Tabla

Prop. Tabla.jpg
Percussion instrument
Classification Membranophone percussion instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 211.12
(Sets of instruments in which the body of the drum is dish- or bowl-shaped)
Developed 18th century, North India (modern tabla)
Playing range
One octave (variable)[1][2]
Related instruments
Pakhavaj, mridangam, khol, dholak, nagara, madal, tbilat
A demo of Tabla playing

The tabla[nb 1] is a pair of twin hand drums from the Indian subcontinent. Since 18th century, tabla has been the principal percussion instrument in Hindustani classical music,[3] where it may be played solo, as accompaniment with other instrument and vocals, and as a part of larger ensembles. Tabla is also frequently played in popular and folk music performances in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.[4][5] The tabla is also an important instrument in the bhakti devotional traditions of Hinduism and Sikhism, such as during bhajan and kirtan singing.[6][7] It is one of the main qawali instrument used by Sufi musicians.[8] Tabla also features in dance performances such as Kathak.[9]

The name tabla likely comes from tabl, the Persian and Arabic word for drum.[10] The ultimate origin of the musical instrument is contested by scholars, though some trace its evolution from indigenous musical instruments of the Indian subcontinent.[11]

The tabla consists of two small drums of slightly different sizes and shapes.[4][12] Each drum is made of hollowed out wood, clay or metal. The smaller drum (daya) is used for creating treble and tonal sounds, while the primary function of the larger drum (bayan) is for producing bass. They are laced with hoops, thongs and wooden dowels on its sides. The dowels and hoops are used to tighten the tension of the membranes for tuning the drums.[13]

The playing technique is complex and involves extensive use of the fingers and palms in various configurations to create a wide variety of different sounds and rhythms, reflected in mnemonic syllables (bol).

Origins

tabla
An old tabla

The history of tabla is unclear, and there are multiple theories regarding its origins.[11][14] There are two groups of theories, one that traces its origins to Muslim and Mughal invaders of the Indian subcontinent, the other traces it to indigenous origins.[11] One example of the latter theory is carvings in Bhaja Caves. However, clear pictorial evidence of the drum emerges only from about 1745, and the drum continued to develop in shape until the early 1800s.[15]

Indian origins

Five Gandharvas (celestial musicians) from 4th-5th century CE. Two of them are playing drums, but these don't look like tabla. Other temple carvings do. [16] [17]

The Indian theory traces the origin of tabla to indigenous ancient civilization. The stone sculpture carvings in Bhaja Caves depict a woman playing a pair of drums, which some have claimed as evidence for the ancient origin of the tabla in India.[18][19] A different version of this theory states that the tabla acquired a new Arabic name during the Islamic rule, having evolved from ancient Indian puskara drums. The evidence of the hand-held puskara is founded in many temple carvings, such as at the 6th and 7th century Muktesvara and Bhuvaneswara temples in India.[14][16][20] These arts show drummers who are sitting, with two or three separate small drums, with their palm and fingers in a position as if they are playing those drums.[16] However, it is not apparent in any of these ancient carvings that those drums were made of the same material and skin, or played the same music, as the modern tabla.[16]

The textual evidence for similar material and methods of construction as tabla comes from Sanskrit texts. The earliest discussion of tabla-like musical instrument building methods are found in the Hindu text Natyashastra. This text also includes descriptions of paste-patches (syahi) such as those found on a tabla.[16] The Natyashastra also discusses how to play these drums. The South Indian text Silappatikaram, likely composed in the early centuries of 1st millennium CE, describes thirty types of drums along with many stringed and other instruments. These are, however, called pushkara; the name tabla appears in later periods.[21]

Muslim and Mughal origins

This theory is based on the etymological links of the word tabla to Arabic word tabl which means "drum". Beyond the root of the word, this proposal points to the documentary evidence that the Muslim armies had hundreds of soldiers on camels and horses carrying paired drums as they invaded the Indian subcontinent. They would beat these drums to scare the residents, the non-Muslim armies, their elephants and chariots, that they intended to attack. However, the war drums did not look or sound anything like tabla, they were large paired drums and were called naqqara (noise, chaos makers).[11]

Another version states that Amir Khusraw, a musician patronized by Sultan Alauddin Khalji invented the tabla when he cut an Awaj drum, which used to be hourglass shaped, into two parts. However, no painting or sculpture or document dated to his period supports it with this evidence nor it was found in the list of musical instruments that were written down by Muslim historians. For example, Abul Fazi included a long list of musical instruments in his Ain-i-akbari written in the time of the 16th century Mughal Emperor Akbar, the generous patron of music. Abul Fazi's list makes no mention of tabla.[11]

The third version credits the invention of tabla to the 18th century musician, with a similar sounding name Amir Khusru, where he is suggested to have cut a Pakhawaj into two to create tabla. Miniature paintings of this era show instruments that sort of look like tabla. This theory implies that tabla emerged from within the Muslim community of Indian subcontinent and were not an Arabian import.[11][22] However, scholars such as Neil Sorrell and Ram Narayan state that this legend of cutting a pakhawaj drum into two to make tabla drums "cannot be given any credence".[13]

History

200 BCE carvings at Buddhist Bhaja Caves, Maharashtra, India showing a woman playing a pair of drums and another dancer performing. [23]

Drums and Talas are mentioned in the Vedic era texts.[24][25] A percussion musical instrument with two or three small drums, held with strings, called Pushkara (also spelled Pushkala) were in existence in pre-5th century Indian subcontinent along with other drums such as the Mridang, but these are not called tabla then.[26] The pre-5th century paintings in the Ajanta Caves, for example, show a group of musicians playing small tabla-like upright seated drums, a kettle-shaped mridang drum and cymbals.[27] Similar artwork with seated musicians playing drums, but carved in stone, are found in the Ellora Caves,[28] and others.[29]

Some drums of central India that look like tabla, but they do not have Syahi which creates the unique Tabla sound.

A type of small Indian drums, along with many other musical instruments, are also mentioned in Tibetan and Chinese memoirs written by Buddhist monks who visited the Indian subcontinent in the 1st millennium CE. The pushkala are called rdzogs pa (pronounced dzokpa) in Tibetan literature.[30] The pushkara drums are also mentioned in many ancient Jainism and Buddhism texts, such as Samavayasutra, Lalitavistara and Sutralamkara.[31]

Various Hindu and Jain temples, such as the Eklingji in Udaipur, Rajasthan show stone carvings of a person playing tabla-like small pair of drums. Small drums were popular during the Yadava rule (1210 to 1247) in the south, at the time when Sangita Ratnakara was written by Sarangadeva. Madhava Kandali, 14th century Assamese poet and writer of Saptakanda Ramayana, lists several instruments in his version of "Ramayana", such as tabal, jhajhar, dotara, vina, rudra-vipanchi, etc. (meaning that these instruments existed since his time in 14th century or earlier).There is recent iconography of the tabla dating back to 1799.[32] This theory is now obsolete with iconography carvings found in Bhaje caves providing solid proof that the tabla was used in ancient India. There are Hindu temple carvings of double hand drums resembling the tabla that date back to 500 BCE.[33] The tabla was spread widely across ancient India. A Hoysaleshwara temple in Karnataka shows a carving of a woman playing a tabla in a dance performance.[34]

According to classifications of musical instruments defined in the Natyashastra, Tabla is classified in the Avanadha Vadya category of rhythm instruments which are made by capping an empty vessel with a stretched skin.[24]

Construction and features

The tabla consists of two single-headed, barrel-shaped small drums of slightly different sizes and shapes: daya and baya for left and right drums respectively.[4][12]

Ustad Zakir Hussain performing at Konark, Odisha. This illustrates the common sitting position used by tabla players.

The smaller drum, played with the dominant hand, is called dayan (literally "right" side ), dāhina, siddha or chattū, but is correctly called the "tabla." It is made from a conical piece of mostly teak and rosewood hollowed out to approximately half of its total depth. The daya tabla is played by the musician's right hand (dominant hand), and is about 15 centimetres (~6 in) in diameter and 25 centimetres (~10 in) high. The drum is tuned to a specific note, usually either the tonic, dominant or subdominant of the soloist's key and thus complements the melody. This is the ground note of the raga called Sa (tonic in India music).[4] The tuning range is limited although different dāyāñs are produced in different sizes, each with a different range. Cylindrical wood blocks, known as gatta, are inserted between the strap and the shell allowing tension to be adjusted by their vertical positioning. Fine tuning is achieved while striking vertically on the braided portion of the head using a small, heavy hammer. While tabla usually features two drums, a tabla tarang may consist of 10-16 dayas to perform melodies based on several ragas.

The baya tabla is a bit bigger and deep kettledrum shaped, about 20 centimetres (~8 in) in diameter and 25 centimetres (~10 in) in height. It played with the non-dominant hand, is called bāyāñ (literally "left") duggī or dhāmā (correctly called "dagga"), has a much deeper bass tone, much like its distant cousin, the kettle drum. The bāyāñs can be found to be made up of many different types of materials. Brass is the most common, copper is more expensive, but generally held to be the best, while aluminum and steel are often found in inexpensive models. Sometimes wood is used, especially in old bāyāñs from the Punjab. Clay is also used, although not favored for durability; these are generally found in the North-East region of Bengal. The baya construction and tuning is about a fifth to an octave below that of the daya drum. The musician uses his hand's heel pressure to change the pitch and tone colour of each drum during a performance.[4][13]

The head of each drum has a central area of "tuning paste" called the syahi (lit. "ink"; a.k.a. shāī or gāb). Syahi is common in many drums of Indian origin. This method allows these drums to produce harmonic overtones and is responsible for their unique sound.[35] Syahi is constructed using multiple layers of a paste made from starch (rice or wheat) mixed with a black powder of various origins. The precise construction and shaping of this area is responsible for modification of the drum's natural overtones, resulting in the clarity of pitch (see inharmonicity) and variety of tonal possibilities unique to this instrument which has a bell-like sound. The skill required for the proper construction of this area is highly refined and is the main differentiating factor in the quality of a particular instrument. The earliest discussion of these paste-patches are found in the Hindu text Natyashastra.[36]

For stability while playing, each drum is positioned on a toroidal bundle called chutta or guddi, consisting of plant fiber or another malleable material wrapped in cloth. They are commonly played while sitting cross-legged on the floor.

Musical notation

Keharwa Tala written in Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande Notation. The bols are written in both Latin and Devanagri. The Matras (beat measure) are specified using numerals. 'X' indicates Sum (first beat) and 'O' serves as an indicator for Khaali.

Indian music is traditionally practice-oriented and until the 20th century did not employ written notations as the primary media of instruction, understanding, or transmission. The rules of Indian music and compositions themselves are taught from a guru to a shishya, in person. Thus oral notation for playing tabla strokes and compositions is very developed and exact. These are made up of onomatopoetic syllables and are known bols.

Written notation is regarded as a matter of taste and is not standardized. Thus there is no universal system of written notation for the rest of the world to study Indian music. The two popular systems for writing notations were created by Vishnu Digambar Paluskar and Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande.[37][38] These notations are named after their creators respectively. Both these systems have bols written down in a script such as Latin or Devanagri. The differences arise in representation of various concepts of a compositions, such as Taali, Khaali, Sum (the first beat in a rhythmic cycle), and Khand (divisions). Another difference is the use of numerals in the Vishnu Narayan Bhatkande system to represent matras and beat measures, whereas more sophisticated symbols are used in the Vishnu Digambar Paluskar system to denote one matra, its fractions and combinations.[37]

Basic strokes

Tabla's repertoire and techniques borrow many elements from Pakhavaj and Mridangam, which are played sideways using one's palms. The physical structure of these drums also share similar components: the smaller pakhavaj head for the dayan, the naqqara kettledrum for the bayan, and the flexible use of the bass of the dholak.[39] Tabla is played from the top and uses "finger tip and hand percussive" techniques allowing more complex movements.[40] The rich language of table is made up of permutations of some basic strokes. These basic strokes are divided into 5 major categories along with a few examples:[38][41]

  1. Bols played on the dayan (right / treble drum)
    • Na: striking the edge of the syahi with the last two fingers of the right hand
    • Ta or Ra: striking sharply with the index finger against the rim while simultaneously applying gentle pressure to the edge of the syahi with the ring finger to suppress the fundamental vibration mode
    • Tin: placing the last two fingers of the right hand lightly against the syahi and striking on the border between the syahi and the maidan (resonant)
    • Te: striking the center of the syahi with the middle finger in Delhi gharana, or using middle, ring, and little fingers together in Varanasi style (non resonant)
    • Ti: striking the center of the syahi with the index finger (non resonant)
    • Tun: striking the center of the syahi with the index finger to excite the fundamental vibration mode (resonant)
    • TheRe: striking of syahi with palm
  2. Bols played on bayan (left / bass drum)
    • Ghe: holding wrist down and arching the fingers over the syahi; the middle and ring-fingers then strike the maidan (resonant)
    • Ga: striking the index finger
    • Ka, Ke, or Kat: (on bayan) striking with the flat palm and fingers (non resonant)
  3. Bols played on both the drums on unison
    • Dha: combination of Na and (Ga or Ghe)
    • Dhin: combination of Tin and (Ga or Ghe)
  4. Bols played one after another in a successive manner
    • Ti Re Ki Ta
    • TaK = Ta + Ke
  5. Bols played as flam
    • Ghran: Ge immediately followed by Na
    • TriKe: Ti immediately followed by Ke and Te

Tabla Talas

Tala defines the musical meter of a composition. It is characterized by groups of matras in a defined time cycle.[24] Talas are composed of basic elements, bols. Matra defines the number of beats within a rhythm. Talas can be of 3 to 108 matras. They are played in repeated cycles. The starting beat of each cycle is known as Sum. This beat is often represented by a special symbol such as 'X'. This is the most emphasized beat of the cycle. Other emphasized parts of the tala which are represented by Taali (clap), while Khali (empty) portions are played in a relaxed manner. They are represented by a 'O' in Vishnu Narayanan Bhatkhande notation. Tali is often marked by a numeral representing its beat measure. Separate sections or stanzas of a tala are called Vibhagas.

Three main types of tempos or layas are used in playing Tabla talas: 1) Slow (vilambit) or half speed, 2) Medium (madhya) or reference speed, and 3) Fast (drut) or double speed. Keeping these three tempos as reference other variations of these tempos are also defined such as Aadi laya where bols are played at one and a half speed of medium tempo. Others such as Ati Ati drut laya stands for very very fast tempo.[38] Modern tabla players often use beats per minute measures as well.[42]

There are many talas in Hindustani music. Teental or Trital is one of the most popular tala played on Tabla. It has 16 beat measures or matras, and can be written down as 4 sections of 4 matras each. Teental can be played at both slow and fast speeds. Other talas such as Dhamaar, Ek, Jhoomra and Chau talas are better suited for slow and medium tempos. While some flourish at faster speeds, such as like Jhap or Rupak talas. Some of the popular Talas in Hindustani Classical music include:

Name Beats Division Vibhag
Teental (or Trital or Tintal) 16 4+4+4+4 X 2 0 3
Jhoomra 14 3+4+3+4 X 2 0 3
Tilwada 16 4+4+4+4 x 2 0 3
Dhamar 14 5+2+3+4 X 2 0 3
Ektal and Chautal 12 2+2+2+2+2+2 X 0 2 0 3 4
Jhaptal (or Japtal) 10 2+3+2+3 X 2 0 3
Keherwa 8 4+4 X 0
Rupak (Mughlai/Roopak) 7 3+2+2 0 X 2
Dadra 6 3+3 X 0

Rare Hindustani talas

Name Beats Division Vibhaga
Adachoutal 14 2+2+2+2+2+2+2 X 2 0 3 0 4 0
Brahmtal 28 2+2+2+2+2+2+2+2+2+2+2+2+2+2 X 0 2 3 0 4 5 6 0 7 8 9 10 0
Dipchandi 14 3+4+3+4 X 2 0 3
Shikar 17 6+6+2+3 X 0 3 4
Sultal 10 2+2+2+2+2 x 0 2 3 0
Teevra 7 3+2+2 x 2 3
Ussole e Fakhta 5 1+1+1+1+1 x 3
Farodast 14 3+4+3+4 X 2 0 3
Pancham Savari 15 3+4+4+4 x 2 0 3
Gaj Jhampa 15 5+5+5 x 2 0 3

Tabla Gharanas

Tabla gharanas are responsible for the development of variety of new bols, characteristic playing techniques, composition styles and rhythmic structures. Gharanas acted as a means of preserving these styles between generations of tabla players. First recorded history of gharanas is in the early 18th century. Delhi gharana is considered to be the first and the oldest traditional tabla tradition. Its students were responsible for the spawn of other gharanas as well. Each of these gharanas include a handful of prominent players and maestros. They carry the honorific title 'pandit' and 'ustad' for Hindus and Muslim tabla players respectively. Modernization and accessible means of travel have reduced the rigid boundaries between these gharanas in recent times.[38][24]

See also

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