Hariharan was born in Bombay on 3 April 1955 to famous Carnatic vocalists, the late Ananthasubramani and Srimati Alamelu. His first mentor in music was his mother and she helped him pick up the required skills in Carnatic music. Hariharan later developed an interest in Hindustani music as well. Hariharan has a bachelors degree in both science and law.
Hariharan lost his father when he was seven. But his jovial yet persistent nature and his love for music has given him the required success today. Hariharan is married to Lalitha. She is a mother of two boys Akshay and Karan. Lalitha manages Hari’s career and has been a pillar of strength in his life.
Hariharan developed an interest in singing ghazals and was trained by Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan. He also learnt Urdu and mastered the language. In 1977, Hariharan bagged the top prize in the All India Sur Singaar competition and was also signed by late music director Jaidev to sing for the Bollywood film ‘Gaman’. His career as a singer spiraled upwards after he sang the ghazal ‘Ajeeb Saane Hai mujh par qarar’. The song won Hariharan the Uttar Pradesh state award. His first ghazal album was ‘Abshaar-e-Ghazal’ with Asha Bhonsle which hit gold on sales. He followed it up with ‘Gulfam’. The album was a huge hit and won Hariharan the Diva Award for the Best Album of the year in 1994.
Hariharan also sang for a number of movies such as ‘Sahibaan’, ‘Lamhe’, ‘Raam Nagari’, ‘Dard Ke Rishte’, ‘Zamana’ and ‘Sindoor’. His stint with television serials was also successful. He sang for the hit serial ‘Junoon’ and followed it up with many others.
In 1993, Hariharan sang for the superhit movie ‘Roja’. The patriotic song ‘Thamizha thamizha’ was a big hit. The music was composed by A R Rahman. The combo of these two has given many hits which includes movies such as ‘Muthu’, ‘Minsara Kanavu’, ‘Jeans’, ‘Indian’, ‘Mudhalvan’, ‘Taal’, ‘Rangeela’, ‘Indira’, ‘Iruvar’, ‘Anbe Aaruyire’, ‘Sivaji’, ‘Alaipayuthey’, ‘Kannathil Muthamittal’ and many others. In 1995, Hariharan was adjudged ‘Best Male Playback Singer’ in the Tamilnadu State Government Film Awards for the song ‘Konjanaal poru thalaivaa’ from the movie Aasai. Other than Tamil and Hindi, he sings for languages such as Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu, and Bhojpuri movies.
Hariharan and Leslie Lewis formed the band Colonial Cousins in the year 1996. The Indian-English fusion album ‘Colonial Cousins’ was a hit and especially shot Hariharan to fame. It won many awards including the MTV Indian Viewers' Choice award and Billboard Award for the Best Asian Music Group. Leslie and Hariharan became the first Indians as well as first Asians to perform on this show. They also won the Channel [V] award. The song ‘Krishna’ won the award for Best Music Video at the 1997 Screen Videocon Awards. The exceptional Indian and Western music fusion was well received by millions of music lovers worldwide. The album had two major hit singles ‘Krishna’ and ‘Sa Ni Dha Pa’.
In the year 1998 the patriotic song ‘Mere dushman mere bhai’ from the Hindi movie "Border" won Hariharan the National Award for ‘Best Male Playback Singer’. In 2004, he was honoured with the “Padma Shri” by the Government of India.