History Of Tabla

The History of Tabla has many faces, as over time many different theories took place. But here we are only adding up a few most authentic. The word Tabla derives from the word “Tabal” – Which is an Arabic Word. There are a few different beliefs regarding the origin of Tabla. We are here to add a few theories about it. Some scholars believed that tabla is made from a two-sided percussion instrument Pakhawaj or Mridang.

This is a two-sided barrel drum. On one side (treble) a fixed mixture of syahi is applied for the tonals and on the other side, pakhawaj players apply a handmade dough mixture every time they play their instrument. The dough is used to produce base sound and they remove it just after finishing their practice or performance. Pakhawaj or Mridang is believed to be an ancient instrument and can be found in ancient scripts as old as 2000 years. The evolution of Tabla suggest by some mythic stories is that Pakhawaj breaks into two parts and when the artist played it. Tabla produced a sound and then they said,” Tab-Bhi-Bola” which means It still speaks. But this is a controversial statement.

There was a war-zone drum which is a two-piece percussion instrument used in wars to boost the morale of warriors called “Tabla-Jung”. Some theories also point to “Nagara”, “Dukad”, and some other instruments as the origin of Tabla. There is also a mythic story about a sage named “Swati Muni” who created this instrument but this story is not very much agreed upon as there were no signs of any tabla player in his time or later.

There is also a very popular story that Hazrat Ameer Khusro was the creator of the instrument but there are no solid pieces of evidence are available regarding his work on Tabla instrument.

The most agreed and significant evidence about the origin of the Tabla instrument is that a Pakhawaj player named Ustad Sidhar Khan ‘Daadhi’ (Dhadi tradition belongs to Punjab). It is mentioned many scholars that he was the first one who changed the playing style of pakhawaj and also the dough-applying technique of Pakhawaj with a permanent syahi or gab. He is known as the creator and the first player of the instrument “Tabla”. He belongs to Punjab but still, it is mentioned that Tabla started in Delhi as He was in Delhi State when he first introduced the instrument and its playing technique. Later on, his sons, grandsons, and students did a tremendous job in the area of Tabla and announced the very first Tabla School or Gharana as DELHI GHARANA.

So this is our view on the History of Tabla that U. Sidhar khan Dhadi is the one who created this instrument.

Gharanas of Tabla

Before starting a discussion about this topic, it is necessary to understand the phrase- Gharana. It can also be called a lineage or tradition. Just as a descendant takes over the form of a family, in the same way when a playing style, Guru-Shishya (Teacher-Disciple) Tradition grows it forms a Gharana.
A total of six Gharanas of Tabla were recognized in Indian Music - Delhi Gharana, Ajrada Gharana, Lucknow Gharana, Farukhabad Gharana, Banaras Gharana, and Punjab Gharana. All of these Gharanas have their own playing style(in some manner), lessons, and execution of Bols. Let us discuss the Origin, Development, and Characteristics of these Gharanas along with a composition as an example.

Anatomy Of Tabla

This North Indian instrument has two parts – Tabla (Treble Drum) and Bayan (Base Drum). Both the drums are covered with Goat Skin from the top to produce sound. To produce these sounds Tabla Players hit on three main areas of the Tabla head(Pudi / Puri) – Kinaar or Chanti, Sur or Maidan, & Shyahi or Gab. The outer circle of skin is called kinaar or chanti, the lower skin of puri or puri is called Maidan or sur, and the black circle in the center is called syahi or gab. This syahi is made up of the paste of rice and iron dust. There are two round pillows which we use to balance the Tabla and bayan, called gadde, binnu. Both drums have an approx. 10–12-inch height and hollow from the inner shell.

Tabla (right hand drum)

Tabla is smaller in size with a pitch tone. It is made up of different kinds of wood like – Sheesham, Khair, Mango, Safeda, Vijaysar, Neem. Its standard diameter from the top would be between 5.5 inches to 6 inches (5 -5.25 inches is also an option available) mostly as per the requirement and need of the player. The Tabla Player usually tune it to C# (Sa or Pehla Kala), D# (Re or Doosra Kala), or G# (Pa or Pancham).

Bayan or Dagga (left hand drum)

On the other hand, Bayan (Base Drum) is made up of metals like –Copper & Bronze – Higher Quality Drum, Silver & Steel – lower Quality Drum with a diameter of 9”-9.25” inches on top as per requirement. It produces the base sound and the artist can produce different sound effects by adjusting his hand movement and pressure on the drum. In the older days artists also used wooden or clay bayans. Clay Base drums can be seen in the present time but rarely.

Tabla Maintenance
This is also an essential part of the learning tabla. An artist or student should learn to maintain or repair his/her instrument. I am using both statements - maintain and repair as we need to learn in both ways. Let us discuss this difference.

 Maintaining Tabla – This requires Tuning, Playing, and storing the drum.

Learning Tabla

Learning Tabla, when we are discussing it, means we are talking about learning a whole new language of expressions and emotions. Tabla has its own language to interact with people & instruments. To start learning tabla one should prepare his/her mindset as he/she is going to start a long journey. To be a good Tabla player or artist we should dedicate at least 5-7 years under a well-qualified teacher. This is a long journey in which students have to deal with many issues like what to Riyaz? How to Riyaz? How much time to Practice? And so on. But His/Her master will help him/her throughout their journey. But still there is a common pattern to learn tabla. Which we are suggesting here:

  • Hand Posture

  • Tabla Phrases

  • Basic Exercises

  • Basic Compositions like kayda, Rela, Etc

  • Intermediate Lessons as suggested by the teacher

  • Slowly as students build a good understanding of rhythm and phrases masters teach them to advance composition sets along with techniques they use.

[Note: This is just an example. Every instructor has their own course or suggestions. We are just providing an estimate idea.]

In the traditional style of learning, students should reach to their master and learn his lessons and this practice is still the best to learn tabla in the serious or correct way. But as we all know due to this pandemic COVID-19 everyone is bound to be at home. Which affects the learning process to a limit.

However in the present time, In the age of technology many teachers and students are sharing their knowledge via the internet – Youtube, Vimeo, Udemy, etc. This also has one more face that in present time most of the people are reaching to the masters via internet and trying to Learn Tabla Online. In this series, a huge number of official tutoring websites or private websites are attracting people to visit and learn Tabla Online via a variety of internet sources like Skype, Zoom, Duo, Meets, Whatsapp, FB Messenger, Etc. This is what we can say “Digital World, Digital Learning”.

But still, we believe that the traditional guru-shishya parampara is the best way to learn Tabla.

Introduction to Taals

This topic defines the basic structure of Taal including - number of beats, divisions, taali-khali, and theka of Taal. ITs is a very important aspect in Tabla as this is the base of every performance. A player should start his performance by defining the Taal structure with the help of Theka.

(Click Here For Taal Thekas)

Taal ke 10 Praan

Taal ke 10 Praan or 10 Salient features of Taal are mentioned In ancient texts. These are given as much importance in context of Taal, as we need air in the human body. Narada composed Granth “Sangeet Makaranda” describes a verse For these 10 Praans of Taal

Kalo MargKriyangani Grahojati: Kala Laya: ||

Yati Prastarkashcheti Taalprana Dus Simrita: ||

This verse means Kaal, Marg, Kriya, Ang, Grah, Jati, Kala, Laya, Yati, and Prastar are known as Taal ke 10 Praan or 10 Salient features of Taal. Let us now discuss these topics

  • Kaal
  • Marg
  • Kriya
  • Ang
  • Grah
  • Jati
  • Kala
  • Laya
  • Yati
  • Prastar

(Click Here to read about them in Detail)

Importance of Tabla in Indian Classical Music

Tabla is the most important percussion instrument in Indian Classical music. It has a high value in both Raga and Tala. It is just because of its versatility, ambiance, capability to indulge in any kind of music, and tonal perfection. However, the most primary use of Tabla is to provide the Tala or to show a particular beat Cycle (Avartan) and Tempo (speed). Tabla is like a pillar of Indian Classical Music.

Tabla provides a rhythmic base or tempo to the entire performance. Since the main performer will constantly refer to the Tabla, there must be a fixed pattern that may be universally understood and believed. This pattern or composition is known as Theka. Theka is the composition by which we can identify a Taal Cycle. Furthermost, Theka represents a fixed cycle or repetition of phrase group of Tabla to show and maintain a fixed Time-Cycle so that the co-performer can perform or improvise.

On Top of this Tabla is also known as a solo instrument in which a pro player can improvise and perform for hours. (Click Here to watch those much longer performances). The melodious instrument can fill the audience with joy, excitement, emotion, and amazement. However, the Tabla Player must show sophistication with his/her performance to be able to connect with their audience. This can be achieved by a rich repertoire of compositions, training, and Riyaz (practice). When talking about a rich repertoire of compositions, it includes a vast variety of composition types like – Uthan, Peshkar, Kayda, Rela, Tukda, Chakardar, Gat, Paran, Ladi-Laggi, etc.

Tabla is an instrument that is capable of demonstrating beat patterns of a wide variety of percussion instruments. Hence, This beholds the importance the Tabla holds in Indian Classical Music.

Comparative Study of Taals

Comparative Study of Taals which we have also known as comparison of taal. This comparison is done on the basis - Vibhags, Taali-Khali, Laya, Use, Compositions played in concerned taal, etc. This comparison is very useful and important as with this we can differentiate the taals according to their nature, use and impact. We have a large number of taals with the same amount of beats but still, they have their own independent identity in Indian Classical Music. In this article, we try to describe as much as we can. Let us have a look at this comparison of the taal / Taalon ka Tulnatmak Adhyan of the following taal groups.

  1. Jhaptaal & Sooltaal
  2. Ektaal & Chartaal
  3. DeepChandi, Jhoomra & Dhamaar
  4. Ada Chautaal & Farodust
  5. Pancham Sawari & Gaj Jhampa
  6. Teen Taal & Tilwada
  7. Roopak & Tivra

(Click here to read in Detail)

Concept of Rhythm in Indian Music

In Indian History, music has been associated with the period of time. It is believed that the gods created music and musical instruments in which many deities are also added. Like; Damro to Lord Shiva, Pakhawaj to Lord Ganesh, Veena to Goddess Saraswati, Flute to Lord Krishna, etc. In India, very much respect and honor are given to music and musical instruments in India due to their religious connection, which cannot be found anywhere else in the whole world. In ancient music scripts, music is stated for singing, playing, and Dancing.
The smallest unit of measuring time in the Indian music period is Matra or Beat and the rhythm is formed from the group of Matras or Beats. The Tempo or Laya is the cornerstone of music in which it attains its original purpose. It has been mentioned in the context of Taal that 'T' was created by the Dance of Lord Shiva (Tandava) and 'L' was created from the Dance of Parvati (Lasya).
According to Ancient Musical text Sageet Makrand, the continent, which is a recurring period of time, which holds the foundation of the song, instrumental, and dance on itself, is called the Laya.
Based on the Laya, it is a process that provides a proper and meaningful form to any musical Composition. Just as the threaded pearl in a garland looks beautiful after clinging together in one's lanyard, the music (singing, playing, Dancing) tied in the rhythm looks also meaningful and beautiful.
Indian musical texts have recorded 10 Praanas of Taal – Time or Duration (Kaal), Path (Marg), Action (kriya), Grouping (Ang), Position (Greh), Type (Jati) or Classification, Number of Sound Syllables in a Matra or Beat (Kala), Time Progression (Laya), Yati(Change in Speed) and Prastar(The way you improvise a rhythm).

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