Nandini Varma, an Ayurvedic doctor by profession, is also the only serious chenda woman professional in the annual festival circuits in Kerala. The chenda (drum) is an inseparable part of Kerala’s sacred rituals and festivities which has historically monopolised by men. The rigour the chenda demands — its unwieldy, heavy form slung across chests left bare as a mark of respect to deities — ensured women were never a part of the picture. Nandini has spent several years practicing the art, all while battling the gender bias across temple establishments in the state. Today, she plays the chenda across several reputed temples across Kerala.
Nandini’s passion for the art won her many laurels as a noted artist. In 2011, she won Kottakkal Krishnankutty Aasan Memorial award for Thayambaka. In 2015, Nandini and her husband entered the Limca Book of Records for staging the first couple Thayampaka performance.