A virtual trove of tabla treasures

Musical musing

Tabla — Rare compositions of the Great Masters by Pandit Vijay Shanker Mishra is a wonderful addition to the repertoire on the tabla and comes as a tribute to the legendary maestros of tabla. A well-known critic, scholar and musicologist, Pt Mishra is a prolific researcher with several publications as well as a radio serial on the tabla to his credit.

This book, therefore, appears as a valuable compendium not only for tabla players, but for any student of Indian classical percussion and rhythm. While many tabla players may not be very happy with the author in making these compositions public, I second the author’s effort as commendable, for it will help preserve some of these rare compositions and make them accessible to future generations. Another unique feature of this book is that it is bilingual. This addresses another important concern of making the book accessible to a larger and more global audience. However, this book is targeted towards advanced connoisseurs of the tabla. Therefore, while some technical nuances are intelligently, albeit briefly, explained, the author has not gone into the basics of tabla playing.

The book features several traditional compositions, those by great masters of the past, as well as those by a few of the younger players, including some by the writer himself. It is divided into four segments beginning with distinctive compositions of five gharanas of tabla, namely Delhi, Lucknow, Ajrada, Farrukkhabad and Punjab. In addition to several traditional compositions, the Peshkar, Qaida and different kinds of Gats and compositions are included in this section. Then comes the section that I was most eagerly looking forward to. The writer is the son of late Pt Gama Maharaj, a great exponent of tabla, and hails from the Banaras gharana.

So, naturally, I looked forward to something special in this section, and the author does not disappoint. The second chapter of the book focuses in detail on this 6th and the last invented tabla gharana. The author presents elements such as Qaidas in different taals and jatis, baant, rela, tukde, uthans, chakradars, and different types of Gats, Parans, etc. The author also presents some rare elements, usually not mentioned in texts, such as Yatis and compositions and Qaidas in Khand Jati.

The book concludes with a rich collection of compositions played in various uncommon taals in different traditions and styles. This is a particularly illuminating section for tabla students. Thekas, Parans, Tukdas or Qaida, Rela, Peshkar or Tehais, along with their numerous variations, are presented in -heard taals like Shikhar taal, Laxmi taal, Ganesh taal, Brahma taal, etc. The compositions in Jay taal have perhaps never been included in any text before.

The cover of this hardback features photos of some of the great tabla exponents, but the artwork could have been better. Debasish Chakraborty’s English translation, while sometimes faltering in terms of articulation, manages to capture the gist of the author’s words and thoughts. However, these are just missteps in an otherwise ambitious project, and can be corrected in future reprints.

All in all, this book is an absolute must-have for any follower of Indian Classical
music.

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