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Schools of Tabla (Gharanas)

The word gharana comes from the Hindi word 'ghar', which means 'family' or 'house'.The names given to particular gharanas are often derived from the region or city in which they were developed.

Tabla gharanas came into existence perhaps 300 years after the tabla itself appeared in India. Evidence of the tabla accompanying the vocal style called "Khayal" began to show up during the time of Amir Khusro (1196 - 1316 AD). The tradition of tabla solo, thus gharana, emerged in Delhi around the 15th century and was a nobel tradition taken into the Mughal courts of the time. One possible version of how the different gharanas began, is that the three sons of tabla master Sudhar Khan Dhadhai from Delhi were said to have traveled to the other regions of India where they were commissioned as court performers. Thus, as those maestros settled into those areas and took on students and families, each regions special character and unique flavor gradually influenced the style. 

In the days of court patronage the preservation of these gharana distinctions was considered imperative because it gave identity and prestige of the sponsoring court. 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. 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. In the old days, if it ever were suspected that a student from one gharana taught a composition to someone from a differing gharana, that student might well be cast away from the old gharana.

Basic Style Distinctions:
There are two main styles of playing which certain compositions gravitate towards and some of the gharanas favor. One is known as Bhand (B'nd) Baaz and the other is khulaa Baaz. Baaz comes from the Urdu word "Bajanaa" (to play an instrument). The word Bhand means "bound" or "to bind" and in tabla, refers to a closed or muffled sound on the drum. The word khulaa means "open" or "resonant" and refers to the long, ringing tones produced on the tabla. Thus, the Khulaa Baaz refers to a style of playing which allows the tones of the drum to sustain and ring out. The pakawaj (ancestor of the tabla) was generally played using this approach. As the compositions and the solo tradition of the tabla evolved, the speed of the Kaidas, Relas and specialty compositions didn't allow for the hand to leave the drum as well as the need to control the open tones, so each stroke could be heard cleanly. Thus a tighter, more compact and much faster Bhand Baaz evolved.

Some traditions do have sub-lineages and sub-styles which possess the criteria which would enable them to have a separate gharana name. However, the weight and presence of these schools needs to appear in public discourse of Hindustani art music for it to over time, join the accepted existing list of gharanas. One such example is the Qasur lineage of tabla players of the northern region of Punjab. Interestingly, these tabla players were heavily influenced by the presence of that regions sarangi lineage. 

Each gharana came to be because of a great guiding light. An artist who broke into a new, unique expression of the art form and inspired students and family to gather and carry that genius forward. And in the early day of the tabla (about 400 years), there was an absence of mass transportation and communication, thus each region of India was allowed to develop it's own special approach, style and interpretation of the tabla. 

In modern times many of these gharana distinctions have, to varying degrees, faded as the information has come to be more freely shared (Domestic & International touring, books, CDs and the internet). The newer generation of tabla players have learned parts of the tradition of various gharanas which has its own value and beauty, but some scholars are concerned at the prospect that the era of the distinct gharana has largly come to an end.



Delhi Gharana: 

The Delhi Gharana is considered the oldest of the tabla gharanas. As the strength of the tabla tradition grew in Delhi around the time of Emperor Akbar, It replaced its ancestor, the pakawaj because of its softer and more subtle tone. 

The Delhi tabla style is famous for its vast and rich repertoire of Kaidas. Delhi compositions are very melodic with concise development of kaidas, peshkars, and other theme/variation compositions.
It is also particularly famous for focusing on the style of playing know as "two finger" tabla. Meaning that
much of the playing is done with only the pointer and middle finger strokes. This adds a clarity and focus to the sound which gives it distinction from the thicker, louder styles of the other gharanas. 

It poured out into other areas of India settling in the courts and in the other musical regions thus establishing a strong foundation of Delhi tabla repertoire, which over time evolved to blend with the customs and musical flavors of the areas in which it settled.


                                      PANDIT CHATUR LAL

                                      PANDIT CHATUR LAL

Sidhar Khan Daadhi Pakhwaji
Chaand Khan
Siddhar Khan
Bugraa Khan
Ghasit Khan
Kallu Khan (Later founded Ajrada Gharana)
Shitab Khan
Nasir Ali
Bade Kale Khan
Bolibaksh Khan
Natthu Khan
Gulab Khan
Chhote Kale Khan
Gahem Khan
Inam Ali
Chatur Lal
Latif Khan
Lilli Masit Khan
Langde Hussain Baksh Khan
Nanhe Khan


Lucknow Gharana: 

Lucknow gharana (also known as the Poorab Gharana) is said to be the second gharana to appear in India around one hundred years following the founding of the Delhi gharana. It branched out of Delhi when two brothers Modu and Baksu Khan moved to Lukhnow during the 18th century. They collaborated with Kathak dancers of Lukhnow to create a unique style of playing which reflected the foot work of the dancers. The tabla soon became the drum of choice for dance accompaniment because of its subtle and intricate tone. Compositions such as gat and paran became very popular in the Lukhnow gharana because of their beauty both spoken and played both by the dancer and tabla player.

This style is known for its clarity of right hand bols and crisp drum-roll (rela) playing. Lucknow also was renowned for its full hand Thaap, which was a powerful stroke producing the Ta sound on the tabla. The Lucknow Gharana makes prevalent use of open (Khulaa) sounds, use of ring finger, use of luv (sur), influenced by kathak dance and stresses the importance of sonority and volume. Another prominent stroke that evolved from the Lucknow gharana are strokes known as "kran" or "kre" or "tre kre" which are off set flam strokes that reflect the foot work in kathak dance. 


                        PANDIT SWAPAN CHAUDHURI

                        PANDIT SWAPAN CHAUDHURI

Makkhu Khan & Modu Khan & Bakshu Khan (Grand sons of Sudhar Khan Dhadhi)
Muhammad Khan
Bade Munne Khan
Abid Hussain
Wazid Hussain Khalifa
Afaq Hussain Khan
Jehangir Khan
Ram Sahay (co-founder of the Benares gharana)
Biroo Mishra (co-founder of the Benares gharana)
Ilmas Khan
Hiru Ganguly
Santosh Kishan Biswas
Sheikh Dawood Khan
Swapan Chaudhuri
Shabbir Nisar

Anil Bhattacharjee
Biswajit Bhattacharjee
Bade Munne Khan
Mammu Khan


Ajrada Gharana: 

Ajrada gharana is also one of the initial off shoots of the Delhi gharana and grew in strength following the migration of tabla to Lucknow (1700 - 1750 which was around the time Farukhabad gharana was founded). Actually, a senior student of the Delhi gharana, Kallu Khan was the one who brought tabla to that area which is why the Ajrada gharana is known as the "shagira" (disciple school) of Delhi. Ajrada is named after a small village in the Meerut district of Utter Pradesh very near Delhi.

Within the Ajrada gharana there is prominent use of the bayan (rubbing of the shyhi) and its focus on tisra jati (groups of 3). This school also evolved long kaida compositions which often include an additional second line, added onto the original Delhi based composition. Interestingly, the Ajrada Gharana is linked to a few Sarangi lineages from in and around Delhi. This also helped to influence its style and tone. 


                   USTAD HABIBUDDIN KHAN

                   USTAD HABIBUDDIN KHAN

Kallu Khan
Miru Khan
Bugra Khan
Sitab Khan
Kallu Khan
Chaand Khan
Muhammadi Baksh
Kale Khan
Hassu Khan
Sudhir Kumar Saxena
Shammu Khan
Abdul Karim Khan
Nattu Khan
Habibuddin Khan
Bandu Khan
Akram Khan

Ghulam Sarwar Sabri
Rafiuddin Sabri
Ramzan Khan
Divyang Vakil


Farukhabad Gharana: 

Farukhabad gharana derives its name from Farukhabad in Uttar Pradesh state. It was created by Ustad Haji Vilayat Ali Khan, disciple of Ustad Miyan Bakshu Khan of Lucknow, and it is for his birthplace the gharana is named. Being a prominent composer and performer, he was appointed as court musician in Rampur and passed his tradition on through his three sons, Nisar Ali Khan, Aman Ali Khan, and Hussain Ali Khan, and their disciples. (1700 - 1750 which was around the time Farukhabad gharana was founded)

There is a huge variety in the repertoire of compositions, owing to the tremendous and creative output of great composers such as Haji Vilayat Ali Khan and Amir Hussain Khan, nephew of Munir Khan, himself a disciple of Hussain Ali Khan. In addition, a large number of Lucknow gats (compositions) were given as dowry by Ustad Miyan Bakshu Khan when his daughter married his disciple and the gharana's founder, Ustad Haji Vilayat Ali Khan.

The Farukhabad Gharana is part of the purbi baj ,or "eastern style," which is characterized by an extensive use of resonant strokes played on the sur of the dayan. The playing style of the Farukhabad gharana was developed from the strongly dance-influenced style of the Lucknow gharana, and contains similarities to its strong, resonant sounds.
The repertoire is replete with a varied and intriguing compositions, makes great use of open resonant baya strokes, and contains many unique stroke combinations. There is a greater wealth and emphasis of gats, chalan, and real compositions than on kaida or peshkar. 


                        USTAD AHMADJAN THIRAKWA

                        USTAD AHMADJAN THIRAKWA

Haji Vilayat Ali Khan
Salari Khan
Hussain Ali Khan
Ahmadjan Thirakwa

Nanhe Khan
Masit Khan
Munir Khan
Karamat Khan
Shamsuddin Khan
Nissar Ali Khan
Karamatullah Khan
Chatur Lal
Jnan Prakash Ghosh
Nikhil Ghosh
Anindo Chatterjee
Sabir Khan
Nayan Ghosh
Kanai Dutta
Shankar Ghosh
Mallar Ghosh
Gobinda Bose
Swapan Shiva
Aneesh Pradhan
Tanmoy Bose
Shyamal Bose
Bikram Ghosh
Debasish Sarkar
Sanjoy Mukherjee
Shubhankar Banerjee
Mayookh Bhaumik
Biplab Bhattacharya
Soumen Sarkar
Satyajit Talwalkar
Abhishek Basu


Benares Gharana: 

The Benares tabla gharana was developed about 200 years ago. The founder was the legendary Pandit Ram Sahai (1780–1826). Ram Sahai began studying the tabla with his father from the age of five. At the age of nine, he moved to Lucknow to become the disciple of Modhu Khan of the Lucknow gharānā.

"After some time performing in Benares, Ram Sahai felt the need to make a significant change in his tabla playing. For six months, he withdrew into seclusion, and worked to develop what is now known as the Benares baj or style of tabla playing. The philosophy behind this new style of tabla playing is that it would be versatile enough to perform solo, and to accompany any form of music or dance. The tabla would be able to play delicately, as required for khyal, or more aggressively, like pakhawaj, for the accompaniment of dhrupad or kathak dance. Ram Sahai developed a new way of fingering the tabla strokes; especially important is the sound Na, being played with a curved ring finger to allow for maximum resonance of the dahina. He also composed numerous compositions within existing compositional forms (gats, tukras, parans etc.) and created new forms, such as uthan, Benarsi theka, and fard."

The gharana is categorized into the Purbi (eastern) baj, which includes the Farukhabad, Lucknow, and Benares gharanas. This powerful playing style makes use of the more resonant strokes of tabla, such as Na, and Din. Benares players preferentially use the full-hand TeTe strokes, rather than the single finger alternation preferred by the Delhi style. The Benares baj makes use of over twenty different compositional types. There is extensive use of full hand "din" strokes which are very prevalent on pakhawaj. 

There are considered to be 2 main branches of the Benares Gharana. One stemming from the original Ram Sahai family which many term as "pure Benares", and the other, following the time of Kanthe Maharaj when his son Kishen Maharaj rose up and was heavily influenced by the compositions within Kathak Dance. The most recent great maestro of the dance style was the great Kishen Maharaj and from the pure Benares style the legendary Anokhelal Mishra. It was said that Anokhelal Mishra set aside a period of 12 years where he only practiced D Di Di D... (single finger resonant strokes) and when again emerged into the music scene, he had developed these essential strokes to a level never seen before in tabla. 


                     PANDIT KISHEN MAHARAJ

                     PANDIT KISHEN MAHARAJ

Ram Sahai
Bhairav Sahai
Baldev Sahai
Kanthe Maharaj
Vacha Maharaj
Baldev Sahai
Biru Mishra
Kishen Maharaj
Samta Prasad
Mahadeo Prasad Mishra
Anokhelal Mishra (12 years D Di Di D)
Ramji Mishra
Sharda Sahai
Nandan Mehta (SAPTAK Festival)
Kumar Bose
Lalji Sri Vastav
Mahapurush Mishra
Chotilal Misra
Iswalal Misra
Ram Kumar Misra
Sukhwinder Singh Namdhari
Sandeep Das
Vineet Vyas
Shubh Maharaj (Grandson of Kishen Maharaj)


Punjab Gharana: 

Punjab Gharana, is a style and technique of Tabla playing that originated in the Punjab region of what is now split in present day Pakistan and India. The Punjab gharana was originally a pakhawaj gharana which existed long before the tabla arrived in that region. 

Lala Bhavanidas was responsible for holding the foundation of the Punjab Gharana and was considered the premier pakawaj player of his day. During the period just before the creation of the Delhi Gharana, Lala Bhavanidas would travel to Delhi to participate in the pakawaj competitions which were held there each year. It was said that
Sudhar Khan Daadhi, Delhi's premier pakawaj player, began playing the tabla after loosing the competition to Lala Bhavanidas a number of times. Thus Sudhar Khan Daadhi began developing a new and unique style specifically sculpted for the tabla from which the original tabla gharana sprang. 

Around the turn of the 20th century, Fakir Baksh, disciple of Saddu Hussain Baksh was the foremost advocate and he was the one responsible for bringing the pakawaj compositions onto the tabla. This marked the beginning of the Punjab Gharana appearing on the scene as a unique tabla gharana as apposed to it's main reputation as being the hotbed of pakawaj. His followers were Qadir Baksh II and Firoz Khan of Lahore. Jnan Prakash Ghosh of Farukhabad gharana was also a follower of Firoz Khan. Kader Baksh II was the teacher of the most renowned tabla player of 20th century, Ustad Alla Rakha (Father and teacher of Ustad Zakir Hussain)."

It is important to note that the tradition of peshkar did not exist in Punjab tabla at all until Ustad Alla Rakha appeared. There were some kaida and rela compositions present from the other tabla gharanas, but the main meat of the Punjab Gharana was the set compositions such as Gat, Paran and Chakradar. As a matter of fact, when Ustad Alla Rakha first began presenting the concept of peshkar (D..rD.Di.N.D.t.D.D.Di.N.D..rD.Di.N. etc...) the conesiours did not understand what he was developing and it took time for this new category of composition to be accepted. This new way of presenting the sounds of the tabla were akin to the alop, jor, jhala in raga development. It was also Ustad Alla Rakha who began introducing much more intricate "upaj" (improvization) within kaida and rela. Subtle variations focusing on stretching unusual, odd metered phrases (Sankirna Jati) across the beats became a signature of Ustad Alla Rakha and thus the Punjab Gharana. And today the legendary Ustad Zakir Hussain has taken the presentation and exploration of peshkar and lay curry (mixing meters) to an unmatched height. 

Chilla Ritual:
A special tradition which is found in all the Gharanas is the Chilla ritual, which consists of continuous playing for forty days and nights. It is said that this is the equivalent of a coming of age ceremony, where a state of maturity is revealed during that intensive period of time. In earlier times, this ceremony would be carried out in small, out of the way huts or quiet rooms in country villages where the participant will be undisturbed for the entire time. The only person allowed to have contact with the practitioner is the Guru, who may, on occasion enter to offer corrections or further teachings. In some extreme versions of this ceremony, the room will have no windows or references to the time of day, thus creating a deeply meditative and fluid passage of time where even the recognition of when one is awake or asleep may become blurred. Many visions and deeply personal insights can occur during these ceremonies and on occasion can be psychologically difficult or even dangerous. So it is always best for the student to work in strict accordance with the instructions of the Guru.PROMINENT EXPONENTS OF THE PUNJAB GHARANA:

                                     USTAD ALLA RAKHA

                                     USTAD ALLA RAKHA

Lala Bhavanidas
Saddu Hussain Baksh
Haddu Khan
Miyan Qadir Baksh I
Bhai Nasira
Baba Malang Khan
Bahadur Singh
Alla Ditta Khan
Sajjad Hussain Baksh
Karam Ilahi
Miyan Faqir Baksh
Miyan Qadir Baksh II
Firoz Khan
Alla Rakha
Shaukat Hussain
Abdul Sattar Tari
Jnan Prakash Ghosh
Altaf Hussain "Tafo" Khan
Akhtar Hussain Khan
Zakir Hussain
Yogesh Samsi
                                                                                                      Navin Sharma