The Indian percussion instrument, Tabla, is linked to the 13th century Indian legendary poet, Amir Khusrau.  As the inventor of tabla, Amir Khusrau split the pakhawaj in two for his apparent invention.  He exclaimed delightfully: tora, tab bhi bola – tabla – when broke it still spoke – tabla.  The term ‘tabla’ originates from the Arabic word, tabl – meaning: drum.  Some other sources place the invention of the tabla in the 18th century, with the first proven player of the instrument as Ustad Suddhar Khan of Delhi.  Though, it is strongly believed that it was in India that the tabla was invented, the subject invites debate.


The tabla comes in a pair, though both the drums are distinct from each other by the way of their sizes, shape and sound-effect.  The smaller drum, played with the right hand is called dayan (literally meaning, right).  The larger drum, played with the left hand, is called bayan (literally meaning, left).  The large drum is made in copper-body, aluminium or steel-body.  Clay is also used, though discouraged for its durability.  The old bayans from Punjab were made of wood.


The shells of both the drums are covered with the leather sheath from goat or cow skin.  The central area of the skin is covered with multiple layers of a paste made from starch (rice or wheat) with a black powder of various origins.  The central dark portion is known as Syahi – literally meaning, ink.  In order to achieve stability, while playing, the drums rest on cloth rings stuffed with material like cotton and jute.


To compliment the melody of ghazals, qawalis, bhajans – tabla has a tuning range which is achieved while striking vertically on the rim of the leather head, using a small hammer.  Playing technique involves the extensive use of the fingers and palms, along with the heel of the hand.

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