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Women in Percussion-Mridangam and Khanjira exponent Charu Hariharan



Percussion instruments are believed to be the oldest musical instruments after the human voice and are referred to as the ‘backbone’ of any musical ensemble. These instruments may play rhythm, melody, harmony and also work in close association with the bass instruments. Indian percussion instruments like the tabla, mridangam, phakwaj, dhol, ghatam, khanjira etc. are highly sophisticated and complex and is mostly played using hands. In our new series ‘Women in Percussion’, Music Plus speaks to the women of India, who have created a niche of their own in the world of percussion.

To start off the series we have renowned mridangam and khanjira exponent, Charu Hariharan. A percussionist, singer and composer, Charu is a multi-faceted musician with a musical lineage. Her mother, renowned singer Dr. B. Arundhathi, discovered her passion for rhythm in childhood and enrolled her to learn the mridangam under her guru Sri. Mannarkoil J. Balaji at the age of 10. Charu started performing at concerts from the age of 14. She has accompanied her mother on the khanjira for many of her concerts. She played mridangam and khanjira in the quartet named ‘O! Shakuntala’ lead by Master Slide Guitarist and Grammy Nominee Pt. Debashish Bhattacharya. She is a member of the World Folk Ensemble band ‘Varldens Band’. Besides being a percussionist, Charu is also a music composer, producer, arranger and lyricist. She is the National winner (vocals) in Carnatic Devotional in an All India Radio Competition. As a percussionist, Charu has been influenced by Trilok Gurtu, Aleix Tobias, Marilyn Mazur to name a few.

Having started her musical journey as a teenager, Charu believes every stage is an experience to learn from, however big or small it may be.

“Learning happens from the mistakes, flaws and good moments we have on stage, and not merely from ‘one-to-one’ lessons or classes” says Charu.

Charu Hariharan(Pic: Charu Hariharan)


Following her Guru’s advice, she records every one of her concerts to analyse her performance.

“To me learning and performance go hand in hand. I am still a student and I will always be” smiles Charu.

Being from a musical family exposed her to music as a child. Charu believes that the biggest advantage of being a part of a musical family is the unconditional support and encouragement you get, whatever be the genre of music you pursue.

“They also make you grounded and humble. My parents consider that to be a true musician, one needs to be a good human being first” says Charu.

Her mother made her realise the value of practice and helped Charu develop the ear to focus on intricate details in music.

“Gurutwam’ is what I’ve learnt from her.” adds Charu.


Though coming from a traditional music background, Charu likes to keep abreast with the latest technology that can be incorporated in her music. As a musician, she likes to try out new and innovative instruments on stage.

“I try to develop my own ways of playing them but when it comes to recording or production I focus on the sound and the ideas I want to translate. Whatever technology helps me with that, I try to learn and update” says Charu.

The number of women percussionists might not be that high but it is a growing tribe. This tribe can further flourish if women musicians believe in their ability and are confident to push their limits.

“I personally have experienced that once we know and trust what we are doing, nothing external can shake our conviction. We will be able to break open any glass ceiling” says Charu, adding,

“I do not believe in women being treated special anywhere, women need to be treated equally.”

With the wind of change blowing harder than ever, women would be playing a bigger role in the world of music sooner rather than later. Emerging talent now has more opportunities regardless of what background they hail from. Artistes from non-musical background are making their mark. The music industry has evolved and is more accommodating than in the past.

“What ultimately matters is whether an artist is talented, perseverant and unique. If one is able to make a mark and continue doing so, he/she will have a place” opines Charu.


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