The tabla is a membranophone percussion instrument originating from the Indian subcontinent, consisting of a pair of drums, used in traditional, classical, popular and folk music. It has been a particularly important instrument in Hindustani classical music since the 18th century, and remains in use in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. The name tabla likely comes from tabl, the Persian and Arabic word for drum. However, the ultimate origin of the musical instrument is contested by scholars, some tracing it to West Asia, others tracing the evolution of indigenous musical instruments of the Indian subcontinent.
|Classification||Indian percussion instrument, goatskin heads with syahi|
|Bolt tuned or rope tuned with dowels and hammer|
|Pakhavaj, mridangam, khol, dholak, nagara, madal, tbilat|
The tabla consists of two single-headed, barrel-shaped small drums of slightly different size and shape: daya also called dahina meaning right (also called "tabla"), and baya also called bahina meaning left (also called "dagga"). 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 baya tabla is a bit bigger and deep kettledrum shaped, about 20 centimetres (~8 in) in diameter and 25 centimetres (~10 in) in height. Each is made of hollowed out wood or clay or brass, the daya drum laced with hoops, thongs and wooden dowels on its sides. The dowels and hoops are used to tighten the tension of the membrane. The daya is tuned to the ground note of the raga called Sa (tonic in India music). 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.
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). In the Hindustani style tabla is played in two ways: band bol and khula bol. In the sense of classical music it is termed "tali" and "khali". It is one of the main qawali instrument used by Sufi musicians of Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. The tabla is also an important instrument in the bhakti devotional traditions of Hinduism and Sikhism, such as during bhajan and kirtan singing.
The history of tabla is unclear, and there are multiple theories regarding its origins. There are two groups of theories, one that traces its origins to Muslim and Moghul invaders of the Indian subcontinent, the other traces it to indigenous origins. 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.
The first theory, very common during the colonial period scholarship, 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 abundant documentary evidence that the Muslim armies, as they invaded the Indian subcontinent, had hundreds of soldiers on camels and horses carrying paired drums. They would beat these drums to scare the residents, the non-Muslim armies, their elephants and chariots, that they intended to attack. Babur, the Turk founder of the Mughal Empire, is known to have used these paired drums carrying battalions in their military campaigns. However, this theory has had the flaw that the war drums did not look or sound anything like tabla, they were large paired drums and were called naqqara (noise, chaos makers).
The second version of the Arab theory is 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. This is, however, unlikely, as no painting or sculpture or document dated to his period supports it with evidence. If tabla had arrived, or had been invented under Arabic influence from the root word tabl, it would be in the list of musical instruments that were written down by Muslim historians, but such evidence is also absent. 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.
The third version of the Arab theory 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. This is not an entirely unreasonable theory, and miniature paintings of this era show instruments that sort of look like tabla, but this would mean that tabla emerged from within the Muslim community of Indian subcontinent and were not an Arabian import. 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".
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. 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. 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. 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.
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, including paste-patches, are found in the Hindu text Natyashastra. 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 named as Pushkara - name Tabla comes in later periods
Drums and Talas are mentioned in the Vedic era texts. 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. 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. Similar artwork with seated musicians playing drums, but carved in stone, are found in the Ellora Caves, and others.
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. The pushkara drums are also mentioned in many ancient Jainism and Buddhism texts, such as Samavayasutra, Lalitavistara and Sutralamkara.
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. 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. 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.
The tabla uses a "complex finger tip and hand percussive" technique played from the top unlike the Pakhawaj and mridangam which mainly use the full palm, and are sideways in motion and are more limited in terms of sound complexity.
The origins of tabla repertoire and technique may be found in all three, and in physical structure there are also similar elements: the smaller pakhawaj head for the dayan, the naqqara kettledrum for the bayan, and the flexible use of the bass of the dholak.
Construction and features
The smaller drum, played with the dominant hand, is sometimes 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 drum is tuned to a specific note, usually either the tonic, dominant or subdominant of the soloist's key and thus complements the melody. 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.
The larger drum, played with the other 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 bāyāñ may be made of any of a number 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 name of the head areas are:
- chat, chanti, kinar, kinar,
- sur, maidan, lao, luv, medan
- center: syahi, siaahi, gab
The head of each drum has a central area of "tuning paste" called the syahi (lit. "ink"; a.k.a. shāī or gāb). This 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.
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.
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, such as the tabla stroke names, is very developed and exact. However, 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.
Maula Bakhsh (born as Chole Khan in 1833) was an Indian musician, singer and poet. His grandfather was Inayat Khan, founder of Universal Sufism. He developed the "first system of notation for Indian music". He also founded the "first Academy of Music in India" in 1886, based in Baroda that encompassed both Eastern and Western musical cultural traditions.
Some basic strokes with the dayan on the right side and the bayan on the left side are:
- Ta: (on dayan) 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
- Ghe or ga: (on bayan) holding wrist down and arching the fingers over the syahi; the middle and ring-fingers then strike the maidan (resonant)
- gha (on bayan) striking the index finger
- Thin: (on dayan) 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)
- Dha: combination of Na and (Ga or Gha)
- Dhin: combination of Tin and (Ga or Gha)
- Ka or kath: (on bayan) striking with the flat palm and fingers (non resonant)
- Na: (on dayan) striking the edge of the syahi with the last two fingers of the right hand
- Te: (on dayan) striking the center of the syahi with the middle finger (non resonant)
- Tu | Tun: (on dayan) striking the center of the syahi with the index finger to excite the fundamental vibration mode (resonant)
- Dhere dhere (on dayan) striking of syahi with palm
Some taals, for example Dhamaar, Ek, Jhoomra and Chau tals, lend themselves better to slow and medium tempos. Others flourish at faster speeds, pratham bhagati like Jhap or Rupak talas. Trital or Teental is one of the most popular, since it is as aesthetic at slower tempos as it is at faster speeds.
There are many taals in Hindustani music. Some of the more popular ones are:
|Tintal (or Trital or Teental)||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||10||2+3+2+3||X 2 0 3|
|Rupak (Mughlai/Roopak)||7||3+2+2||0 X 2|
Rare Hindustani taals
|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|
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tabla.|
- On Covered Instruments (puṣkara, ‘drums’), Chapter XXXII of the Nāṭyaśāstra