Anuradha Pal
Tabla maestra Anuradha Pal plays her passion.

From the time she was a newborn in the hospital, Anuradha Pal has been surrounded by music. She grew up in a household that was a brew of arts and science — her father was a publicist and her mother an artist — and where the children were encouraged early on to learn some form of music or dance.

Her brother took up Tabla, a two-drum percussion instrument, and Anuradha set out to learn classical singing. But the more she watched her brother, the more she was attracted to Tabla. When she said she wanted to learn, too, she was told she was too small — that it was a man’s art.

“So I learned anyway,” she recalls, “because I always had this thing within me that if you tell me not to do something for the wrong reasons, I’m not going to agree with you.”

When she was 11, she made her first public performance. Since then, she’s performed around the world, as a soloist, an accompanist to other accomplished musicians and as part of various ensembles, including Stree Shakti, a women’s vocal and instrumental group.

Tabla, a two-piece drum with the Tabla on the right and the Baya — bass — on the left, is, Anuradha says, a very “evolved” instrument. Players use all 10 fingers, striking with the tips or middle — or even sides — to produce different sounds. Playing is a complex art that requires both improvisation and adherence to certain patterns and traditions.

“There are so many different sets of sounds,” she says. “I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘It sounds like you’re playing a whole drum set — or three drum sets.’”

The rhythmic cycles, which include up to 360 beats, require intense concentration; players appear to be in almost a trance-like state.

Anuradha also finds a spiritual component in her playing, one that is reflected in her latest album, Shanti (or “Peace”). She recalls one experience when her mother found her playing in a dark room, oblivious to nightfall. “I didn’t realize that it had already gotten dark and I needed to put on the light…I felt so connected that I just didn’t feel the need of anything external.”

She’s happiest when she’s playing Tabla. “It’s an addictive thing for me,” she says, “It’s where I have the maximum fun.”

And she loves the fact that she still feels like there’s lots more to accomplish.

“I have so much more to do, and that’s what is constantly egging me on… that’s a great kick in itself; that’s something fantastic.”

From the Interview

“When we perform on stage or when I practice, basically that is like a prayer, it’s a devotion.”

“You have to keep on trying to innovate, while trying to stick to a certain structure, so that’s where it’s a little bit of a challenge to be creative.”

“Playing Tabla for me is a need; it’s something that’s necessary to my survival…it’s what delights my soul like nothing else does.”

Coordinates: India

Anuradha Pal

Tabla Maestra


Mumbai, India

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