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Article: Evolution of the Language of Tabla

By Prithwiraj Bhattacharjee

Any language can be considered as a form of expression that facilitates communication between the speaker and the listener. Several languages have evolved since time immemorial, the primary purpose of which has been to communicate and share feelings, thoughts, views, information and knowledge. Although other modes of communication exists and are availed of in varying degree, ‘sound’ still remains the most universally effective mode of communication and is used not only by humans but by animals, birds and insects alike. Ancient man communicated using different sounds that primarily conveyed expression through its tone. Slowly, man constructed words using syllables. With the help of words, they later formed phrases and sentences. As this repertoire grew, languages came into being. The evolution of the language of Tabla finds root in a similar desire exhibited by lovers of this instrument to communicate with the rest of the world using a form of expression other than the spoken word... essentially using the sounds of the Tabla! What’s more, they aptly named the basic unit of sound produced by the Tabla as a ‘bol’, literally meaning the ‘word’!

It is a well known fact that the Pakhawaj has been the main source of influence for the Tabla. By the time Tabla evolved, Pakhawaj had been well established for many centuries with a well developed language of its own. In the intial period, the Tabla borrowed much of its vocabulary from the Pakhawaj. However, fundamental differences in the playing mechanism and playing techniques employed in the Tabla warranted changes to some of the basic vocabulary and approaches that were borrowed from the Pakhawaj. As the Tabla gained roots and wide spread patronage among percussionists, new playing techniques were developed. The new techniques blended with the ones borrowed from the Pakhawaj in a manner that naturally suited the very essence of the Tabla, giving birth to new expressions and a language that successfully emerged as the Tabla’s very own! Advancements in this arena continued with the steadily growing popularity of the Tabla and unfolded patterns and techniques that would cause a Tabla player to sustain longer with faster speeds. This led to creation of different phrases, and continued to enhance the vocabulary of the Tabla, creating new literature.

Soon Tabla had its own distinct expression and could be used to depict conversations and tell stories. Once the experts comprehended this potential, they researched further, and realized that the Tabla could also be used to create poetic expressions! This led to creation of different rhyming patterns like the Kayda. The Kayda exhibits a strict definition of the rhythmic pattern but also rhymes phrases similar to that in poetry. This was followed by the creation of the fast moving Rela together with pieces depicting conversations and stories like Tukda and Chakradar. Additionally, the introductory piece of a performance was created, much like the preface of a book and was called Peshkar. Poetic and story like compositions were created invoking and praising various Gods, much like bhajans in music and were called Parans. With the addition of all these, the literature created in the world of Tabla continued to get richer.

Over the years, the language of the Tabla has grown to become highly evolved, capable of communicating a wide variety of expressions. An ardent student of the instrument having done an in depth study of the ‘shastra’ of Tabla, can successfully express his thoughts, views and feelings through the language of the Tabla. For such a percussionist, it is no different than expressing himself in his own mother tongue or in another language that he has an excellent command on. The deeper the contemplation and the more intensive the ‘riyaaz’, the richer the expression will be, reflecting his own individuality therein. It is much like different people speaking the same language, choosing different sentence constructions, tones and expressions to convey a sentiment, but each essentially conveying the same meaning. And this is the real beauty and power of any language, including the language of the Tabla!



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