Author - ITC SRA
Percussion instruments have been an essential part of music in India from time immemorial. They can be seen in Indian temple sculptures dating back thousands of years. The tabla, a pair of tuned drums played with both hands, is the principal percussion instrument used in North Indian Classical Music today. The mastery of this simple, yet complex percussion instrument requires remarkable dexterity, knowledge and years of disciplined practice.
Very broadly, the predecessors of the tabla were the ‘mrudung’ and then ‘pakhawaj’. The tabla evolved about 200 years ago. While the pakhawaj was the accompanying percussion with dhrupad, the present form of tabla became popular in the royal courts of Delhi during the 17th and 18th centuries, in tandem with the rise of khayal and thumri. The musician who pioneered the most significant developments in the tabla technique and repertoire was Siddhar Khan Dhaadhi (b. around 1700 AD)
Dhaadhi founded the Delhi tabla gharana. His grandsons and their various disciples carried the art of tabla playing to other major centres of North Indian cultural life. This dispersion and dissemination naturally led to the evolution of a number of distinct regional performance styles. Today these tabla schools or gharanas commonly include those of Delhi, Ajrara, Benaras, Farukhabad and Lucknow. A sixth style, the Punjab gharana, which evolved independently in what is present-day Pakistan, is also included in this list. Delhi and Benaras are the two oldest gharanas.
The tabla is usually used to accompany a vocalist or instrumentalist in the performance of Hindustani Classical Music. Until this century, solo tabla was almost absent from the concert stage. It was largely due to the efforts of some of the great tabla players of this century, Ustad Ahmed Jan Thirakwa, Pandit Jnan Prakash Ghosh, Pandit Nikhil Ghosh and Ustad Alla Rakha, that the tabla came to be recognised and respected as a solo instrument capable of being featured centre-stage.
The compositions played on tabla are essentially Peshkar, Kayada, Paran, and Gat. But the dominance of each of these varies between one individual gharana and another. For example, while Delhi emphasises kayada and peshkar, Farukhabad stresses on gat and chaala chalan and Benaras, on uthan, rela and bol baant.