This article is about the Afghan and Indian drum. For the Egyptian drum of the same name, see goblet drum. For the Singaporean newspaper, see tabla!
Percussion instrument

Indian percussion instrument, goatskin heads with syahi
Playing range

Bolt tuned or rope tuned with dowels and hammer
Related instruments

Pakhavaj, Mridangam, Khol, Dholak, Nagada

The tabla[nb 1] is a membranophone percussion instrument (similar to bongos) which is often used in Hindustani classical music and in the traditional music of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. It is also one of the main Qawali instrument used in Pakistan and India. The instrument consists of a pair of hand drums of contrasting sizes and timbres.

The main drum is called a tabla or dayan and is played with the dominant hand. Its shell is cylindrical and made out of wood, and its tight skin produces a distinct pitch when struck. The larger, low pitched drum, called bayan, has a bowl-shaped metal shell. Its membrane is looser than that of the tabla, enabling the player to manipulate the drum's pitch with his or her hand in performance. It is claimed that the term tabla is derived from an Arabic word, tabl, which simply means "drum."[1] The tabla (ketipung bagus) is used in some other Asian musical traditions outside of the Indian subcontinent, such as in the Indonesian dangdut genre.[2] 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). The heel of the hand is used to apply pressure or in a sliding motion on the larger drum so that the pitch is changed during the sound's decay. In playing the Hindustani style tabla there are two ways to play it: band bol and khula bol. In the sense of classical music it is termed "tali" and "khali".


The credit of the invention of Tabla goes to Turkish Sufi poet and musician Amir Khusro in the 13th century, originating from the need to have a drum that could be played from the top in the sitting position to enable the more complex rhythm structures that were required for the new Indian Sufi vocal style of chanting and Zikr. Its invention would also have complemented the complex early sitar melodies that Amir Khusro was composing.[3][4]

200 BCE carvings at Bhaje caves, Maharashtra, India showing a woman playing a tabla and another dancer performing
Ustad Zakir Hussain performing at Konark, Odisha

Taals has developed since the Vedic or Upanishad eras in India.[5] As a result, Pushkar was in existence long before even the Mridang. It is quite likely that an instrument resembling the tabla was in existence much earlier. It was popular during the Yadava rule (1210 to 1247) in the south, at the time when Sangita Ratnakara was written by Sarangadeva. A temple known as Eklingaji in Jaipur, Rajasthan shows the carvings of a tabla being played.[6] There is recent iconography of the tabla dating back to 1799.[7] 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.[8] The tabla was spread widely across ancient India. A Hoysaleshwara temple in Karnatak shows a carving of a woman playing a tabla in a dance performance.[9][10]

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.[11]

Rebecca Stewart has suggested that the tabla was most likely a product of experiments with existing drums such as the pakhawaj, mridang, dholak and naqqara. 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.[12]


The word Gharana means "family". In relation to music, Gharana refers to a family of musicians, a school of music or a musical lineage connected with the name of a particular person or place. The characteristic feature of a Gharana is its special style of presentation: the result of the special and extraordinary creativity and innovation of a highly talented musician. The other musicians of the Gharana may have their own individual features of presentation, but their training and conditioning in the distinguishing style of the Gharana is bound to leave indelible and recognisable stamps on the presentation of the performer.

In this sense, Gharana are discernible for quite a long time, although some may have been distinct. Again, there are some Gharana that are "hybrid", i.e., they show mixed styles taken from other Gharana. The emergence of the Gharana system in our music and its growing importance in the 18th and 19th centuries had its own impact upon the evolution of Raga.

A Gharana may take the name of (a) a person, family or group or (b) a place or region. Examples of the first category are Seni Gharana, Imdadkhani Gharana, Kavval Gharana and so on. Example of the second category are Gwalior Gharana. Agra Gharana and so on. In this context, it should be noted that there is a saying that to be able to call a school / tradition a Gharana there must have been at least three generations of established teacher - disciple pedagogic relationships already gone before. Thus, for example, a musician cannot merely migrate from India and settle in, say, Fiji and start a school with a band of students (no matter how serious, motivated and dedicated they all be) and then call his school the Fiji Gharana. Unless the teacher has produced students (Generation A) of acceptably high calibre who have proven themselves in the presence of knowledgeable (qualified) listeners, and the Generation A students have produced similarly acceptable and proven students (Generation B) themselves, and further the Generation B students in their turn have produced similar and proven students (Generation C), there cannot be a Fiji Gharana in this example.

Each Gharana has its own special Silsila or style or logic of presentation, within the general framework of the regional Bani (or, for instrumental music, Baj) which applied to it. Thus, the rise of the Gharana system resulted in the segmentation of the different styles of Raga development. This sometimes led to different versions of the same Raga, specially when comparisons arose between the presentations of musicians of different Gharana presenting the same Raga. This has had a spin-off to the present day. For example, Gwalior Gharana musicians use Shuddha Ni in addition to Komal Ni in Raga Rageshvari but musicians of several other Gharana use only Komal Ni and not Shuddha Ni.

Another interesting phenomenon in this context is that before the rise of the Gharana system, different regions had different Raga. That is to say, musicians of western India would normally sing or play Raga that were different from those of, say, northern, central or eastern India. But after the rise of the various Gharana, this compartmentalisation became diluted, for several reasons:-

A musician of a particular Gharana may be invited to a court situated far away for performance or even service. In that case, it would be natural that he is influenced by the Raga in vogue in that place, just as the "native" or "local" musicians of that place would be influenced by the new (to them) Raga that the Gharana musician brought with him. Often, certain Raga and / or Bandish or compositions would be considered the "property" of a particular Gharana. That is, the Raga in question would be known only to the musicians of that Gharana and to none else. This would be especially true if the Raga was created in the Gharana. It was the custom to sometimes "gift" some of these Raga / Bandish as dowry to a son-in-law. In this way, Many Raga found their way into Gharana where the Raga had not been in existence before. If the recipient or new "owner" of the Raga was a musician of another Gharana, he would naturally be guided by his own background conditioning in presenting this received Raga; this would quite conceivably cause some variation in it that might remain or even become heightened with the passage of time.

Another common custom was for the princes and noblemen, and also for the new breed of rich men on the post-Moghul period (18th and 19th centuries) to hold Sabha or musical soirees where musicians of different Gharana would present their music. This would lead to an interchange of ideas where musicians would be influenced by the presentations of those of other Gharana. Thus the Gharana system served to "dilute" the previous "insularity" of Raga music. The result was that musicians of one Gharana began to present Raga of another Gharana in their own conditioned styles. For example, if a musician trained in the Gaurhar Bani style, where there was a good deal of Vilambit or slow tempo development with plenty of long drawn, took up a Raga like, say, Bahar, in which there was no Vilambit, he would by his own background pedagogic conditioning have a strong tendency to present Bahar in his own style, that is, he would incorporate plenty of Vilambit passages into the Raga and perhaps compose his own Vilambit Bandish in the Raga. Thus, the very character of the Raga would change over time. A good example of this phenomenon is the well known Vilambit composition "Nabi ke Durbar" in the Raga Basant, which was not a slow Raga to start with.


in the 16th century new Raga, often with older names, emerged. It was possible for two Raga of divergent sentiments or characteristics to have the same name. Previously, a Raga may have had minor variants in such a way that the basic character or sentiment of the Raga remained intact. For example, Pandit Ahobal reports in his monumental work Sangit Parijata (16th century) that the Raga Bhairavi had two forms, one with R and the other with R. The manner of application of both R and R were, however, the same. Thus the basic nature of Bhairavi - the main sentiment that it conveyed - remained the same in either case, as all the other notes, their Kaku, their Sangati etc. were the same in either form. The "mood" of Bhairavi, therefore, remained constant. Indeed, as long as this was maintained, such minor variations in the presentation of a Raga were acceptable.

However, in the Gharana system, two Raga bearing the same name could have completely different features, and hence completely dissimilar moods. Thus for example, in the case of the Raga Shree, it is seen that a type of Shree called Poorvi Shree, similar to the modern Shree, was in vogue. This is reported in Hrdayanarayana's Hrdayakautuka (17th century). The original Shree, which had G, D and N, became more or less obsolete in north India although in south India, it continued to be (and still is) in existence. By and by, this new Raga Poorvi Shree was abbreviated to Shree and became the Shri of modern times. The original Shri is to be seen in north India in the Raga Bageshri (also called Bageshvari), in altered form. Such metamorphoses were the result of the action of the Gharana system. In like manner, some Gharana used D in Raga like Lalit and Poorvi whereas some other Gharana used D instead. The net result of all this was that the system of Raga became quite confusing, since it lost a good deal of the standardisation of earlier times.

The following chart gives the names of some Gharana in vocal and instrumental (melodic) music.

Below the chart there is a brief description of the musical characteristics of five major Gharana of vocal (Khayal) music that are prevalent in present times - Gwalior, Agra, Jaipur-Atrauli, Patiala and Kirana. Each Gharana has its own special features. For better appreciation of Khayal, it is important for the listener to understand and keep in mind these features. In this context, it is also important to know that the Tabla accompanist must be fully aware of the special features of the Gharana of the artist he is accompanying. If the accompanist has a less than proper understanding about these features, he will not be able to provide the correct form of accompaniment that is appropriate to the music of the Gharana. Many an otherwise good - even great - vocal performance has been ruined or all but ruined because the poor vocalist has had to struggle against the complacently ignorant accompaniment of the Tabla player. Indeed, Prof. Basavi Mukerji has herself had this unfortunate experience a few times, where even "renowned" Tabla players have provided completely inappropriate accompaniment. That her performance was still an enormously successful one was the result of the sheer robustness of her supreme and universally acknowledged artistry. back to top

Tabla drums demo (file from Commons Media of the Day)

Names of Gharana of Vocal and Instrumental (melodic) music: Vocal Music Gharana / Instrumental (Melodic) Music Gharana

  • Dhrupad
  • Khayal
  • Tappa
  • Thumri
  • Rabab
  • Been
  • Sitar
  • Sarode
  • Sarengi
  • Esraj
  • Gwalior
  • Tilmandi
  • Atrauli
  • Jaipur
  • Agra
  • Benaras
  • Udaipur
  • Betiah
  • Vishnupur
  • Delhi #1 (Qavval or Qavvalbachcha)
  • Gwalior
  • Tilmandi
  • Atrauli
  • Jaipur (Alladiya)
  • Agra
  • Benaras
  • Lucknow
  • Kirana
  • Punjab (Patiala)
  • Delhi #2
  • Sikanderabad
  • Rangile
  • Rampur
  • Seheswan
  • Bhendibazar
  • Indore
  • Mevati
  • Lucknow
  • Benaras
  • Lucknow
  • Benaras
  • Punjab
  • Seni
  • Seni
  • Kirana
  • Gharpure
  • Jaipur
  • Seni
  • Gwalior-Jaipur
  • Imdadkhani
  • Seni
  • Rampur
  • Kirana
  • Gaya
  • Seni
  • Delhi
  • Vishnupur

Nomenclature and construction

The smaller drum, played with the dominant hand, is sometimes called dayan (literally "right"), 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 ghatta, 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") or sometimes dagga, duggī or dhāmā. The bāyāñ 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:

Both drum shells are covered with a head (puri) constructed from goat or cow skin. An outer ring of skin (keenar) is overlaid on the main skin and serves to suppress some of the natural overtones. These two skins are bound together with a complex woven braid that gives the assembly enough strength to be tensioned on the shell. The head is affixed to the drum shell with a single cow or camel hide strap laced between the braid of the head assembly and another ring (made from the same strap material) placed on the bottom of the drum.

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.

Musical notation

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.[13]

Maula Bakhsh (born as Chole Khan in 1833) was an Indian musician, singer and poet. His grandfather was Hazrat 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.[14][15]

Hindustani classical music has two standard notation systems, one designed by V. N. Bhatkhande and the other by V. D. Paluskar. These notation systems are used for Indian instruments including the tabla.

Basic strokes

Some basic strokes with the dayan on the right side and the bayan on the left side are:

Tabla Taals

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:

Name Beats Division Vibhaga
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
Keherwa 8 4+4 X 0
Rupak (Mughlai/Roopak) 7 3+2+2 X 2 3
Dadra 6 3+3 X 0

Additional taals

Rare Hindustani taals

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 5+5+5 x 2 0 3 4 5 6
Gaj jhampa 15 5+5+5 x 2 0 3

Gharānā traditions

The term gharānā is used to specify a lineage of teaching and repertoire in Indian classical music. Most performers and scholars recognize two styles of tabla gharana: Dilli Baj and Purbi Baj. Dilli (or Delhi) baj comes from the style that developed in Delhi, and Purbi (meaning eastern) baj developed in the area east of Delhi. Delhi Baj is also known as Chati baj (Chati is a part of a tabla where a special tone can be produced).

Musicians then recognize six gharānās – schools or traditions – of tabla. These traditions appeared or evolved in presumably the following order:

  1. Delhi gharānā
  2. Lucknow gharānā
  3. Ajrara gharānā
  4. Farukhabad gharānā
  5. Benares gharānā
  6. Punjab gharānā

Some traditions have sub-lineages and sub-styles that may meet the criteria to warrant a separate gharānā name, but such socio-musical identities have not taken hold in the public discourse of Hindustani art music, such as the Qasur lineage of tabla players of the Punjab region.

Each gharānā is traditionally set apart from the others by unique aspects of the compositional and playing styles of its exponents. For instance, some gharānās have different tabla positioning and bol techniques. In the days of court patronage the preservation of these distinctions was important in order to maintain the prestige of the sponsoring court. Gharānā secrets were closely guarded and often only passed along family lines. Being born into or marrying into a lineage holding family was often the only way to gain access to this knowledge.

Today many of these gharānā distinctions have been blurred as information has been more freely shared and newer generations of players have learned and combined aspects from multiple gharānās to form their own styles. There is much debate as to whether the concept of gharānā even still applies to modern players. Some think the era of gharānā has effectively come to an end as the unique aspects of each gharānā have been mostly lost through the mixing of styles and the socio-economic difficulties of maintaining lineage purity through rigorous training.

Jori and Dhama traditions

Next to the contemporary common style of tabla, there exist older styles in which the bayan (called dhama or dhamma) is often made out of wood. Instead of having a thin dry syahi, this style of tabla uses a wet wheat dough on the bass drum's skin, applied shortly before playing. These types of Jori tabla are used by qawwali ensembles (notably Dildar Hussain), as well as in the Sikh tabla gharanas, Punjabi dhrupad, gurbani kirtan, and Afghan traditional music. A reminder that this style of tabla was used all over India not long ago is that many modern brass tuning hammers still have a dough removal spatula on the reverse end.

See also


  1. In other languages: Bengali: তবলা, Dari: طبلا, Gujarati: તબલા, Hindi: तबला, Kannada: ತಬಲಾ, Malayalam: തബല, Marathi: तबला, Nepali: तबला, Odia: ତବଲା, Pashto: طبله, Punjabi: ਤਬਲਾ, Tamil: தபலா, Telugu: తబలా, Urdu: طبلہ


  1. Richard Emmert; Yuki Minegishi (1980). Musical voices of Asia: report of (Asian Traditional Performing Arts 1978). Heibonsha. p. 266. Retrieved 25 December 2012.
  2. Can Dangdut Travel Outside Region?, by Alexandra Nuvich and Debe Campbell. In: Nielsen Business Media, Inc. (18 April 1998). Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. pp. 75–. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved 25 December 2012.
  3. "(RA)". Hazrat Mehboob-E-Elahi. Retrieved 2013-07-01.
  4. Nasehpour, Peyman (2002). "Encyclopedia of Persian Percussion Instruments". Retrieved 2011-08-25.
  6. "Ancient stone carvings... amazing craftsmanship - Eklingji Temple, Udaipur Traveller Reviews - TripAdvisor". Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  7. Frans Balthazar Solvyns, A Collection of Two Hundred and Fifty Coloured Etchings (1799)
  9. Sandeep Channappa. "Karnataka Travelogue, blended with Photologue-Travelogue-Infologue: Hoysaleshwara temple Sculptures and Doorways". Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  10. "Persée". Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  11. "tabla (musical instrument) –". September 2015.
  12. Stewart R. Unpublished thesis, UCLA, 1974
  13. khan. "History of classical music and ragas of The Sub-continent". Retrieved 2013-07-01.
  14. "Biography". Retrieved 2013-07-01.
  15. Two Men and Music : Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical ... – Janaki Bakhle Assistant Professor of History Columbia University – Google Books. 2005-09-17. Retrieved 2013-07-01.

Further reading

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