Tabla Queen Anuradha Pal’s ode to India’s rich diversity

Many of us have faced rejections in our life. To rise against it and emerge successful is the character of a gritty soul. One such soul is the Tabla maestro, multi percussionist and composer Anuradha Pal. BeatCurry interacted with the maestro towards exploring her musical roots, courageous persona, approach to life and her latest world music release ‘Dancing Rain.’ Read to find out more.

Hardik Joshi | BeatCurry Team

“I am a first-generation musician in a male dominated field of Tabla. I had to have the courage to defy all odds, discrimination and societal prejudice with grit, hard work and talent,” smiled Anuradha.

As a child, Anuradha developed a passion for Indian classical music and started learning classical vocals. Being ‘rhythmically’ inclined, she expressed a desire to learn the Tabla but was flatly dismissed, as Tabla was considered a male preserve due to the physical demands of the instrument and societal bias. A persistent student, she finally convinced her then teacher and started working on getting a firm foundation of ‘Sur’ and ‘Laya.’

“My dearest parents Ila and Devinder Pal inculcated fantastic values of commitment and dedication in me, due to which I was able to practise every day for 6 to 8 hours, introspect deeply and storm this male bastion, to become India’s first female professional Tabla player, while remaining humble forever in search of excellence, and at the same time excelling in academics and personality development,” said Anuradha.

Anuradha approached the great Tabla guru Ustad Alla Rakha, fondly called Abbaji, to teach her. On hearing her, Abbaji immediately started teaching Anuradha and thus embarked on a journey, which would transform her life forever.

Recalling her learnings under the traditional ‘Guru Shishya Parampara’ Anuradha said,
“I learnt from Abbaji and Zakir Bhai (Zakir Hussain) for over 20 years. Their incredible musical contribution has been very inspirational. Learning at the feet of such great gurus helped me to become quick witted and ready to respond to any musical challenge. I cherished playing with them for the first time, since I was 15 years old.”

All this training was followed up with an intense practice schedule called ‘Chilla’, 10 hours of practice daily for 40 days.

“I have learnt so much from every interaction. This strong classical training has served as a strong foundation to help me adapt and work seamlessly across different genres of music, be it Classical, Semi classical, Carnatic, Fusion, Rap, Pop et cetera and collaborate with Latin, African, Flamenco, Jazz musicians etc.”


As ‘Guru Dakshina’ to Abbaji in his centenary year, Ministry of Culture, SCZCC and Anuradha organised a unique tribute of 217 Tabla players performing live, led by her setting an unparalleled World Record in 2018! The tribute presented Abbaji’s journey as a composer, musician and world renowned Tabla maestro through a short film, followed by a 2-hour solo performance of the ‘Punjab Gharana Baaj’ of Tabla, the unique style and compositions of Abbaji by Anuradha.

When Anuradha started performing on stage, the Tabla was considered as a male bastion. The Tabla itself wasn’t considered as the centrepiece among other percussion instruments. A Tabla player had to remain content with a short opportunity to perform while on stage.

“Since I didn’t come from a musician family, I didn’t have any idea of how to go about it. Nor did I have any godfather to mentor and support me. Hence, I had no choice but to persevere hard despite the cynicism, practise and learn strong, hone my skills, till it was no longer possible for purists to ignore me. I had to practise for long hours, working consistently to make my musical offerings innovative and engaging, so that I comfortably perform Tabla solos, accompany all the top class Indian classical and semi classical musicians as well as collaborate work across world music genres,” asserted Anuradha.

In a competitive world where each one is out to promote oneself, Anuradha decided to take it upon herself to showcase other upcoming talent amongst women, Folk, Classical and Fusion music. Her all-female band, ‘Anuradha Pal’s ‘Stree Shakti’, is a platform for instrumentalists, vocalists and percussionists from Carnatic & Hindustani music to show their talent. The band has successfully performed at the prestigious WOMAD festival for 150,000 fans in 1999 amongst zillions of other festivals & countries around the world!

Inspired by her own challenges and struggle, Anuradha conceptualised and created some unique offerings and presentations like ‘Anuradha Pal’s ‘Tabla Jugalbandi’ with herself in 2005, where she presents interactive, rhythmic stories from Indian mythological tales and everyday stories, using only Tabla, multi-percussion and voice.

Dwelling on this unique jugalbandi, the Tabla Queen said,
“I have always been a nature lover, visited old monuments, travelled all over India observing animals, art, science and celebrating everything called life with my family. My continued experiments with sound made me later, interpret contemporary and mythological stories and experiences into rhythmic compositions. This interaction between the voices of masculinity and femininity present in each one of us, forms the basis of my creation of ‘Anuradha Pal in Tabla Jugalbandi with myself’, which I call the Rhythms of my soul.”

Anuradha has also founded ‘Recharge Band’, a fusion of Indian, Jazz, African, Latin Music and percussion and a combination of Indian Folk, Qawwali, Carnatic, Hindustani and Sufi musicians called ‘Su-Fo-Re band’. A lesser-known fact about her, is that her parents & husband have been her strength and support.

A firm believer in helping society, Anuradha has been on the forefront during the pandemic, of helping out over 350 tribal, folk, classical musicians, dancers, instrument makers, studio technicians, bar and karaoke singers, cinema and orchestra musicians et cetera across 17 Indian states by providing ration and transferring financial assistance directly to their bank accounts. Her organization, Sur aur Saaz (SAS) events, organised ‘Aatmanirbhar Kala-ke-Sangh Music Festival,’ an online festival in Jan 2021 featuring folk and classical musicians from across India in a bid to help them financially.

In spite of being involved with various CSR activities, Anuradha’s passion and commitment towards her music has only quadrupled! Her new song, ‘DANCING RAIN’ was released internationally on 14th August 2021 featuring Bollywood star Raveena Tandon.

“I have composed the music as a multi layered, multi-dimensional experience on percussion instruments like the African Djembe and Udu Drums, Latin Cajon, Conga and Bongo, Taiwanese Taphon and the Indian Kanjira, Pakhawaj, all headlined by the Tabla, combined with amazing musicians on Vocals, Bass guitar, Saxophone, Shehnai, Sitar, Sarangi & keyboards,”
Anuradha elaborated.

“Dancing Rain’ begins with ‘Dal Badhal Paran’, a traditional Pakhavaj composition by Maharaj Chakradhar Singh, then moves on to portray the drama, passion and nostalgia of the dancing rains, much like the beauty and diversity of India, its spirituality, culture, dances and music, in celebration of India’s 75th Independence year. I have directed the music video of ‘Dancing Rain’ just as I have experienced the rhythms of the rain and danced to its beats.”

The song has been very well received and applauded across the entertainment universe, right from the purists of Indian classical music to Bollywood actors and is being played by several Indian embassies across the world on their social media channels.

Not the one to rest on her laurels, Anuradha has already cut out plans for the future. Being an articulate and intelligent musician, her plans merge past experiences and learnings with the current trends.

“I enjoyed doing the background score using only tabla and voice in M.F Husain’s film ‘Gaja Gamini’, short films like Stealing Gods’ and other documentaries. Many musician friends in the west have also reached out to collaborate. I am now looking forward to doing the music score on OTT platforms, Hollywood or Bollywood soon,” said an ever-optimistic Anuradha.

Anuradha’s song ‘DANCING RAIN’ is a tribute to India’s ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ and is now available across all streaming platforms globally.

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