In many fields and professions, gender equality has become a norm, yet despite their stage presence and amazing skill, women percussionists in Malaysia continue to struggle to earn their place in the limelight.
Kumari Thisheela‘s childhood love for the mridangam inspired her to excel in this predominantly male-dominated craft, and become the first female mridangam musician to complete her Mridangam Arangetram in 2006.
“On the morning of my arangetram, I was all prepared with full confidence. As I arrived at the hall, I was shocked to see the crowd that had come to witness my arangetram and started to sweat,” Thisheela said.
She remembers breaking down to her master, but with his encouragement and her family’s motivation, she ascended the stage and performed gracefully for the crowd present.
“The minute my arangetram was over, I breathed a sigh of relief. That was not too bad actually!” she said, chuckling.
The standing ovation from the audience gave her the assurance that she had done justice to this ancient art form. She felt proud and overwhelmed at the thought of being recognised as the first female mridangist to have completed the arangetram in Malaysia.
She felt a sense of achievement and that it was a divine blessing to mark as the beginning of her journey to enhance her skills and knowledge in the field.
As this was her passion, she didn’t encounter any difficulties. Thisheela never clouded her vision with the fact that the craft was male-dominated, as she felt that it would have been harder to stay focused that way. She believes in putting in hard work and giving it her best shot in order to achieve her goals.
The late Mr Ambalam, Thisheela’s great grandfather, is the one who inspired her to play the Mridangam as a hobby a long time ago.
At the age of fourteen, Thisheela started to take mridangam lessons under the tutelage of Sri Hari Chandran Panjanathan. She thanks her brothers Nadesh Tharmalingam and Ganesan Tharmalingam, for their continued encouragement.
In her 23 year journey thus far, she has actively participated in the yearly navarathri festivals at various temples around Malaysia. One of the most significant performances was the Thalavathya Katchery together with her Guru, and his senior students for Sangeetha Pitamaha Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer’s Samarpana which was organised by Sangeethalayam.
This talented lady has had many opportunities to travel abroad namely India to perform for dance and vocal programs.
Besides the mridangam, Thisheela who hails from Petaling Jaya, stated that she also learned Indian classical dance under the tutelage of Shrimathi Shamala Narayanan at the Temple of Fine Arts since the age of eight, and can also play the Ghatam (clay pot), Ganjira (Indian tambourine), and the Dhol (north Indian double barrel drum).
This 37-year-old is now working as a Senior Head of Human Resources at an International School. Even with her busy schedule, she still finds the time to conduct mridangam classes and says she’s grateful and happy to hand down her knowledge to the younger generation.
This 18th December, Thisheela will be performing at “Nityataa; An Evening Of Traditional Music” a 180-minute concert organised by Thrive Talent Tank, alongside 26 other talented Malaysian musicians who have all completed their arangetrams at various stages in their musical journey. This concert is supported by Yayasan Hasanah for its ArtsFAS 2021 edition and CENDANA as part of its Performing Arts Presentation Funding. This will by far be the largest, and the very first time where Malaysian Indian classical acts will emerge on one stage. The invitations to this concert have been sold out, and the only way to catch it is to follow @thrivetalenttank’s Facebook and Instagram for further details on the premier’s release.
Contact or WhatsApp +6011 2331 5021 for further details.