralikrishna and others. His role as an accompanist has greatly enhanced the events with the performances of these eminent artists.

Through his musical engagements, TSN engages in a form of cultural diplomacy, fostering an appreciation for Indian music and drumming traditions. This indirect form of education occurs as audiences experience the artistry and cultural depth of the mridangam during performances.

“Through music you can reach god,” says Nandakumar and wants to spread this path to the Almighty. Not satisfiedMridangam with his own mastery of classical Indian music, TSN took upon himself the mission to spread Carnatic music around the world. He established TSN’s Percussive Arts Centre. Inc (TSNPAC), where students are trained in diverse instruments. Since its inception in 1998 in Mumbai, India, TSNPAC has evolved into a hub for students to refine their skills and collaborate within the realm of Carnatic arts.  Upon migrating to New Jersey, USA, TSN seamlessly incorporated TSNPAC, offering courses in higher learning for Carnatic percussion enthusiasts in the United States. Today, TSNPAC stands as a beacon for aspiring artists seeking to master the intricacies of Carnatic percussion.

It’s well known around the world that through TSNPAC, TSN has played a very important role in teaching and training students in diverse percussion instruments, including the mridangam. In addition, Internationally famous musical institutions have tapped into TSN’s expertise, hosting his performances and though his highly acclaimed special, lectures in percussive arts.

TSN Mridangam 03Performing at the Thyagaraja Festival is a prestigious and culturally significant experience for Carnatic musicians. The Thyagaraja Aradhana is an annual music festival held to commemorate the legendary Carnatic composer Saint Thyagaraja. TSNPAC conducts Thyagaraja Festival to commemorate the legendary Carnatic composer Saint Thyagaraja. Thyagaraja Aaradhana Festival in Cleveland, Ohio, which is the largest Indian classical music festival outside of India.

“I feel very good about my accomplishment in spreading my knowledge about music toTSN Mridangam 01 everyone. I have students all over the world, students of Indian origin and from other nationalities, some of them have become full time musicians and are accompanying renowned artists,” Nandakumar says with pride. TSNPAC, in addition to providing trainings to music enthusiast, has successfully organized numerous annual events by notable artists in Carnatic music, including luminaries such as K J Yesudas, N. Rajam, N. Ramani, A. Kanyakumari, and L. Subramaniam.

Mridangam Arangetrams are held annually at TSNPAC, where graduating students perform along with accomplished artists, without prior rehearsal, which is a unique approach that serves as a culminating experience for their graduation from the Center.

The festival is characterized by an atmosphere of devotion, celebrating the profound impact Thyagaraja had on the Carnatic music tradition. Musicians engaged in marathon music sessions, presenting a repertoire of kritis (compositions) composed by Thyagaraja. The festival features continuous music performances, creating an immersive experience for both performers and the audience.

Leading concertTSNPAC’s significant milestones include a decennial celebration marked by a grand performance featuring over 100 students. The centre conducts Mridangam Arangetram annually, where students, without prior rehearsal, accompany main artists like A. Kanyakumari, culminating in a graduation ceremony. Notably, TSNPAC’s influence extends globally, with 108 professional student performances, including drumming, at the Cleveland Thyagaraja festival.

Many of his students have achieved high accolades as professionals and have become graded artists by All India Radio. They follow in his footsteps by training their own students in the style of TSN and continuing to promote Carnatic percussive arts.

In addition to training students of South Asian students, several artists from the West, who are now well known for their expertise in Carnatic Music include: Paula Jeanine, Todd Isler, Johann Berby, Guillaume Barraud, Will Calhoun, Bill Buchen, Lenora Zenzlai Helm, and Bernhard Schimpelsberger.

TSN’s discography, featuring solo performances and collaborations with various artists, serves as a valuable resourceTSN Mridangam 05 for those interested in Indian percussion. His recorded works contribute to the preservation and dissemination of this musical knowledge. His album, “Jewels of Rhythm” by his ensemble has earned him high accolades.

Nandakumar composed and released Jewels of Rhythm Vol 1, Jewels of Rhythm Vol 2 and Jewels of Rhythm Vol 3 which were performed by his students. Vibrative Rhythms by TSN is a fusion of Carnatic, Hindustani, and Western music as a one-man ensemble of mridangam, konnakol, thavil, ghatam, kanjira and the morsing played by himself.

Author of several books, with the objective of educating students to the themes of Indian Percussive Arts, TSN is currently working on writing books that covers advanced topics.

Son of Shrimati Saraswati and Shri Balakrishna Panicker, a great supporter of the arts as member of the Devaswom board in Kerala and actively involved in promoting Carnatic devotional music in temples and organizing concerts, TSN was born in the village of Ambalappuzha in Kerala, India. As a child, he was fascinated with the rhythmic chants and bhajans that would emanate from the various temples, was introduced to his Guru, Shri Kaithavana Madhavadas, where he was trained in the gurukula samprada tradition of Carnatic music. Nandakumar soon became a ‘Laya Vidwan’ due to his mastery of Carnatic percussive components: Laya, Raaga, Thaala and Bhava .

In Performance“At a very early age I started learning mridangam (A South Indian Classical Carnatic double-sided drum) because I was fascinated about percussion and its beats when my uncle’s (Shri Amabalapuzha Brothers) concert was held in the temple where I used to put Thalam,” recalls Nandakumar. “When I started learning I enjoyed playing mridangam and other percussion instruments. I was so passionate about it that I got into teaching mridangam and other percussion instruments and making people aware about the importance of music.”

As a young prodigy, TSN gained a reputation as an accompanist to renowned Carnatic musicians such as Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, M.D. Ramanathan, S. Ramanathan, R. K. Srikantan, V. Dakshinamurthy, Bhimsen Joshi, N. Ramani, M. Balamuralikrishna, T. N. Krishnan, K. J. Yesudas, N. Rajam, T. K. Govindarao, Nedunuri Krishnanmurthy, T. V. Gopalakrishnan, Parassala . B. Ponnamal, A. Kanyakumari, M. Chandrasekaran, D. K. Jayaraman, B. V. Raman, B. V. Lakshmanan and many others.

In his recognition of his great accomplishments, he was honored with The Lifetime Achievement Award by the Shanti Foundation in Chennai. He was awarded the “Best Teacher Award” from several organizations with the most prominent being awarded by Shanmukhananda Fine Arts and the Cleveland Thygaraja Aaradhana Festival and by the Shanmukhananda Fine Arts, Sangeetha Sabha, Mumbai in 2007, Bharat Ratna Dr. M. S. Subbulakshmi Sangeetha Pracharya Award), and Visionary Award by Academy of Indian Music, USA.

Acknowledging contributions to the world of music, TSNPAC has bestowed prestigious titles upon distinguishedWith K J Yesudas artists. In 2022, the centre conferred the title “Ranjakagayakasiromanih” (The Crown Jewel among those singers whose music is charming) upon the legendary K J Yesudas. A. Kanyakumari was honored with the title “Sasvatanadavidushi” (One Who Is Adept in Music Which Is Ishvara).

Dedicating his entire life to the spreading of Carnatic Music, Nandakumar has been highly sought after as a teacher in India as well as abroad. In Mumbai, TSN trained students at large institutions like Shanmukhananda Fine Arts, Chembur Fine Arts, Gana kala, Music Triangle and Naadalaya.

He has conducted several musical concerts, lectures, demonstrations, and workshops at universities in the United States abroad like Lamar University of Houston and Indiana University of Pennsylvania. TSN also spent some time conducting special classes in percussive arts at the Sri Venkateswara Temple in Pittsburgh, the Academy of Indian Music in New Jersey and Switzerland. He also conducted 24 hours nonstop Akanda Seva Bhajan (Offered a Prayer through the medium of music) with his students in Mumbai for the tsunami affected victims of India.

He continues to provide opportunities for his students to perform by conducting seminars specific to accompaniment to other Indian art forms, such as Bharatnatyam Dance recitals and vocal or instrumental concerts, as well as through  Talent Exposure Concert Series which are published on YouTube to give students a forum to display their prowess.

Beyond geographical confines, TSNPAC continues to host performances not only in New Jersey but also in various parts of the United States. As a nurturing ground for Carnatic percussion, TSNPAC’s legacy embodies a commitment to excellence, providing a platform for students to explore and flourish in the rich tapestry of Carnatic music.

Looking back into his life’s mission, Nandakumar says, “My aim of contributing to Carnatic music by spreading knowledge has successful and I forever am indebted to my parents and my teacher. I feel even more proud that some of my students have become masters of mridangam and it’s an honor knowing that the knowledge I shared with my students is now spreading to around the world, imparting to many generations.”

Lifetime Achievement Award by SAFETSN’s commitment to promoting local talent and fostering cultural exchange remains unwavering. He has invited senior artists from India for the upcoming TSNPAC annual events with the objective of creating a global stage for collaborative performances.

Don’t miss this cultural extravaganza that promises to transcend boundaries and create lasting memories. Join us for an unforgettable musical journey at Sri Balaji Temple in Bridgewater.

Prepare to be captivated by a Rhythmic Extravaganza, an enchanting spectacle of rhythm, melody, and cultural celebration as T. S. Nandakumar (TSN), the maestro of Carnatic percussion presents an extraordinary event at Sri Balaji Temple in Bridgewater on March 17, 2024, from 9 am to 1 pm.

Event Highlights:

  • Multifaceted Performances: Join different groups of percussionists, including students of TSN, along with talented musicians playing Violin, Flute, Veena, and Vocal.
  • Diverse Instruments: Experience the soul-stirring sounds of Mridangam, Ghatam, Kanjira, Morsing, Thavil, and Konnakol, creating a symphony of percussion.
  • Artistic Fusion: Enjoy dance recitals by students of TSN, mastering Nattuvangam, a South Indian rhythmic recitation, and percussion, creating a seamless fusion of arts.
  • Music Cum Percussion Ensemble: Be part of a unique ensemble featuring students across age groups, showcasing the rich diversity of talents from ages 4 to 60.
  • Book Release: Witness the unveiling of TSN’s latest book, a testament to his deep-rooted knowledge and contribution to Carnatic percussion.
  • Distinguished Chief Guest: Dr. Venkataraman Swaminathan, a revered musicologist, will grace the occasion, releasing TSN’s book and adding to the cultural richness of the event.
  • Star Performance: TSN himself will take the stage in the climax, inspiring and boosting the spirits of the budding talents.
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