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by David Courtney working tools

This article is only an intoduction.  If you would like more information please check out "Manufacture and Repair of Tabla"

This article previously appeared in the December 1988 issue of Experimental Musical Instruments, Nicasio Ca:EMI pg.12-16

Contents of this Article
     Basic Structure
     The Syahi

List of Illustrations
     figure1. Exploded view of tabla
     figure 2. Chat and Maidan
     figure 3. Intermediate stage
     figure 4. Making the insertion slits
     figure 5. Starting the gajara
     figure 6. Weaving the gajara
     figure 7. Finishing the gajara
     figure 8. David constructing tablas




Tabla has intrigued Western percussionists for a number of years. This drum of Indian origin, is noted for its unique tonal quality. This quality is derived primarily from the complexity in construction of its drumhead. The drumhead, known as pudi, puddi or purri, is indeed so complex that it would be safe to say that no other drumhead on earth surpasses it in this regard, though others may occasionally equal it.

The word tabla is commonly applied to both drums as a pair. This is not correct by the strict definition of the word, because actually only the smaller right hand drum is the tabla. The larger left-hand drum is called variously dagga, bayan or madda. Other names for the smaller tabla are siddha, or dayan. For convenience sake we will use the term tabla for both drums while the left and right hand will be called bayan and dayan respectively.

The fashioning of the pudi (drumhead) is a highly specialized craft. This craft is passed down from father to son in a manner typical of India tradition. A craftsman is known as a tablawala, and is usually distinct from the performer (tabaljii or tabalia). The apprenticeship usually starts in childhood and is completed only when the craftsman reaches full maturity. A close look at the construction will reveal why it takes so long to learn the craft.


Basic Structure

It is helpful to have a rough idea of the anatomy of a tabla pudi before tackling the subject of its fabrication. Figure 1 shows an expanded cross section (minus the woven hoop called the gajara). There are basically three parts of the pudi. 1) the weaving (gajara) 2) the membranes 3) the syahi (black spot).

Exploded view of tabla
Figure 1. Exploded view of tabla

The weaving (gajara) is composed of several components. The gajara is the most important as well as the most visible. It is a heavy ring of woven leather and rawhide, composed of thong made of thick buffalo hide, which is woven into the pudi around its periphery. It functions as a tensioning hoop, fitting over the top of the body of the drum and transferring tension from the lacing to the sounding skin. The bharti is an invisible layer of skin on the inside surface of the pudi. This is important for giving mechanical strength to the pudi.

The resonation membrane is basically two components, the maidan and the chat. The chat is an upper annular layer of skin which covers only the outer periphery of the sounding surface. It serves a dual purpose. On one hand it gives mechanical strength to the weaving, but on another level, it is an important part of the resonating membrane. The chat is important because it has great effect upon the tonal quality of the tabla.

The maidan has the distinction of being the only skin which covers the entire opening. This is therefore the most important part of the pudi.

The syahi (the black spot in the center of the pudi) is probably the most distinctive part of the tabla. It is there to give the tabla its distinctive tone. It is actually quite complex and a considerable amount of discussion will be devoted to it later.

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© 1998 - 2018 David and Chandrakantha Courtney

For comments, corrections, and suggestions, kindly contact David Courtney at [email protected]