lec-dem Music

Techniques of the tabla

Pandit Abhijit Banerjee Photo : S. R. Raghunathan

Pandit Abhijit Banerjee Photo : S. R. Raghunathan   | Photo Credit: S_R_Raghunathan

Pt. Abhijit Banerjee looks at the different gharanas and styles of this percussion instrument

In his lec-dem, ‘Tabla in Farukhabad gharana’ at the Music Academy, Pt. Abhijit Banerjee, torch-bearer of this style, spoke about different gharanas and the stylistic differences within a specific gharana.

A unique Indian tala vadya, the tabla is a the two-drum instrument featuring a central black portion (syahi) made from a mix of iron ore, charcoal and rice paste, on its playing surfaces. The timbre of the tabla varies, depending on whether it is made in Mumbai or Kolkata, the two main crafting centres. In Mumbai-made instruments, the central black portion is flat, yielding a steady, harsh sound, while in Kolkata, it is shaped in concentric rings, producing a softer sound. On the wider left drum head (duggi/bayan), the black circle is strategically positioned off centre, to help generate more gamaks and sound patterns.

Played at the beginning of a tabla solo, a peshkar is a composition that includes all the bols (syllables) and layakaris (rhythmic patterns). Each gharana boasts of its own peshkar.

Among the six main gharanas of tabla playing, the Delhi gharana, originating in the Mughal capital, is considered the oldest. The pakhawaj pre-dated the tabla. A popular but unsubstantiated story goes that about 700 years ago, Sultan Allauddin Khilji sliced a pakhawaj into halves with his sword, thus creating the tabla.

Under the patronage of Amir Khusro, this instrument underwent further evolution. The performing style of the Delhi school is known as bandh baaj, as its exponents mainly use the kinar (edge) and middle portion while playing. This style gained renown on the strength of the artistry of Ustad Latif Ahmed Khan (1942-1989), known for his signature ‘qaidas’ (themed composition). All tabla players are indebted to the Delhi school which focuses on qaidas and uses only two fingers to play the bols.

The Ajrara gharana, a demanding style founded by Miru and Kallu Khan, also follows this playing technique but emphasises a specific bol and the tisra gati. An audio clip of Ajrara maestro Ustad Habibuddin Khan demonstrated the USP. While Ajrara exponents would play ‘dha’ on the kinar, maestro Ustad Akram Khan played the ‘dha’ on the sur. In olden times, a markedly different fingering technique prevailed, particularly evident in the manner of changing the ‘bols’ from single to double. These secret techniques were exclusive father-son legacies.

In Lucknow, a new gharana evolved, shaped by the close-woven interface of Kathak, sarangi and tabla artists. Called ‘khula baaj’ (open) playing only on the middle portion and not on the edge, it matched the dancers’ vigour. Pt. Swapan Chaudhuri is a renowned contemporary exponent.

The Farukhabad gharana, an off-shoot of the Lucknow school, dates back to the 12th century. Its creator was a Rajput court musician Akaasa, who later converted to Islam and changed his name to Mir Akaasa. He is credited with introducing ‘bols’ into tabla vocabulary. This style began playing ‘tira kita’ more easily, by using the middle finger. Better known for compositional forms than qaidas, this school’s forte includes the lau and chalan.

Mir Akaasa’s descendant, Ustad Haji Vilayat Ali Khan (1779-1826) named this gharana after the province where he lived i.e. Farukhabad in UP. His disciples, Munir Khan and Nanhe Khan are also among the Khalifas of Farukhabad. Drawn by the patronage of zamindars, their descendants settled in Kolkata which quickly became a flourishing arts hub and established the Punjab gharana, made world-famous by Ustads Alla Rakha and Zakir Hussain. Their specialities encompass the challenging misra-gati bols, tihais and swift intricate rhythms influenced by south Indian percussion.

Benaras, the only Hindu-stronghold gharana, displays the three finger playing technique, utilising the tabla’s middle portion and occasional kinar to define dynamics. A famed exponent is Pt. Kishan Maharaj.

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 10:57:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/Pt.-Abhijit-Banerjee-lec-dem-on-the-tabla-was-insightful/article17353337.ece

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