A Living Portrait of India
Instrtumental Hindustani Music
An instrument with its own compositions, the tabla has a richness and vituosity that have rendered it a favorite with artistes and listensers alike, Improvisations determine the playing and are governed by certain rules, which are in turn peculiar to the gharanas they represent. Certain features of tabla-playing are basic to the art.
In a performance the uthan (rising), also known as the mohra (vanguard), is the opening music. It commences as a slow introduction, carefully omitting the resonant beats of the bayan (left-sided drum of the tabla set or the left-sided head of drum). The improvised bols make this comparable to the alap of vocal music.
As the tempo speeds up, the bayan is brought into play, and the music rises to a crescendo, before closing with atihai (a thrice-repeated phrase) that ends on the sam (emphatic beat).
The theka (a drumming pattern set to a particular tăl) is a pointer to the improvisations and repertoire that will follow. It is played before each item, serving to establish the basic tempo (barabar or thă laya).
Peshkar (to present) is a slow section following the uthan. This is a composed piece, with bols that are indicative of the principal bols to come. The theka is played as a base.
Similar to the peshkar but more elaborate, the kayada (rule, norm) consists of variations of the preceding bols (paltas). Thus successive paltas are variations of preceding paltas! This section is usually in a medium tempo, and is a vital improvisation, particularly in the Delhi baj (playing style of the Delhi school/gharana).
Rela (rushing consists of phrases (bols) composed for a very speedy execution. This is, of course, in the fast tempo.
Gat is a complex, pre-composed section of three or four tăl cycles (avartans). The bols (phrases) are elaborated into full rhythmic forms that can then be divided into smaller rhythmic sections. This is clearly a complete form as opposed to the rela, peshkar, and kayada which are definitely based on instrumental or vocal styles. Thus gats do not need any improvisation, and different gharanas have their own repertoires.
Brief and usually spontaneous, the tukda (piece) has phrases that can be segmented. Tukdas conclude with a tihai and on the sam. Played three consecutive times, the tukda sequence is called chakradhar. The chakradhar ends on the final tihai of the tukda, the tihai finishing on the sam.
According to accepted rules, a peshkar and kayada are performed before rela, gat tukda or chakradhar. Composites such as kayadarela (of the Lucknow gharana) are rarely heard.
Similar to vocal music, improvisations are specifically variations of established phrases, whether the melodic forma are written or memorized. The elaboration's or otherwise of these are known as vistar (extension). One means of vistar is to explore every item in its entirety before proceeding (always in linear fashion); another way is the successive repetition of a particular bol or the segmenting of it till it almost loses its original form (again, in a linear fashion); a third method is through paltas, i.e. reordering of preceding item or even segmenting them and then varying the sequence. Fourth, alternating the original phrase and its vistar.
Gottlieb discussed playing styles (baj), and
classified them into three distinct forms: