About Pakhawaj - an Indian Percussion Instrument


Pakhawaj– The Indian Percussion Instrument

Pakhwaj is an Indian Percussion instrument is known as the mother of North Indian style drums—the universally famous drum Tabla was born fromPakhawaj. There is a very interesting story that goes with it. That the famous musician of his era, Amir Khusro was once giving a performance on Pakhawaj and while at it, the pakhawaj broke in two pieces. He continued to play with the broekn pieces, and to his own surprise it worked and this is how the new instrument called Tabla was born. According to another folklore Iit is believed that Lord Ganesha uses this instrument. 

The pakhawaj is known by many names, like the mardal, pakuaj, pakhvaj and mardala. Pakhawaj  is an Ancient percussion instrument shaped like a barrel, that greatly resembles the mridangam. Mrudangam is another Indian Percussion instrument, famous in North India. It is widely used for udisi dancers and occasionally for kathak too. Pakhawaj is the regularly used standard percussion instrument in dhrupad. Just like in Tabla, the pakhawaj rhythms are also taught by a series of mnemonic syllables known called bol. Like mentioned earlier, in one of the most difficult  North Indian classical raga or music called the Dhrupad, Pakhawaj is a standard accompaniment percussion instrument. The sound of Pakhawaj is very deep and dense and is  very appealing to ears. 

The smaller or what is called the treble head of Pakhawaj is just like the smaller end or head of the Tabla. However on the bigger head, there is no black part on outer side. When it comes to pakhawaj, it is inside.  it means you won’t be seeing it on the bigger head. Though Tabla is born out of pakhawaj, it has emerged and improvised itself by creating and reproducing  varieties in sound and with continuous improvements and experimentations in its style and form pakhawaj has successfully emerged as an independent instrument. Unfortunately the Pakhawaj has very limited use in the modern times and only the hardcore classical musicians are seen to be using Pakhawaj in making music or giving concert. .

Making Techniques and Playing The Pakhawaj: The playing style of Pakhawaj is more or less  similar to any Indian percussion instrument with just one major  difference. The listeners or the  audience, who is used to hearing the Tabla or Mridungam or any other drum,  usually find it very difficult getting used to pakhawaj and fine it very different and distinct while listening to Pakhawaj. One feature of Tabla and Mridungam is about their “Thekas”, meaning beat. These two instruments have a  continuous beat of certain notes and these beats are maintained  throughout any composition with additional articulations on the part of players playing the tabla or mrudangam. Whereas,  in case of Pakhawaj, there are no “Thekas” and very often the audience will find the Pakhawaj silent and sans any beat. This is where audience mostly reacts and  finds it difficult to get used to it. But once the Pakhawaj picks up seep and pace it becomes a matchless amongst all percussion instruments. The audience will get soaked in the density of its notes, something that they may never have experienced before. 

Pakhawaj is set or positioned horizontally on a cushion in front of a crossed-leg pakhawaj player called the pakhavaji, and the larger bass-skin is played with the left hand, and the treble skin by the right hand of the pakhawaj player. The goatskin membranes are looped along with leather thongs around the hollowed out barrel, which is narrow at both ends as compared to its center, being widest in the middle. Eight pieces of two inch wooden round stock are then tied between thongs & barrel and are tightly hammered. The treble skin then with the help of three concentric rings of dense black hardened paste they are fitted which helps to create a sound resonant with harmonics. 

By holding the instrument in a vertical position, the treble skin is tuned with a tuning-hammer, and then they are struck or beaten gently along the rim over the barrel which results in creating a raised pitch.  By turning the pakhavaj vertically it is tuned all along the circumference of the skin. The sound reproduced by a particular stroke should merge with that of the accompanying tanpura flawlessly and completely .

By applying a ball of dough from aata,(atta is wheat ground into powder form) the bass skin is tuned. And not by adjusting the tension like is is normally seen with various other drums. The fundamental tone of teh pakhawaj will always be the lower tonic. Traditionally, the pakhavaj remains the favored percussion instrument during high level performances of the Dhrupad-style. Whether it be vocal, on Rudra-Veena or on Surbahar. 

Pakhawaj was an integral part in ancient Indian devotional song concerts  and to date every time  a composition is made on ancient Indian spirituality, pakhawaj takes the top spot and  remains one of the most famous and preferred  instruments. There is no denying the fact that the Pakhawaj emits a passion in the audience Everyone who  hears this ancient instrument and  its melodious and enchanting sound they can't help but wanting to listen to it again and again. 

The low, mellow tone is one of the leading characteristics of Pakhawaj. The sound of the Pakhavaj is very rich in harmonics. While learning the traditional pakhavaj-styles the disciple would be introduced to a number of different strokes which produce a variety of distinct sounds. 

The pakhavaj closely resembles the Carnatic mridangam which like mentioned earlier is smaller in diameter and has a lighter timbre. Some famous and accomplished Indian Pakhawaj players are Ayodhya Prasad, Taranath Rao, Manik Munde, Chatrapati Singh, Arjun Shejwal, Ramji Upadhyay, Mohan Shyam Sharma.

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