The Mandolin in Hindustani Music

Nasar Sajjad On Mandolin_02

Nasar Sajjad On Mandolin


Mandolin is a musical instrument descended from the lute and so called because its body is shaped like an almond (in Italian, Mandoria means almond). Lute is the name given to the family of stringed instruments which was very popular in the 16th and 17th centuries and includes the Mandola, Theorbo and Chittarone. These are pear shaped with fretted finger board and has a head with tuning pegs which is often angled backward from the neck. The strings are plucked with fingers.

Mandola (Mandore) is the ancestor of the present Mandolin. Mandolin was first used in the early 18th century in Italy. An asset in its favour was the softness of its sound. It has four pairs of strings. Until recently, Mandoli was of only one type, that is acoustic Mandolin. It is a hollow cone and its sound was not electronically modified.

In early 1950 Mr. Tiny Moore of USA, a musician himself, first developed a single stringed solid body, the electric Mandolin.

Till the 19th century, Mandolin was a part of orchestra in the Western world. And from the beginning of 20th century it has been established as a solo instrument.

Mandolin in India

In India, though Mandolin has been used for many years now, it was limited only to light music. There are very few musicians who play Hindustani classical music on Mandolin.

A few words about the Mandolin which is slightly modified to meet the requirements to play Carnatic classical music. The scale, fretted finger board and the tuning head have all remained the same as the original Mandolin, except the number of strings.

The Mandolin has got four pairs of strings ( 8 strings). With these pairs of strings it is not possible to use it for Carnatic music. It is difficult to produce Gamakas (the prolonged notes), which are very important to bring out the nuances of classical music in the instrument in vocal style. So I replaced these four pairs of strings with four single strings and started practicing Carnatic music. And on my father’s advice I added another string, the fifth for the base (Mandra sthayi). So now, there are totally 5 strings for my Mandolin – E, A, D, G, G.


Snehashish Mazumder

Snehashish Mazumder is among those few established musicians in India who has mastered
the art of playing Mandolin, and has blended it perfectly into the style of Hindustani Indian
Classical Music.

Coming from a musically oriented family, he started his initial training under the guidance of
his father Sri Himangshu Mazumder. Gradually he switched over to his cousin Sri Tejender
Majumdar who is a well-known sarode player of the country. He continued his study under
Pandit Ajoy Sinha Roy who was a beloved disciple of Baba Allauddin, the founder of Maihar
Gharana and Guru of Pandit Ravishankar. Finally he came under the tutelage of Pandit
Ajoy Chakraborty.

Snehashish, besides performing in all the major festivals in India, has toured Europe, U.K.,
and USA and made a very good name amongst the music lovers. He is the recipient of
Surmani and Jadubhatta Awards. Besides playing Indian Classical Music, he is very much
involved in the film industry and arranged music for many award-winning films. Recently
Snehasish was invited by Pandit Ravishankar to perform for the George Harrison Memorial
Concert held in ROYAL ALBERT HALL, London.


“He captures the mood of the raga nicely the anticipation and longing for the rain from the
release of the heat. He is a patient player, and one that slowly develops the raga, not
relying on so many of the flashier current trends in Indian music. The refreshing thing about
it is, that there is no gimmickry.

The mandolin being more familiar to the western aural palette, it is easier for westerners to
digest, but there is certainly more than enough substance for those knowledgeable about
Indian music. For creativity, style and good playing, you can’t lose with his music.”

Mandolin Dreams (1996)
Mandolin with Soumitrajit Chatterjee on Tabla  (2003)
Concert for George – Royal Albert Hall  (2003)
Different Strokes with Kousik Sen on Tabla (2001)
Worship (2001)

Antonio Vinaccia (Italian, active 1754–1781)


Antonio Vinaccia (Italian, active 1754–1781)
Mandolin, 1781
Spruce, tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl, gold alloy, ivory; L. 23 in. (58.4 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments, 1889 (89.4.2140)

In the mid-eighteenth century, several regional variations of the mandolin developed in Italy, the most important being the one from Naples. The Neapolitan mandolin, probably designed by a member of the Vinaccia family, has a cant (bend) below the bridge that gives the instrument greater strength. The four pairs of strings are tuned to the pitches of a violin and the instrument is played with a plectrum. It became an indispensable part of nineteenth-century Neapolitan culture.

In the late nineteenth century, a mandolin craze swept the United States, and to fill the market thousands of instruments were imported from mandolin makers in southern Italy.

This early Neapolitan mandolin is among the most decorated examples of its kind. The back is made of twenty-three narrow fluted strips of tortoiseshell with ebony and ivory spacers. The sides are elaborately decorated with tortoiseshell molding and floral paintings on a gilt ground. The soundboard is decorated with inlaid mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, and gold alloy.



Shri U Shrinivas

       Five Strings to Heaven

The Mandolin of Shri U Shrinivas

The Mandolin is essentially a staccato instrument, totally devoid of gamakka. That makes it almost alien to Carnatic needs. But that is all forgotten once you listen to Mandolin U. Shrinivas. What remains in the mind is music of the finest vintage.

The list of awards conferred on him is endless. And he is easily the most sought after artist. Between inhaling and exhaling, he gives a performance. It is also striking to note that he has none of the trappings of a star about him. Shy, silent, and reticent, he is rarely in the public eye, except on the podium.

Asked about his genius, he attributes it to God’s grace. Behind this unassuming, humble boy lies the artist that comes once in an era. You may not be fond of Carnatic Music, but you can still not ignore Mandolin U. Shrinivas. You may look on him as a kind of Haley’s Comet; a phenomenon if not an artist. Such is the spell he has cast on audiences, that there is invariably the residual close-circuit audience outside each hall. And he has travelled abroad innumerable times.
He is already one of the all-time greats. And he attributes it all to fate. It just cannot be. Fate did not make a U. Shrinivas – fate just laid a child’s hand accidentally on a discarded Mandolin.

A Maestro means one who combines unique musicianship and immense virtuosity. Master U.Shrinivas has proved that he fulfils this to the hilt. A rather inconspicuous member of the western orchestra, Shrinivas has revived and raised the mandolin, an unknown instrument and given it a respectable status in classical music. His music acumen has assumed many dimensions. He glides over the gamut with ease traversing 4 octaves with subtle deflections and suave certainty. Every phrase, every design falls into place in the octaval build up of the raga. He can evolve and execute the most intricate fraction-ridden swara combinations that would keep any accompanist on edge.

Shrinivas has grown into a colossus with only sky as the limit. ” The magnificent music that emanates from the mandolin of young Shrinivas has the freshness and spontaneity of a mountain brook. The kalpanaswaras are like cascading waterfalls and the alaps a serene, majestic river flowing through the plains. His fingers caress and cajole original and remarkable proyogas of Carnatic music from this western instrument”

Nobody in recent times has achieved charisma in as quick a time as Shrinivas has done. He is a musical phenomenon to whom perfection of tone and execution come as spontaneously as the free and unfettered flow of his ideas.

Normally one finds two variations in the original form of the mandolin – the acoustic and the electric (solid block).

he mandolin in its original form is typically an acoustic stringed instrument about 60cm (2 ft) long with deeply vaulted ribs and a table slanted downward at the lower end. It has a neck-cum-peghead attached to a hollow oval shaped sound box. It has four pairs of loop-ended double rib fastened metal strings secured to hooks on the body on one end, and passed across a low bridge (on the sound box) and a nut (on the finger board) to the pegs inserted into a rectangular peg-box.



Careers in the classical arts are not often remembered for courage. Too many other elements tend to intrude into the discussion, and to be prized heavily by purists: a strict fealty to tradition, for example, or the flourishes of genius, or capacious knowledge. But it is courage that most plainly marks out the career Uppalapu Srinivas, the swift-fingered mandolin artist who passed away in Chennai on Friday, after a bout of illness, at the age of 45. Srinivas possessed those other attributes as well, to be sure, and genius foremost among them. He took to his father’s mandolin with precocious ease when he was only six years old, growing up in a small town in Andhra Pradesh. Since no serious mandolin teachers were available to train him, Srinivas learned by ear, listening to Carnatic singers and picking out krithis and ragams on his frets. He performed his first full Carnatic concert at the age of nine; two years later, he arrived in Chennai—then Madras—to play in the December music season. It was the equivalent of a teenaged banjo player being given the stage at Carnegie Hall. At the time, Srinivas was a novelty, because of his age but also because of his instrument. Nobody had ever embarked upon a Carnatic career with a mandolin in hand before. Among the several conservative rigidities built into Carnatic music is a reluctance to admit unfamiliar instruments—instruments that, the patriarchs worry, may not replicate the art’s gamakas, the delicate oscillations between notes that flavour a ragam just so. A mandolin can perform gamakas perfectly, just as a veena has done for centuries. Yet Srinivas’s instrument was essentially an alien one, and it would have been simple for the novelty to have worn off, and for Carnatic music to turn its face away once again from the mandolin. Remarkably, though, Srinivas persevered, convinced that he could carve his own furrow in the field, and that the mandolin could be true to, and even exemplify, the lovely complications of Carnatic music. In the 1980s, he was hot, exciting property; the Carnatic singer T. M. Krishna recalled once that his father gatecrashed a wedding reception just so that he could hear Srinivas play. But through the 1990s and then into the 2000s, as Srinivas matured, so did his music, and he came to be a fixture in the prestigious evening slot of the Madras Music Academy during the December season. This is where I’ve seen him most often, usually from the balcony, so that all I could see was his head, with its shaggy mane of hair, bent over his mandolin. From that height, the instrument was so small that it almost disappeared, and then it seemed as if Srinivas was strumming nothing at all, conjuring music out of thin air. Everything about his technique was gentle and seductive, and so to the inattentive ear, his investigations of Kiravani or Sankarabharanam could fade into the background; an alert listener, though, could detect high classicism, an elaborate creativity in his improvisations, and even flashes of humour in the deft concluding twists to some of his phrases. His fingering was immaculate. “Eddie van Halen, eat your heart out,” George Harrison reportedly said in 2001, having stumbled upon one of Srinivas’s albums. Srinivas managed the rare feat of constructing, on a rail parallel to his Carnatic career, formidable renown in a genre that is unfortunately best described by that weak word—fusion. He played at the West Berlin Jazz Festival in 1983 and at the Olympic Arts Festival in Barcelona in 1992. When the guitarist John McLaughlin revived his old ensemble Shakti under the name Remember Shakti, in 1997, Srinivas joined him, along with Zakir Hussain, the singer Shankar Mahadevan, and the percussionist V. Selvaganesh, all artists raring to push beyond the boundaries of their immediate sphere of music. In a live performance, Remember Shakti could often be a whirl of energy tending towards the frenetic, but at some point during the concert, Srinivas would become the fulcrum of the ensemble, and the tempest would subside. The brightest patch of any Remember Shakti concert would come when Srinivas and McLaughlin riffed off each other, Srinivas sticking all the time to the tenets of his form but bending them this way and that to marvellous effect. There is, McLaughlin told the author Peter Lavezzoli in an interview for his book Bhairavi, “a kind of younger brother-elder brother relationship between the electric mandolin and the electric guitar that is a real delight.” Courage can be loud and confrontational, but it can also be quiet and firm. On the cover of its inaugural issue in October 1983, the music magazine Sruti featured the vocalist D.K. Pattammal and the 14-year-old Srinivas. Pattammal by then was one of the pillars of the art, but in her youth, she had battled barriers of her own in becoming the first Brahmin woman to perform full-fledged concerts, and in including in her repertoire improvisatory exercises then considered too complex for women. Pattammal took her stance without undue fuss, by just singing with honest beauty. In a similar way, Srinivas ignored those who cavilled, put his head down, and created his own kind of honest, beautiful music. He was a brilliant musician, but he was a brave one as well.



Snehasish Mozumder plays North Indian classical music on an acoustic mandolin.

It is unlikely that you will find any handy tabs of Indian music for the mandolin. Indian classical music requires many years or intensive study, and the music is largely improvised by artists who have spent their lives immersed in the complex rudiments of the traditions, leaning almost entirely by ear. There are hundreds of musical traditions in India, and you might have some luck with some of the folk traditions,

Here is a link to some resources that might help:

About RAM Chandrakausika राम च 51

Ram51 is a researcher in the various fields of Musicology, Philosophy and History as well as old languages. One of his first topics is the wide scope of Indo-arabic cultures as represented in various art-forms religion and history. Below a list of selected Research topics which sum up partitionally the task of anthropological Frameworks in totaliter : Sanskrit Hinduism and Mythology Hindustani Music, The Muqhal Empire Gharanas from North India Kashmir Sufiyana The Kashmir Santoor Traditional Folk Music from USA Philosophy in Orient and Okzident Genealogy of musical instruments Ethnomusicology, Arabic Maqams, No Theatre fromJapan, North american poetry, Cultural heritage of mankind and Islamic architecture... View all posts by RAM Chandrakausika राम च 51

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