Gharana - Tabla Tradition

Various Schools of Thought in the Percussion Instrument Tabla

As already discussed, the tabla is one of the most popular percussion instrument of India. It consists of a pair of drums called tabla & dagga (bayan). The treble drum, i.e. the tabla is generally made of wood and the top is covered with a stretched skin. To produce the distinct treble sound of the tabla; the craftsman has to make a hard mixture in the center of the tabla. The skin is then wrapped around the wood frame with the help of leather strings wadi and round wooden blocks. 

Gharana is very important term in the world of Indian classical music. Gharanas refer to the genealogical lines through which musical traditions are passed along the generations. The names given to particular gharanas are often derived from the region or city in which they were developed. The six gharanas of tabla are: Delhi, Ajrada, Lucknow, Benares, Farukhabad, and Punjab. Specific composition, methods of presentation, technical and practical elements and musical influences are a few factors which differentiate each gharana from the other. Traditionally, tabla artists are bound to the gharana of their guru, and the gharana teachings are passed on successively from guru to disciple. The guru is careful as to whom to bestow his musical knowledge, selecting only those disciples who will carry on the name of the gharana. He is burdened with the implied task of ensuring that the notability and distinction of the gharana is passed on to those who will faithfully preserve and prolong it.

Riyaz or practice, is an integral part of a tabla players life. The Indian classical musician treats his practice as a time of personal reflection and meditation. With eyes closed and mind free, with healthy body and healthy spirit, he delves into his practice deeply with involvement, for it is only through whole-hearted practice that his art will flourish and develop. The classical artist has been known to sacrifice common pleasures in order to become a recluse, only committed to his practice, his art, and his guru.

The tuning is done with the help of a hammer which is struck on the gatta to tense or relax the skin. The dagga, the 2nd in the tabla pair is generally made of brass or copper, the cheaper versions are in steel and aluminum though they don't produce the results. Dagga is the bass accompaniment of the Tabla. The tabla measures approximately 11 inches in length while the dagga measures about 10 inches in length.

Schools of Thought — Gharana- Tabla Tradition

The term Gharana helps to specifically acknowledge the lineage of teaching and repertoire as far as Indian classical music is concerned. Most tabla artistes o Tabla performers and scholars acknowledge and recognize two styles/schools of tabla gharana: The Dilli or Delhi Baj and the Purbi Baj. Dilli or Delhi baj emerged from the style that developed in and around Delhi, and Purbi Baj meaning school belonging to East, as the name suggests developed in the area east of Delhi. Delhi Baj is also known as Chati baj. The term Chati was coined after a part of Tabla from where special tone can be produced.

Further after the two major schools of table, the table Gharana started  recognizing six gharānās of tabla. As per the records found and quoted, they slowly evolved in the following order :

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

There have been tabla performers who further identified derivations out of the above six traditions, but these are just subjective claims made by them. It is an accepted fact that some traditions indeed do have sub-lineages and sub-styles which do possess and meet the criteria to enable them to have a separate gharānā name, but such   socio-musical identities have not really taken hold in the public discourse of Hindustani art music, one such example is the Qasur lineage of tabla players of the northern region of Punjab.

Each of these above mentioned gharanas are traditionally set apart from the others in terms of unique aspects of its playing as well as compositional styles of its exponents. Like for example, there are some schools in Tabla tradition or gharana that have different tabla positioning and bol techniques than others which give them their unique identity from other parallel gharanas. 

In the days of court patronage the preservation of these distinctions was considered crucial because it involved maintaining prestige of the sponsoring court. Also, gharana secrets were closely and possessively guarded and were only passed along the family lines. So the only way to have an access to them was by being born into or marrying into a lineage holding family and needless to mention it was considered a thing of pride.

In the modern times many of these gharana distinctions have faded as the information has come to be more freely shared and the new generation of Tabla players have learned and then taken liberties with the basic discipline and tradition of the gharana. They have gone to the extent of combining various aspects from other gharanas to form their own styles. 

of course, this fusion has given rise to much debate regarding the logic that whether the concept of gharanas even exists amongst the and applies to the players of modern or current generation. Some puritans think that the era of gharana has more or less come to an end because the unique aspects connected with each gharana have  mostly got lost in the mixing styles and not only this, it's also because of the socio-economic difficulties that the players so as to maintain the lineage purity through rigorous training.

None of this withstanding the greatness of each gharana can still be noticed when we study its traditional material and, when by listening to the old and original recordings of its great players of their times. And it also holds true and much ground that the  traditionally trained masters of our modern times also do hold a vast amounts of traditional compositional knowledge and expertise of the respective gharana that they have basically chosen.

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