Mridangam maestro Nandakumar raising global awareness of Indian music, culture in the US


Shankaranarayanan Nandakumar, a maestro of the Mridangam, a percussion instrument that is a primary rhythmic accompaniment in Carnatic music ensembles, is an ambassador of Indian culture and music in the US.

He familiarizes music enthusiasts in the US with Indian drums through his stage performances at prestigious orchestras, global music events, educational initiatives and contributions, and philanthropic endeavors. An expert of the Mridangam, and other percussion instruments like konnakol (vocal percussion), thavil, ghatam, kanjira, and morsing, Nandakumar has earned a global reputation as a south Indian music artist by showcasing his versatility in Carnatic music.

By participating in international festivals and workshops Nandakumar has raised global awareness of Indian percussion in the US by showcasing the richness of Indian drumming traditions and providing a platform for cross-cultural exchange. He has also performed with renowned exponents of classical music like Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, M. D. Ramanathan, Bhimsen Joshi, T. N. Krishnan, and M. Balamuralikrishna. Nandakumar has performed at the Thyagaraja Festival, a prestigious and culturally significant experience for Carnatic musicians. Thyagaraja Aaradhana Festival in Cleveland, Ohio, is the largest Indian classical music festival outside India.

Nandakumar established TSN’s Percussive Arts Centre where students are trained in diverse instruments. Since its inception in 1998 in Mumbai, India, TSNPAC has been helping students refine their skills and collaborate in Carnatic arts.  Upon migrating to New Jersey, USA, Nandakumar offered courses in higher learning for Carnatic percussion enthusiasts in the United States.

“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 said. TSNPAC, in addition to providing training to music enthusiasts, has 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. TSNPAC’s significant milestones include a decennial celebration marked by a performance featuring over 100 students.

In addition to training students of South Asian origin, 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. His album, “Jewels of Rhythm” by his ensemble has earned him accolades. 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. Author of several books, to educate students on the themes of Indian Percussive Arts, Nandakumar is currently writing books that cover advanced topics.

“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 of the importance of music.”

In recognition of his accomplishments, Nandakumar 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.

He has conducted several musical concerts, lectures, demonstrations, and workshops at universities in the United States and abroad like Lamar University of Houston and Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Nandakumar conducted special classes in percussive arts at the Sri Venkateswara Temple in Pittsburgh, and the Academy of Indian Music in New Jersey and Switzerland. He also conducted a 24-hour nonstop Akanda Seva Bhajan with his students in Mumbai for the tsunami-affected victims of India.

Nandakumar says, “I feel 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 around the world to many generations.”


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