Tabla gharanas, revisited

I came across a series of articles on tabla gharanas published on scroll.in by the incomparable Dr Aneesh Pradhan, who is renowned for being both an accomplished tabla player as well as an academic and scholar. Links to the articles are below:

  1. Delhi Gharana – where it all began
  2. Ajrada Gharana – Habibuddin Khan displays his mastery, and wit
  3. Lucknow Gharana – Doyens of Lucknow gharana display the khulaa baaj
  4. Farrukabad Gharana – Maestros of the Farrukhabad gharana seamlessly blend styles
  5. Benares Gharana – The resonant Benaras style of tabla
  6. Punjab Gharana – The versatility of the Punjab gharana

An interesting classification of the six gharanas by Robert Gottlieb (author of The Major Tradition of North Indian Tabla) is as follows:

1) Delhi, Ajrada – Paschim 

2) Lucknow, Farrukabad – Purab

3) Benares, Punjab – Pakhawaj

Paschim means “west” and refers to the western, relatively speaking, parts of the subcontinent where these gharanas side. We could equally refer to this subset as the kinar gharanas, referring to their focus of playing on the edge of the tabla with an emphasis on finger based rather than hand based movements. 

Purab means “east” and has generally come to refer to the style most exemplified by Lucknow, utilizing full hand and “open” styles of playing with emphasis on the sur or inner edge of the tabla skin rather than the outer, which gives these styles a more resonant aesthetic. 

Finally the pakhawaj gharanas are noted as such due to the heavy influence of pakhawaj techniques and compositions used in these gharanas. 

These classifications are all of course relative and not meant to be taken as the final word, merely an observation. It can also be noted that there has been a lot more mixing of styles in the last few decades. Punjab players have adopted styles and compositions from other gharanas, and vice versa, making the influence of pakhawaj much less obvious these days. 

Keen to hear your thoughts and comments – please leave your thoughts in the comments field below, alternatively feel free to send me an email (shivabreathes at gmail dot com). 

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