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Expose children to all types of music, do not force them to learn: Shankar Mahadevan and Hariharan

Divya Sreedharan Divya Sreedharan 4 Mins Read

Divya Sreedharan Divya Sreedharan


Written For ParentCircle Website new design update

The two maestros don't just create and perform, they breathe music. In an exclusive interview, they speak about working with AR Rahman, teaching music to children and using it as therapy

Pre-schooler to 18+
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Expose children to all types of music, do not force them to learn: Shankar Mahadevan and Hariharan

The first thing you notice about singer-composer-actor Shankar Mahadevan is his boundless energy. His good friend Hariharan, ghazal maestro and fusion music pioneer, is a quieter presence. What’s common though is the musical genius, which pulses from deep within both of them. That’s why they are not just popular, but highly revered.

But nowhere was their abiding connection to music more evident than at the second edition of the ‘Guru Kripa’ awards in Bangalore, organized by Mahadevan’s music school, the Shankar Mahadevan Academy (SMA). The awards are meant to honor unrecognized gurus from the world of music. Especially enough, one of the recipients of the award this year is Hariharan’s mother and his first guru, Vidushi Alamelu Mani.

On the sidelines of the event, Mahadevan and Hariharan took time from their super busy schedules to chat with ParentCircle. Our discussion ranges from their ‘jingle king’ days, to working with AR Rahman, and of course, their journey as musicians. Here are excerpts from the interaction:

On music…

Shankar Mahadevan: Music energizes me. It has an energy that goes beyond any language or form.

Hariharan: I find joy through music. Music is a tranquilizer and a healer. I can close my eyes and sing, and my stress is gone. No medicine can do that. Growing up, I was surrounded by music, learning varnams and kirthanas from my mother. But I was attracted to ghazals after listening to Mehdi Hassan (a legendary Pakistani singer) and was determined to learn Hindustani classical as well. My family did not stop me. Because all music, at a certain level, emits the same energy.

On teaching music to children...

Shankar: Never force anything upon children. If you do so, they will not be receptive. Rather, subtly expose them to good music. Then, subconsciously they will absorb music. That is what I did with my children. After all, children are sponges, they will absorb anything.

Hariharan: Expose children to music, be it any genre, any language. They will then react to it. Just ensure that there is music in their lives.

On commonalities…

Shankar: We are both 'jingle kings', singing jingles in the early days of our career. We share many things. For instance, we grew up in the Chembur-Matunga music scene in Mumbai. We are also neighbors, literally. Our farmhouses in Karjat are divided by a wall (Karjat is a green and serene town, close to Mumbai).

On working with AR Rahman...

Shankar: People always ask how it is to work with Rahman. He does not tell the singer to sing in a particular way or style. He puts the music in a loop and allows the singer to sing. That way, the singer contributes and adds value to the song. That is how all singing should be.

Hariharan: Rahman came to Mumbai to ask me to sing a jingle for an advertisement. The jingle didn’t get approved, but he told me he was doing a film with Mani Ratnam. That is how I sang Tamizha Tamizha.

Message for parents...

Shankar: Just like we teach our children, there are lots to learn from our children too. So, learn from your children.

Hariharan: As parents, nurture your children, put them in safe and secure surroundings and give them a good education. They will decide what they want to do. It is a calling. If it is a passion or a calling, they will love what they do.

Music for Autism and ADHD...

SMA offers virtual classes and courses in music. The academy aims to make music universal and accessible to all. Present in 76 countries, with 20,000 students, SMA has conducted nearly 100,000 virtual classes to date. SMA believes music can also be immensely beneficial for children from the autism spectrum and those with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), as music enhances social skills, attention, concentration, as well as motor and perceptual skills.


Shankar Mahadevan:

  • Hugely popular for the Hindi film music he composes and creates with Ehsaan Noorani and Loy Mendonsa, a trio better known as Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy (SEL).
  • Their latest work can be heard in the Hindi movies Raazi and Soorma.
  • Shot to fame with his super-hit music album 'Breathless: and has received several state and national level awards, both for songs and compositions.
  • Won the National Award for the Best Male Playback Singer in 2000, 2007 and 2012.
  • Jointly won the National Award for the Best Music Direction in 2004 (along with Ehsaan and Loy).


  • Has sung over 500 Tamil songs, about 200 Hindi songs, and a sizable number in other languages, including Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Bengali.
  • One of his most popular songs, Uyire (Tu Hi Re) from the movie Bombay with music by A R Rahman has won the hearts of many.
  • Joined hands with Lesle Lewis to lead the fusion music scene in India, with their band, The Colonial Cousins.
  • Their hits include Krishna and Sa Ni Dha Pha.
  • Won National Award for the Best Male Playback Singer in 1998 and 2009.
  • Conferred with the Padma Shri in 2004.

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