Tabla: The Drums of North India

The tabla, a pair of tuned drums played with the hands, is the most important and popular percussion instrument presently in use in North Indian classical music. The drums include a high-pitched, precisely tuned right hand drum, the dahina and a low-pitched, less precisely tuned left hand drum, the bayan. The tabla, as with many other Indian drums, has the unique feature of central tuning pads (syahi) of paste and iron fillings which are laboriously applied to the goat skin puri (drum-heads). These circular spots give the instruments their characteristic clear tone, resonance and low fundaments.

Percussion instruments of this type can be seen in Indian temple sculptures which date back thousands of years, however it is generally agreed that the present form of tabla became popular in the royal courts of Delhi during the 17th and 18th Centuries. The individual usually credited with the most significant de elopments of tabla technique and repertoire at this time was one Sidhar Khan Dharhi. His grandsons and their various disciples carried the art of tabla playing to other major centers of North Indian cultural life, a dispersion which naturally led to the evolution of a number of distinct regional performance styles. At the present time these styles (or baj, as they are called in Hindi) commonly include those of Ajrara, Benares, Delhi, Farukhabad and Lucknow. A sixth style, the Punjab baj, which has developed independently in what is present-day Pakistan is also usually included in this list.