Hidden Drummers of India

By Ratnavathy Sivalingam, Malaysia

“It’s not just the rhythms that inspire me, but the story behind these age-old traditions and the musicians who are drumming new life into them!”

Meet Ireland-born Ruairi Glasheen, an award-winning percussionist, composer, presenter, filmmaker and educator with an unwavering devotion and love for percussion instruments from the world over. Several years ago, this passion brought him halfway around the globe to South India. While there, he produced a three-part documentary series called Hidden Drummers of India, with the intention of exploring the wealth and wonder of Indian percussion. Largely shot in Tamil Nadu and Bengaluru, the series places special focus on the less famous, centuries-old kanjira drum. Also spelled khanjiri or ghanjira, this South Indian frame drum hails from the tambourine family and is typically used in Carnatic music recitals, bhajans and folk music. Exquisitely and meticulously filmed, the series features renowned kanjira players such as Anirudh Athreya, Lata Ramachar, Harihara Sharma, Shree Sundarkumar and Sunad Anoor alongside phenomenal Carnatic percussionists Anoor Ananthakrishna Sharma, Ghatam Giridhar Udupa and Sachin Prakash. 

Lata Ramachar, India’s only female kanjira performance artist
Glasheen drumming with ghatam artist Giridhar Udupa

Hidden Drummers of India is a sequel to Glasheen’s earlier documentary, Hidden Drummers of Iran, which features experts of the tonbak (an Iranian goblet drum) from around the country. 

In an interview with the Times of India, Glasheen passionately affirmed that India is the greatest place on the globe to be a percussionist and one without a second for its rich tradition of percussion instruments. “After Iran, it was clear to me that the next film would be in India, as there are so many phenomenal instruments and inspirational players I want to learn from,” he stated.

Glasheen’s decision to  highlight the kanjira in the documentary was based on matters dear to his heart. Firstly, the kanjira resembles the bodhran, an Irish percussion instrument that sparked his love for drums as a child. He also strongly believes these traditional instruments are a part of a drummer’s culture, identity and roots and need to be preserved to avoid their extinction. Additionally, it is laborious to become proficient in the kanjira, despite its humble size. “It’s arguably one of the hardest percussion instruments from the Indian subcontinent to master, with only a handful of players who specialize in it,” Glasheen remarks.  Hence, it is paramount that the kanjira be preserved and its expert players be brought to the attention of the world in appreciation of their unique talent.

Hidden Drummers of India is an absolute pleasure to watch, elevating me to a sublime state of mind. It filled my heart with immense pride to belong to such a rich tradition of percussion instruments. Since its premier in August 2020, the series has garnered more than 300,000 views, and well-deserved accolades from percussion lovers all over the world who feel that it deserved to be released on platforms such as Netflix and National Geographic. This is true indeed. The series must reach far and wide for the world to experience the sheer brilliance of South Indian percussion—which, Glasheen believes, is the heartbeat of Indian culture. The full series can be found on YouTube.

Ratnavathy Sivalingam is a mother and entrepreneur in Malaysia who builds children’s confidence via storytelling, presentation skills and creative writing. She can be contacted at: