The mridangam is a barrel-shaped, double-headed drum with one head larger than the other, used in Carnatic (south Indian) music.

Not often do you see women playing the mridangam, but at Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam in rural Tamil Nadu, two 14-year-old girls play it with ease and elan. A. Sangeetha takes the lead and A. Srimathi follows with equal skill.

The Gurukulam is a residential school in Punjarasantangal village of Kanchipuram district. Here, students are trained in Kattaikkuttu, a rural theatre form practiced in the state, along with a regular school education up to Class 12. In addition to Kattaikkuttu singing, acting and make-up, all the students learn to play an instrument.

Namita Waikar is a writer, translator, and the managing editor of PARI. She is a partner in a chemistry databases firm, and has worked as a biochemist and a software project manager.

Other stories by Namita Waikar