The Cultural Perspective
Membranophones are called avanaddha vadya in musical literature in India. Avanaddha means "to be covered"; therefore, an instrument wherein a vessel or a frame is covered with leather is an avanaddha vadya. While this is the usual term for drums, traditionally there is another, pushkara, which seems to have also meant drums in general. Bharata in his Natya sastra tells a tale of how these pushkaras came into being. According to the story, Svati, a great saint, went to a pond (pushkara) in his hermitage for a wash. When he was there Indra, the god, sent a downpour of heavy rain and the drops made sweet and rhythmic sound as they fell on the lotus (pushkara) leaves. The sage listened to the sound as they fell on the lotus (pushkara) leaves. The sage listen to the sound enthralled and came back to his hut with the music still ringing in his ears. He then has the various pushkaras such as the panava and the dardura made with the assistance of the heavenly craftsman, Visvakarma.
Whereas the ghana vadya, as we have seen earlier, have not attained the status of sophisticated concert instruments, drums, though strictly still only rhythmic, have come up in their own functional area to the same levels as wind and stringed instruments. This is because, the sound of a drum can be made definite, as in the tabla or the mridanga; it can also be varied in tone color and pitch. Further, due to the longer duration of their sounds, they are more musical than idiophones. Nevertheless, the duration is not long enough nor is the pitch definite or precise enough for avanaddha vadya to have become melodic instruments. They have, hence, remained rhythmic instruments par excellence.
There are two crafts which have been associated with and have generally determined the evolution of drums. These are woodcraft and pottery. One of the earliest ways of making a drum was to fell a tree and scoop out the inside, thus obtaining an easily available hollow cylinder. This could be covered with skin on one or two sides producing a drum. Perhaps, the earliest of such instruments were very large and stood vertically on the ground like trees. This being the case, it is obvious that only the top face could have been covered. Such vertical drums are sometimes found with us even today, as the ronza or runza of Andhra Pradesh, though wood has been replaced by brass and the shape is more like a truncated cone. However, in Africa and Mexico as also with certain tribal populations elsewhere, cylindrical drums of wood have been discovered, where some times the length of the instrument may go upto three meters. Log drums like these, in our country, though not of such great dimensions nor kept on the floor and beaten, are the kharram of Assam and the dhole played by the Reddis of Andhra. In Kerala, for example, palm or coconut trees-in which this region abounds-are cut down, the trunk hollowed out and covered with leather. But with the development of mechanical aids like lathes, wood has been shaped into smaller vessels of different shapes as in the tabla and the mridanga.
Another direction of evolution in this class of instruments is the potter's craft. Earthenware, even without the wheel, has a versatility in shape and an amenability for working, which is difficult to obtain in wood. That is why mud vessels and pots of numerous forms are available. Early drums made of pottery therefore exhibit the same variety in shapes and sizes; spherical pots, shallow pans, long necked jars and so on. Until the advent of the lathe, woodcraft could not have achieved this dimensions which are possible with the potter's wheel and which are so necessary for the quality of a drum. Thus we see pots like the dardura, the panlike tasha and the jar shaped tumbaknari. Even the barrel from the mridanga is easier moulded on the wheel than on the carpenter's bench. There is one drawback however, with earthenware: they are fragile. Drum-making, hence, reverts to wood and takes to metal. For example, while the khole is still made of clay, the maridanga and pakhavaj are constructed out of wood, though the word mridanga suggests a body of mood and clay; similarly, the earthen dagga, so common a few decades ago, is now made of wood or more usually of metal.
There is another aspect which is worth drawing attention to once more. This is, that drums in their primitive stages were cooking and storing pots which when covered become avanaddha vadya. This simple point is made evident in the names of a number of instruments of this kind. The best example one can site is of names like para, pare and pirai, etc. for drums, in Dravidian languages. But this word also refers to vessels employed for storing and measuring grain. Such functional and evolutionary relations are, therefore, very evident and do not need further labouring and elaboration.
There is one another type of membranophone which has completely disappeared from our musical world: the stamped pit. It comprises a deep hollow, dug in the ground and covered with thin planks or bark on which tribal women jumped keeping time to the music and dance. This 'earth drum' has been noticed in Indonesia, Malaysia and some far eastern countries. But vedic literature describes an instrument called the bhoomi dundubhi. This was a pit covered over with ox hide with the hairy surface facing up and nailed to the ground all around the pit; the 'drum stick' was the tail of the animal itself which was left intact. It is quite possible that such earthen drums were more primitive than the wooden cylindrical ones described earlier.
Drums have, for various reasons, always had symbolic and totemistic values. Quite a few tribes have special ceremonies related to them. Further-Heimendorf who was working with the Reddis of Bison Hills in Andhra says that with these people drums were the only instruments the manufactures of which was accompanied by a ritual. A Reddi when he has carved his drum shell and hollowed out the interior, stretches the membranes over the heads, kills a chicken and boring a hole in the shell with a red hot iron, pours a little blood into the shell, saying, "May this drum have a loud voice and sound ere we even touch it." The Oraons have certain ceremonies connected not only with the drum but other instruments as well. "When an Oraon purchases a new sword or shield or a new musical instrument, such as a nagera or runj drum or a narsingha pipe or bugle, he ceremoniously anoints it with vermillion. This is known as the 'marriage' (benja) of the shield or the drum or the bugle. These weapons and instruments are obviously recognized by the Oraons as mysterious living powers with whom they enter into relation so as to make their mana (a mysterious impersonal force) propitious to themselves, or, at least, innocuous. The first use of such an object is supposed to be full of risks and has to be made with caution and appropriate ceremonies. Even a new cloth is by some Oraons besmeared with turmeric juice before it is worn; this too is known as "marrying the cloth". Such ritual connected with handselling is not confined only to tribals. Almost very Hindu applies a little turmeric or kumkum (vermillion) to a new dhoti or sari before first unfolding it for use. Even at the highest echeleons, the breaking of a coconut and garlanding of a vehicle or when inaugurating a railway line or launching a ship from the dock is practiced; this perhaps is a residual memory of the rituals of animal sacrifices!
Vedic rituals also gave a prominent place to the drum, particularly the dundubhi. In the Atharva veda there is a fine eulogy to it; a part of the long invocation goes thus, "Oh dundubhi, you who are made of wood (vanaspati) and strident in sound act as a hero. By your high pitched sound strike terror in the enemies and, desirous of victory, roar like a lion. As a bull in rut amongst cows, so do you run amuck amongst the enemies. . . The gods of battle have scared and defeated the enemies with sounds of the dundubhi covered with deerskin." The drum was not only martial in use but was also of great significance in peace and religious rites. For instance, the dundubhi was played loudly to enthuse chariot racers; seventeen of them were kept round the holy arena and played during the Vajapaya yajna (ritual). The dundubhi players along with the flutist, tala clappers and other instrumentalists were considered sacred and 'sacrificed' in the Mahavrata ceremony of winter solstice, Makara sankrant. It is of course very questionable whether there was a physical sacrifice of human beings. The prevalence of human sacrifice during vedic times seems to be doubtful. The consensus of opinion of numerous scholars both in India and outside is that this reference to 'sacrifice' was really a symbolic statement of the offering of something sacred to the gods at the time of yajnas.
Some kind of worship of the drum has continued to much later times. For example, the Natya sastra describes how the various mridangas are to be worshipped: "under the asterism of Chitra or Hasta star, during an auspicious day of the waxing moon, a high born master of the arts who is free of passions, who knows music and its theory well, who is properly cleansed for worship should make three mandalas (circular places) washed with cowdung. He should place the alingya in the mandala of Brahman, the oordhvaka in that of Rudra and ankika in the place dedicated to Vishnu. To the first should be given an offering of honey, porridge and flowers; to the ankika should be given an offering of apupa (unleavened sweetened wheat cake) and lochika (a pastry of flour, puri), to the oordhvaka should be offered apupa, pinda (a ball of food) and so on.
The offering should be decorated with flowers of dhustura (datura) and karaveera (oleander) along with a red cloth."
To the Hindu mind the damaru has inextricably esoteric associations with the Cosmic Dancer, Shiva. As an ancient text says, "At the end of the dance the Eternal Dancer, to elevate as also to protect Sanaka and other yogins and to manifest his unmanifest Form, sounded his dhakka (a variety of damaru), nine and five times. Out of this came the fourteen aphorisms of language and speech which encompassed all tones of music as well." The sound of the damaru is then a symbol of the Primeval Vibration which refers to both creation and annihilation, and so finds a central position in many a tantric text.
In the above description of a ritual for three different kinds of drums, differentiated by the way they were held was given, a la Bharata and we may acquaint ourselves with some words used there. The oordhvaka drums were poisoned vertically and were perhaps played only on the top face (if the instruments were stood upright while playing, there could be only the top surface available for striking). Today we have the chenda, the tabla and a few others which have this position of play. The ankya type were kept horizontal and struck, the current examples being the dholak, the mridanga, the khole and so on. The alingya drums were embraced, meaning perhaps that they were held under one arm and played with the other. Some scholars are of the opinion, however, that these were really descriptions not of different kinds of drums but the position of a three-piece mridanga: that is, in those days maridanga might have referred collectively to three barrel drums and the terms used above indicated how each unit was kept. There are sculptures and reliefs which show one instrumentalist playing three drums, but usually they show a pair standing and one horizontal.
There was another classification based on shape. The haritaki kind were myrobolan-like: that is, with a barrel that had a central bulge and fairly uniform slope towards each face, somewhat like the tavil found in south India today. The yava or barley shaped drums were also barrel drums and they may have been similar to the present day maridanga. The gopuccha or cow's tail described was most probably one which was broad at one end and much narrower at the other, like the khole of Bengal.
For our present purpose we may divide avanaddha vadya into struck and rubbed ones; under each of these classes we may include subclasses such as frame drums, vessels of different shapes and varying number of faces, and so on, though rubbed drums are fever in variety. Better known examples of these now follow.
The frame drum is one where the skin is stretched over a frame of wood or metal. In effect, in such instruments, the diameter is very much longer than the depth. The hide might, naturally, cover either one or both the sides of the frame.
The simplest of such drums are the soorya and pirai, also called the soorya mandalam and the chandra pirai or the chandra mandalam; both are found in Andhra and Tamil Nadu. The pirai in the two names means drum; the soorya and chandra indicate the shape: soorya pirai is crescent shaped. These pirais, about twentyfive five centimeters in diameter, consist of an iron rod bent in the form of a circle or a crescent across which is stretched specially treated hide. The frame bears a handle and to its farthest end is attached a curved band, also of iron. This band is tied round the forehead of the player who strikes the instrument on both sides of the membrane with small sticks.
The most ubiquitous drum of this class is the daff. The sizes, the shapes, the construction and, of course, the names vary from region to region. But in general they all comprise a wooden or metal strip which is bent round to form a circle; sometimes the shape may be even octagonal, as in the case of ghera of Rajasthan, and primitive instruments may have no shape in particular, though vaguely circular or elliptical. Even the manner in which the hide is fixed differs from place to place and from type to type. For example, in the chengu of Orissa the skin is just crudely nailed to the frame by means of wooden pins. Some kinds of daff, like those seen in Karnataka and many other areas as well, use a complicated system of threads and rings to fix the membrane. Usually, however, the leather passes uniformly over the wooden strip and is nailed to it by small metal nails placed closely at regular intervals. The instrument is commonly suspended from the neck, held vertically and beaten with the hands or small straight sticks. The daff family is a tribal and folk one, never used in sophisticated concert music. The drum is known by different names, the most common of these being daff. Variation of this word are dappu, dafli and so on; in Tamil it even gets modified to tep. Obviously all these are linguistically related to the Arabic daff. There is another set of names used in south India and these are tammate or tappate in Kannada, tammattai or tappattai in Tamil, and tammeta or tappeta in Telugu. Some scholars have drawn attention to the great similarity between these words and the ancient Egyptian one, timibittu, suggesting that it might have been brought from Egypt to the peninsula and to Sri Lanka where it is called tammitemma. In Maharashtra and Karnataka it is also known as the halige. Now, halige in Kannada means a plank and hence a flat surface; by an extension of meaning, an instrument with a wide flat surface for playing, might have received the appellation halige. According to some, the ancient Sanskrit name for the frame drum was pataha, a word found in the Mahabharata and the Natya sastra. However, medieval writers on music used the word most probably to mean a barrel drum. Other names for this class of instruments are dayara, chang, karachakra and so on. As for sculptural evidence, the earliest in all probability is from Bharhut reliefs of the pre-Christian eras. The relief of a large medallion shows a procession of monkeys and an elephant. In all there are eight monkeys, five of them riding on an elephant, perched all over the animal's back. Three monkeys are shown roaming on the ground playing musical instruments. One is beating an hourglass drum slung from the shoulders; the second is striking what looks like a large daff with a stick bent at the striking end, and the third is blowing a trumpet which has a long straight tube ending in a conch shaped flare.
A frame drum similar to the daff but smaller in size is the khanjari. The khanjari has a frame, nearly thirty centimeters in diameter, made of wood, brass or even iron, and is covered with parchment, the instrument is beaten with the hands using the palms and fingers. It is not just the difference in dimensions between the daff and the khanjari which is notable; the essential dissimilarity is that the latter bears sets of small brass platelets, fixed loosely in pairs which produce a pleasant tinkle while playing. This instrument is also a folk instrument, usually associated in the West with gypsies and known as the tambourine; it has, however, been mentioned by Hindi poets of the Middle Ages.
A third type in this group-though without the jingle plates-is even smaller, though called khanjari in the north; this is the khanjeera of the south. Approximately a span across, it is held in one hand and played with the other. In north India it is a folk instrument, whereas in the peninsula it is a concert drum almost as versatile as the ghatam. During a concert with capable accompanists, the principal soloist, whether he is a vocalist or an instrumentalist, gives an opportunity to the rhythmic ensemble. This part of the performance is known as the tani avartanam or tani for short and is the time for the players of the mridangam, the kanjira and the ghatam to exhibit their skills. The mridangam is considered the leader and he starts off a rhythmic pattern; the other two-ghatam and the kanjira-follow this pattern in their turn; there is a soft of a finale in which all the three join and thus comes to an end the tani. Sometimes the moorsing also joins this group, though we are slowly losing competent players on the moorsing with the capacity to elicit the finer timer divisions so characteristic of Indian music.
The daff and the khanjari are made of sheep, goat, ox or buffalo hide; but the khanjira (and even the smaller khanjari) use the skin of iguana, a kind of lizard. Since the leather is fixed tightly to the frame even while making the instrument and there is no provision for tuning, these drums are not amenable to finer tuning. More recently screws are being used for fixing the parchment-a technique borrowed from the West; with such daffs finer pitch adjustments are possible. Though not to the extent it is in the tabla or the mridanga. Usually when the player finds the hide taut he dampens its hind surface thus lowering its pitch to the desired level by loosening it. When it is slightly loose, as it often is in the rainy season, he warms it over a fire.
The frame drums described so far had only one beaten surface. But here are a few drums which have depths of negligible dimensions compared to their diameters, but with two faces. Some typical ones of this kind are the murichenda of Kerala, and the chadchadi of Orissa. The best example is the gna of Laddakh and adjoining areas. This has a frame like the daff, though extremely well decorated with ritualistic motifs in colored lacquer-a fine specimen of such handicraft. The gna is covered on both sides and there is a longish handle to hold it. It is beaten with a stick with a characteristic curvature. This is the smaller variety; there are big ones called the gna chen which are hung on frames and struck with sticks. These and other drums are very closely associated with tantric rites in Buddhist areas where the flat drums are played to propitiate both the kinder deities as well as the 'angry guardians of faith'. Drums and other instruments play an important part in the Lamaistic dances of the Sherpas, the highlanders of Laddakh, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet. Of special interest is the gna-cham dance performance. Four dancers do the dance, one pair playing the drums, gna and the other cymbals. These beats symbolize "the eternal beat of the heavenly drum which vibrates in the world as life and death vibrate". The drum sounds signify the "expounding and transmitting of the truth on the wave-length of universe", as revealed to Gautama. This may be compared to the mystic sound of the damaru of Shiva. The gna is also used for purposes of divination of illness, its cause and cure.
As was suggested earlier it is very probable that large wooden cylindrical drums might have well been the earliest two-faced avanaddha vadya. The reasons for this were also pointed out: that it is easy to fell a tree, cut the trunk to the required size, hollow it out and cover it with leather and thus make a drum. Even today large instruments of this kind are found in various areas with a number of tribes and rural groups. The kharram of Assam, the large dhole of the Andhra Reddis and dhole of the Dhangars of Maharashtra are all huge wooden drums played to their dancers. Such a 'dhole' can be seen on a seal of the Indus valley and hence must have existed in this subcontinent from prehistoric times. The scene on the seal depicts a man with a long cylindrical drum, held horizontally near about the waist; he is standing in front of a cow or an ox and beating the instrument with his hands.
No description of the cylindrical type of drums can begin with a better example than the bheri. This is one of the most ancient drums we know of. It must have had a very loud and strident tone, for it was of common use in battles, processions and merrymaking. The Ramayana has a number of references to it. When Hanuman is caught and punished by Ravana, the king's orders are announced to the sound of the conch and the bheri. When Rama and Lakshamana awaken from the soporific influence of the enemy's arrow, the joyous occasion is celebrated with the music of the bheri, mridanga and sankh. The battle cry and the drum beating to enthuse soldiers and to frighten the enemy used, among many other percussion instruments, the bheri, as is often described in the Mahabharata. One Jataka (the story of the life cycles of the Bodhisatva), the Bheri vada jataka, is short one describing a very good use of this instrument. The story goes thus: "once the Bodhisatva was born in a village near Varanasi and there plied the profession of a drummer. He made his way to that city to earn some money at the festival; and with him went his son. The two started on their way back after a good earning at the fair, and their way led through a forest where dwelt many robbers. To frighten away the robbers the son began to beat the bheri incessantly. The father chided him saying, 'Don't behave so. You must beat the drum only now and then, as if the procession of a great lord was passing by.' The son would not heed the advice but went on with his noisy warnings. At first the marauders ran away, thinking that it was a great lord passing by along with his retinue. But when the drumming did not stop they came to find only the old man and his son going. So they fell upon the two and looted them of all the money they had earned." The moral of the story:
"Go not too far, but learn learn excess to shun;
For over-drumming lost what drumming won."
The Sangeeta ratnakara written in the 13th Century and considered one of the greatest works on music gives a short description of the bheri: the drum was made of copper, was sixtyfive centimeters long and each face had a diameter of twentyfive centimeters. One face was played with the hand and the other with a kona. There were a variety of bheris like the rana bheri used in war, the ananda bheri used by gopis (milk maids) in their dances and accompanying the singing of dhamar, the madana bheri and so on.
Today cylindrical drums of different sizes and held in various positions are common through out the country and are comprehensively called dhole when large or dholak when small. (These words are applied also to barrel drums.) One interesting variety, generally seen in Andhra and Tamil Nadu, is the pamba or pambai, a folk musical instrument. As a matter of fact there is a community in southern Andhra who specialize in playing this instrument; this social group call themselves the Pambalas and has an interesting status vis a vis the orthodox Hindu classes and the so called untouchables. The pambai is not one drum, but in reality a pair of long cylindrical or near cylindrical ones, tied together. The unit of two is held near the waist of the player and beaten with curved sticks. In the simpler varieties, both drums are made of wood. Bur one often meets pambai in which one drum is of wood and the other of metal, usually brass. The two constituents are distinguished by giving them different names: the wooden one is known as veeru vanam and the metal drum as the vengala pambai, (vengalam means brass). Of course, pambai includes both and is a collective term.
Of all cylindrical drums none is so well known as the chenda of Kerala. This is an instrument seen invariably in kathakali, koodiyattam and related forms of dance. The same instrument is known as the chende in certain areas of Karnataka where it is an accompaniment in the yaksha gana dance-dramas. The drum is cylindrical in shape, made of jack wood and covered at both ends. While it is thus befacial, in actual practice only one surface is beaten. To do this the drummer suspends the chenda from his neck such that it hangs more or less vertically and he strikes the upper parchment with a pair of sticks. There are many kinds of this drum: the uruttu chenda (for playing variations), the veeku chenda (one which beats the basic rhythm), acchan chenda and so on. It is interesting to come across a similar instrument in sculptures as old as those of Sanchi. Here a band of foreign soldiers are shown marching and one of them is a drummer who is playing an instrument very much like the chenda .
Bulging drums-what are also often called as the barrel drums-are very ancient indeed. Some grhya sootras give the mridanga and another avanaddha vadya, the nandiriti, which according to some scholars was a kind of dhole. In old Tamil literature also one comes across the murasu quite often. The epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata are copious in their mention of the mridanga, the pataha, the nandi vadya and such other barrel drums. These were not only marital in use, but were also employed in merrymaking and festivals. In the Ramayana, Valmiki describes the rainy season thus: "The buzz of bhramara is the hum of strings, the chatter of monkeys the rhythm, the tree tops sing in the wind and the dark clouds play the mridanga." A few jatakas also refer to the mridanga and the muraja. And Jain literature also has extensive references to certain bulging drums. Harivamsa, which is a supplementary to the Mahabharata, describes a group song called cchalikya in which Narada played the veenu, Krishna was the flutist and Arjuna gave tala on the mridanga. Kalidasa in his Raghuvamsa describes the frolics of women bathing and splashing in the river: "The charming mridanga-like sound of the waters accompanies their songs and fills their ears as it is welcomed by the sweet cries of peacocks standing on the bank, their tails expended." In the Srimad Bhagavata puranam, there is passage on the ascent of Prince Dhruva: "The time of Libreration had come for Dhruva, the son of Uttanapada. Perceiving this, he stepped on the head of Death and mounted the divine chariot. Heavenly beings then struck the dundubhi, the mridanga and the panava; gandharvas sang his praises and there was a shower of flowers from the skies." Sculptural depictions of barrel drums begin at least two millennia ago in the reliefs of Bharhut and Sanchi.
We have once again to fall back on the Natya sastra for the earliest musical text describing the mridanga and allied drums. During his time and thereafter this instrument, in some form or the other, has been the premier drum of India; every age and every system of music has given it the highest place of honour. Bharata enumerates many types of pushkara of which mridanga was one, and describes various kinds of the drum differing in shape and position of play to which we have already referred. (Pushkara seems to have meant drums in general and included many varieties of avanaddha vadya.) Mridanga also went by other names in musical and other literature: muraja and mardala, for instance. The difference between them is not always clear, though they were all, and most often bulging, drums. One medieval author give details of mardala as follows: it has a body made of wood, about forty centimeters long, with a bulge in the middle; one face measured about twenty-eight centimeters across and the other nearby twenty-five. Both faces had a paste of cooked rice mixed with ashes stuck onto them. The dimensions of the many other kinds of mridanga have also been given by ancient authors.
The muraja seems to have had a shape similar to the mridanga and the mardala, but with the heads (beaten surfaces) much smaller. Besides Sanskrit texts, Tamil literature of the Sangam age has references to many kinds of murasu, as for example the veeru murasu (a martial drum), the tyaga murasu (a drum beaten to announce a charity or grant) and so on. The muraja evidently migrated to Indonesia where it was known as the murava.
Even in contemporary times we now use the term mridanga to mean many kinds of two-headed drums. For example, the mridangam of south India, the pakhavaj of Hindustani music, the khole of Bengal and so on are all called mridanga in spite of the dissimilarity in shape and structure. A parallel situation of confusion of names exists in the case of mandalam which is related to the mardala.
The mridangam of the south is the only drum used in classical musical concerts there now, with the exception of the tail which accompanies nagasvaram recitals. A generation ago even the dholak was played, though not frequently, in serious music; but one never comes across this in classical music now. Another instrument is the suddha maddalam which resembles the mridangam but is played with dances such as the kathakali. To avoid confusion and distinguish instruments of this class from one another, we shall use the word mridangam to refer only to the bifacial, barrel avanaddha vadya of Karnataka music, to be described now. The body or shell of the instrument is of wood and about sixty centimeters in length. The shape, as is obvious from the context, is that of a barrel with the bulge slightly to one side. The right face is slightly smaller than the left and even the construction of the heads differ. The left face, called the toppi, is simpler having two lamina. The outer one is really a flat ring of leather and at its periphery attached to a plait known as the pinnal. This layer holds on its inner side another parchment which is a circular piece and has a diameter approximating to the outer skin. This whole unit is fixed to the left head. The right face is more complex, as this has not two but three laminations. The inner one which is not visible to the eye and the outer are rings, as with the left face. Between the two is struck one complete piece extending over the full face; that is, this middle circular layer is held taut by pasting along its periphery the annular rings of leather. This entire complex, called the valan talai in Tamil, is stitched on to a pinnal or plait and mounted on to the right mouth of the barrel. The two faces-toppi on the left and the valan talai on the right-are joined and held together tight by leather straps which pass in and out of the pinnals or braids on both sides. The right drum-heads has a black mixture known as the soru glued permanently on; the toppi, on the other hand, is a plain membrane which, just prior to use, is loaded in the center with paste of dough; this is removed after the performance. Tuning of the drum is done by striking the right pinnal with a wooden block and a stone.
The pakhavaj is the king of drums in Hindustani music, though today it is more a constitutional monarch, respected from a distance. Once it was truly royal, reigning the kingdom of drums and was played as accompaniment to Kathak dance, devotional songs, dhrupad and been (veena). Times have changed today, for khyal singing and the sitar hold court; and so the tabla with its soft sound has taken over. As the tonal quality of the pakhavaj is deep and mellow suited to the dhrupad and the been and the strokes-thapi in musical parlance-have an elephantine gait in consonance with the older music, it could not accommodate itself to the present mood of the khyal and the sitar. This drum, like the mridangam, has a body of wood, though a little longer; the membranes are also multiple, but slightly different in dimensions. As is in the southern barrel drum, here also there is a black mixture, called the syahi, applied to the right face; the application of dough to the left head is again as in the mridangam. One general difference, apart from shape and size, between the two drums is that in the pakhavaj there are cylindrical wooden blocks under alternate pairs of laces; these can be moved up or down the barrel for gross tuning. Finer pitch adjustments are brought about by striking the plaits, which in Hindi are called gajra, by a metallic hammer. The pakhavaj, as pakhavaj, gets an early reference most probably in the Hindi literature of about five hundred years ago. It is one of the important drums described in the Ain-i-Akbari of Abul Fazl, a minister and friend of Emperor Akbar. Evidently, as either the pakhavaj or the mridanga, it has historic past and might have had a number of regional variations in structure and style of playing. Today the major gharanas or schools of pakhavaj playing are of Kudau Singh of the nineteenth century, of Nana Panse of the same time and that of Nath Dwara in Rajasthan; this, of course, does not disregard the many great artistes who have been exponents of this instrument and who have developed individual style of their own.
There are two more drums of this class which draw our attention. They are the Sri khole of Bengal and the pung of Manipur. The keertan or sankeertan is an extremely important congregational singing in the eastern parts of our country and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the Bengali saint of the fifteenth-sixteenth centuries, is said to have gone the khole or its varieties. Indeed, the association of this drum with the keertan and bhakti (adoration) is so deep that it is called Sri khole. While there are variations in sizes, the drum is usually about three quarters of ammeter in length with one face very much wider than the other, aptly deserving the description gopuccha (cow's tail). The body could be wood or brunt clay with the two heads made of multiple membranes as in the mridanga. The pung used in Manipur's dance and music is smaller than the Sri khole. Also its bulge is more central and the shape more symmetrical than in the case of the khole; it might hence qualify for a description as yava (barley) shaped. Both the drums are beaten with the hands.
The tavil of south India is another avanaddha vadya deserving mention. This is typically, and most likely exclusively, met within the negasvaram or melam ensembles. As with the mridangam, the instrument is in the form of a barrel, but more so, and could be called as the haritaki (myrobolam) type. The tavil, like the other drums described, is also of wood though shorter in length, with the membranes almost of the same size. The parchments are fixed to rings-one for each side-and these are held together by leather lacing. The player beats on one side with a stick and on the other side with his fingers. The striking is so hard and forceful that, to produce the desired effect and to protect the fingers, special bandages are wound round the tips of fingers.
We have seen talking of the dholak and the dhole quite often without actually describing them. This is because the number of varieties which are covered by the two words is enormous. The only common feature amongst these is that they are all two-handed drums. It is usual to call the larger drums as dhole or dhak and the smaller ones as dholak. The sizes may vary from the huge dhaks of Bengal to the small dholak of itinerant beggars and drums beaten by ladies in marriages. The shapes also differ from the almost cylindrical to the barrel. The manner of stretching the hide over the mouths and lacing also varies. The drum face may be plain or may be loaded from the inside with the pulp of, say, castor seeds after the extraction of oil. Dholes and dholaks are suspended from the neck, tied to the waist and kept on the lap or the ground, and played with the hands or with sticks.
The third class of bifacial avanaddha vadya are the waisted ones, who called the hourglass, sandglass or the damaru shaped drums. This form has an ancient past and once was a major instrument in sophisticated music. Today, however, one hears them only in tribal and folk music not on the concert platform. Right from Mohenjodaro we can trace the hourglass drum's occurrence and every age has depicted it in sculpture, in icons and in painting. The panava is as old as the sootra literature and the epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The dindima is found in the Jataka as well as the great epics. Tamil classes have the utukkai, itakkai, timilai and so on which can be seen in use even now. Another drum belonging to this class is the auz which word, according to some, is derived from the Sanskrit atodya meaning instruments in general. This particular drum was known at least from the time of the Sangeeta ratnakara written in the thirteenth century and later describes also in the Aim-i-Akbari. Other waisted drums of India, past and present, are the hudukka, the deru, the dhakka or dhanka, trivali, the budbudke or kudukuduppe, the tudi and a host of them found scattered in the land. These instruments differ from one another in the manner of playing, size and structure, though, in some cases, the same drum is known in different regions by local names. A few examples may now be studied.
Budbudke or kudukuduppe are the southern names for the diminutive damaru used by the monkey man throughout India: the monkey and bear dancers in the north belong to a special community called the madari. This is a very small drum, some measuring as little as a few centimeters in length. The body, which is waisted, is of wood and bears two parchments, one on each side and are held together by moderately thick cotton threads. At the waist there are two strings with knots beat on the skins and produce a rattling sound to the rhythm of the bear dances.
The damaru of Tibet and its neighboring area is of great interest, both for their structure and for the occasions on which they are performed. The drum, of which there are different kinds, is played in the musical ensembles in honour of the dharmapalas (the protectors of the religious laws) both of the gentle and the aggressive or militant types; it is also used to show intervals and pauses in religious ceremonies. These hourglass drums, locally known as the nga chung, are made of sandal or catechu wood and may be, in size, anywhere from ten centimeters to much larger dimensions. They can easily be made out by the leather thong or the thick cloth wound round near the drum-waist which serves as the handle and by the attractive colored pendants. While the nga chung and the mchod nga used by wandering monks are common, there is also the fantastic thod nga. This is made of two human skulls joined back to back; human skin is employed for the damaru faces. The skulls of people who died in an accident or the young children begotten of incest are considered of high magical value.
The hurukka (hudukka, deru, udukkai) is another type, though in shape it is of the damaru class; the size, on the other hand, is usually bigger, sometimes nearly twenty-five centimeters in length. The parchment is plain and is attached to a wooden body more or less as in the damaru. However, there are knotted threads and hence this is not a rattle drum; the heads are struck with sticks or with the fingers.
Tudi is a small hourglass drum played with song and dance in the villages of Karnataka and Kerala. In the latter province there was a curious use of this instrument; to catch thieves. When in a village a theft had taken place and the culprit was not traceable it was customary to depend on the services of a tudi player. He would take his place in the village square with the entire population round him. When all had gathered, he would play the tudi and along with it start on a really intolerable string of abuses calling upon the thief to confess. The vituperation would be so strong and vulgar that the miscreant would have to counter him either with a confession or an aggressive attack. In either case he got caught.
Before going on to describe the idakka which is perhaps the most complicated instrument in this group, we must take a brief look into the technique of tonal variations obtained in such drums. A reference to the cotton braces connecting the two drum-faces was made while describing the budbudke. This lacing is always slightly lifted away from the shell of the instrument, which simple fact makes it possible for the player to press the threads to varying degrees. The change in tension so achieved alters the pitch of the parchments and very attractive tonal effects can thus be produced.
The art of fixing the parchment and playing in this special manner has been carried to a great degree of sophistication and complexity in the idakka or eddakka of Kerala. This instrument is, of course, neither recent nor confined to this province, for a large number of sculptures in many parts of the country, bur more particularly in Karnataka, bear testimony to its wide distribution; and these sculptures are centuries old. Currently it is in Kerala that we see it most and at its best; it is also there that it has been developed to a high degree of sensitivity. The body of the idakka is of wood and is about a quarter of a meter long. The skin is stretched across a circular metal ring like in the chandra pirai and placed against the drum mouth, one on each side. The mouth itself has two thin midribs of coconut palm nailed across it and they add a pleasing buzz to the sound. The fact to be noted is that the heads are only held tight against the shell by cotton laces connecting them and the parchments are not permanently fixed to the wood; this enables the drummer to slide the body against the membranes to some extent. The cotton threads connecting the drum faces are wound over by another lacing at the middle narrow part of the body. This is also connected to the shoulder strap from which the instrument hangs. The player now employs a well practiced manipulation of the drum. While beating it with a stick in one hand, the other hand is inserted under the threads. Here the squeezes the centrally wound lacing, moves the body of the idakka ever so slightly and applies small changing tensions on the shoulder strap. All these are done so delicately, dexterously and quickly that you do not notice them. Nevertheless, such a technique enables him to create a great number of sound qualities and sometimes even play ragas, although a little out of tune.
We may now turn our attention to avanaddha vadya derivable from pots, pans, troughs and such other vessels. As was suggested earlier, these household utensils might well have been the parents of all later pot drums. The variety of shapes and sizes also developed pari passu the potter's craft, as will become evident from what follows. Again, it is quite possible that bhoomi dundubhi might have vaguely given the idea of the use of bhanda or pitchers as resonators to increase the loudness of sound.
The simplest is naturally an earthen pot the mouth of which is bound with a leather covering. Quite a number of such folk drums are in use today, for example, the pabuji ki mate of Rajasthan. A set of two pots is generally played, which is an important fact, for the employment of two (or three) drums is an ancient practice in our country and might well have led to the growth of the tabla and the dagga. Each of these is a large clay pot with a membrane stretched over a wide mouth. The temple at Pattadakallu in Karnataka, dated from the 5th to 7th Century is perhaps the earliest site where such a pot drum is shown. There is another temple, also in Karnataka where there is a relief showing not one drum but three pots tied together and played with the hands. In musical and other texts, this pot-drum has been known as the dardura and is as ancient as the first millennium before Christ. During Bharata's time-that is, 200 B.C. at the earliest-it was a prominent percussion instrument, as he classes it with the mridanga and the panava. But in later times it receded to the background and at present is a primitive folk instrument.
There is another shape: that of the kooja or the surahi, with a spherical body and a long neck made famous both in Persian and in Indian miniatures as the wine jar and also in Aesop's fables in the tale of the stork and the jackal. There are number of such pots differing in size, shape and material. Tumbaknari of Kashmir is a large surahi, the upper end of which is covered over with leather and the lower end is open; it is held horizontally on the lap and played with the fingers. The ghumat of Goa and Maharashtra is more spherical with a shorter neck; in this it is the 'lower' side that has a large opening stretched over with skin, often of iguana, and the mouth of the neck is uncovered. Very much like the ghumat are the gummate of Karnataka, the burra of Andhra and the jamukku of Tamil Nadu, but they are better made. Usually the body is of bell metal or brass and the fixing of the leather is also more complicated than in the tumbaknari or even the ghumat. Further, except in the tumbaknari, the open orifice is used for obtaining fine sound effects by pressing and opening it with the palm while the other hand beats the drum head. All of these are again folk instruments, some of them of considerable importance. For instance, the burra is a speciality of a certain group of ballad singers in Andhra and this type of song-story rendition is called the burra katha, as the singer accompanies himself on the instrument.
There is a large class of avanaddha vadya derivable from shallow pans of various sizes and depths as well as from large or small conical vessels. The gradations in forms and dimensions are many and it may not be very pertinent in a book of this kind to go into finer classifications. We shall group them all as one whole family and study some representative members.
The dundubhi which is equated with today's nagara is in every likelihood the most ancient of conical drums and finds mention in the rigveda, in the Vajasaneya and other samhitas, in certain upanishads and brahmanas, all belonging to what is generally known as the vedic period. The drum seems to have been popular and venerated as well, as would have been gathered from earlier references to it in this study. The dundubhi is also prominent as a martial instrument in the two epics and almost all subsequent literature. The present versions of the dundubhi are the dhumsa, the nissan, the nagara and so on, all met with in non-classical music. The tribal dhumsa of the Santals is a huge instrument made of thin metal sheets with a narrow bottom and a very wide mouth. Yet, in spite of its weight and size, it is huge from the shoulders and the drummer dances about beating it loudly with a pair of sticks. The nissan which is as old as the Ramayana is found in Gujarat and Rajasthan, though in very different forms. References to the nissan occur also in medieval Hindi poetry and in a musical work written in the thirteenth century. It was then a big metal bowl of either bronze, copper or iron, covered with buffalo hide and beaten with sticks. Right from the earliest references it has always been considered a martial drum, the vestiges of this function are seen in the Orissa nissan of the present day. The bowl drum in this region, played during the dalkhai dance, has a pair of antler horns tied to it; the dancers suspend from their necks the nissans and, while keeping the rhythm of the dance, conduct a mock battle thrusting horn against horn. The dundubhi is kept also in temples, to be beaten during worship or to announce prayers. The nagara is a very familiar drum throughout north India and it is quite possible that its name is imported from West Asia. Usually there are two conical bowl drums struck with sticks, the pair being known as nagara or naqara. The smaller of the two is higher in pitch and is the madi or female; the larger with a deeper tone is called the nar or the male. While the naqara or nagara is used in folk dramas, marriage and religious processions, the traditional place where it is found is the naubatkhana. This, as an institution, does not exist any more, and has gone with the disappearance of the princely states. The naubatkhana or naqarakhana was an apartment especially set apart in the tower of a castle, the gateway of the palace or even near the battle field and housed a number of instruments which were sounded to announce various royal activities and pleasures. The best known of such ensembles was that of Emperor Akbar and Abul Fazl gives a graphic account of it: "of musical instruments used in the nagarakhana, I may mention, 1. the kuwarga, commonly called the damama; there are eighteen pairs of them more or less; and they give a deep sound. 2. The nagara, twenty pairs, more or less. 3. The duhul, of which four are used. 4. The karna is made of gold, silver, brass, and other metals, and they never blow fewer than four. 5. The surna of the Persian and Indian kinds; they blow nine together. 6. The nafir, of the Persian, European, and Indian kinds; they blow some of each kind. 7. The sing is of brass and made in the form of cow's horn; they blow two together. 8. The sanj or cymbal, of which three pairs are used.
"Formerly the band played four gharis before the commencement of the night, and likewise four gharis before daybreak; now they play first at midnight, when the sun commences his ascent, and the second time at dawn. One ghari before sunrise, the musicians commence to blow the surna, and wake up those that are asleep; and one ghari after sunrise, they play a short prelude, then they beat the kuwarga a little, whereupon they blow the karna, the nafir, and the other instruments, without, however, making use of the nagara; after a little pause the surnas are blown again, the time of the music being indicated by the nafirs. One hour later the naqaras commence, when all musicians raise the auspicious strain." The Ain-i-Akbari then goes on to describe in detail seven kinds of music on different kinds of instruments. (The damama or kuwarga, the duhul and the nagara were drums, the karna and sing were trumpets, the surna and nafir were oboes and the sanj-compare jhanj-was cymbal.)
Smaller types of bowls are also very ubiquitous throughout the country. The names and regional types are too many for a detailed description. Some that need notice, however, are the sambal of Maharashtra, the tasha so common everywhere in north India in accompaniment with the shehnai, the tase of Karnataka and the tamukku of Tamil Nadu.
The tabla has perhaps created the greatest controversy, equaled only by the sitar, about its historicity and migration. The discussions become more confounded because of attempts at always equating its name and its history with the instrument and its antecedents. Take the present case of the tabla. The tabla is a Persian word and is a general one that includes all kinds of drums. But is the instrument Persian? Is it not possible that these aliens who came to India long ago gave this name to some indigenous drums which they found here? This is very much analogous to the nagara which has its Indian counterparts in the dundubhi, the nissan and other such bowl drums. There are many clues to show that the origins of the tabla are Indian. We have already seen that conical drums are very old in over country; and as early as the third century of the Christian era there is sculptural evidence, showing a lady with a small tamukku like conical drum in her lap and striking it with her hands. Having the drum in the lap for playing is characteristic with the dagga, one of the twins of the tabla pair; so is playing with the hands. Again, multiple layers of membranes is common to many Indian avanaddha vadya and are found in the tabla. Moreover, loading the skin surface with some kind of a mixture is also typical of this country (and Burma); the use of two or more drums at the same time is also an age old practice with us. All these strongly point to the Indian parentage of the tabla. What might have happened is that local drums could well have received Persian names and evolved along new lines after the post-medieval period. It is a surprising fact that neither Ain-i-Akbari nor the near contemporary work, Sangeeta parijata, give any reference to this word in Assamese literature of about the fourteenth century.
The tabla as we now find it, is a two piece drum, often collectively known as the tabla. Of the two, one is the tabla proper and the other is the dagga (duggi or bayan). The tabla is invariably made of wood and is a vessel broader at the bottom and narrower at the top. The face is made very much like that of the pakhavaj. There is a middle membrane almost as wide as the mouth and this is held by an annular ring of leather about two centimeters in width, pasted to it all round. This ring of leather known in Hindi as the chanti or the kinara, is stitched firmly to a leather braid, the gajra. This unit of central leather, the chanti and the gajra, together often called the pudi, is tightened onto the open mouth of the body by means of leather braces passing through the gajra and a leather ring at the bottom. Small cylinders of wood are inserted between the leather thongs and the body, for purposes of rough tuning. Finer adjustments are made by striking the gajra up for lowering the pitch and down for increasing it. The tabla, like the pakhavaj, has syahi loaded centrally. The dagga is just the opposite in shape: unlike its companion, it is narrow at the bottom and wide at the top a miniature nagara. The pudi is made and fixed like in the tabla, except that the syahi is not in the center but is placed to one side. Also, the bowl is of metal, though formerly it used to be of wood or clay. There are no tuning blocks as in the other piece; as a matter of fact the dagga cannot be turned accurately, whereas very accurate pitch adjustments are possible with the tabla. Both the drums are played with the hands but with a difference. The right drum (tabla) is struck with the ends and middle phalanges of the fingers as well as with the flat palm; for the left hand drum (bayan), on the other hand, the balls of the fingers, the flat palm and the base of the palm come into play. These strokes, which all have definite names, are combined or emphasized in a variety of ways, giving rise to a number of styles such as the Delhi gharana, the Ajrada gharana, the Faruqqabad gharana, the Lucknow-Varanasi gharana and so on.
There were drums which had more than two faces though they are seldom, if at all, seen now. In ancient musicological literature one often comes across the term tripushkara which is interpreted in different ways. One meaning could be that it referred to the three major avanaddha vadya: the mridanga, the panava and the dardura. Another opinion is that the three positions of the mridanga-oordhvaka (the vertical), ankya (held in the lap) and the alingya (the embraced)-were included in the tripushkara which must have meant playing together three drums, one in each of these positions. Some scholars are of the opinion that they were three drums, one in each of these positions, while others are of the opinion that drums with three faces were called tripushkara. A mridanga with three heads has been noticed in the sculptures of Hampi, in Karnataka, the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire. It may be remembered that we drew attention to these pots tied together and played, as shown in a temple relief panel in Karnataka. The Dilvara temple in Rajasthan, belonging to the eleventh century, has a relief showing a musician playing a four headed drum. The panchamukha vadya, seen in some southern temple sculptures, is played today in a few places during worship. It is a large vessel-either of copper or brass-and has to be mounted on a small wooden cart for transportation within the temple precincts. On the top of the vessel there are five tubular projections which are the drum heads and each is covered with the skin of a milch cow. In actual performances, two small pot drums also of metal, the kudamuzha, are placed by the side of the panchamukha vadya so that there are in all seven faces; it is claimed that these turned to the seven tone ancient scale, technically known as the shadja grama. The five faces are named after those of Lord Shiva: the central one is Isana, the northern is Vamadeva, eastern is Tatpurusa, the southern is Aghora and the western is Sadyojata. The directions of the compass are indicated from the position of the player: where he stands is the north and moving towards his left hand will be the east, the south and the west in that order.
Before going on to the friction drums, a few words may be said about the importance of the drumhead construction and the playing techniques which have ensconced India is an almost unique position in the world of music.
The parchment in the daff, the khanjari or the nagara is attached directly onto the frame or the body; in some cases, at best, the membrane is first stretched across a circular hoop which is then mounted on the drum body. These simple mechanisms obtain in Western drums also. Further, all these have plain hides. These two factors-direct fixing to the frame or the body and the plainness of the surface-detract from the instruments good musical and tonal values; such drum faces are said to be noisy, bereft of agreeable sound qualities, due to a lack of uniform tension. This defect is got over by numerous contrivances in the more advanced membranophones like the pakhavaj, the mridanga and the tabla.
The first step is to stretch the skin uniformly. It would have been noticed that the central membrane in these drums is held by one or two layers of rings (chanti); it is this chanti and not the middle skin that is stitched to the gajra or the pinnal. Even this is very carefully and thoughtfully done: for the chanti is attached to the gajra not haphazardly, but at very close and regular intervals through small holes in the chanti. All these methods pull the hides very evenly round the entire circumference; besides, the chanti prevents the central leather layer from coming into contact with the frame or the body of the drum, thus preventing its wear and tear.
The next step is to load the membrane. As was mentioned either, this is done by striking a temporary paste of dough or a permanent mixture (the syahi, karanai or soru). It has been shown by scientific experiments, the first of which were conducted by C.V. Raman a few decades ago, that such a process eliminates much of the noise quality and also brings about the production of regularly related tones (harmonics) from the skin. This method of loading is an age old practice in our country. Bharata (200 B.C.-200 A.D.) calls it the vilepana or rohana and describes the material to be used thus: "Now listen about the characteristic of the earth (suitable for this purpose). The earth which contains no gravel, sand, grass and husks of grains, and which does not stick and nor which is white, alkaline, pungent, yellow, black, sour or bitter, is suitable for plastering, . . . The blackish earth from a river bank, which is fine after squeezing out the water should be used . . . When the earth which spreads very much, is white or black or heavy or unstable or is full of husks, and blackish earth not producing desirable notes is all that is available, then one should use wheat flour or barley flour for this purpose. Sometimes a mixture of what flour and barley flour is used. One defect in this is that it produces monotonous tones" . . . "But one should not apply to mridangas a rohana consisting of sesamum paste mixed with cow's ghee and oil." While on the left face of the mridangam and the pakhavaj (in rare cases, the dagga also) the dough is still used, other mixtures have also been invented and we now have highly efficient combinations of ingredients for the black soru (or karanai) and the syahi of the drum heads. By the early middle ages, rice flour, wood ash and jaggery (molasses) came to be employed in the plasters; and by about the seventeenth century iron filings also find a place. Now a days, the general composition of the black mixture is of glue, iron or manganese powder, charcoal powder and wheat or rice flour. The method of putting on the syahi is also a very well tested one and has to be punctiliously followed. First a layer of the paste is spread on the bare hide, to the required area. While still wet it is polished smooth with a heavy stone. Before this layer dries up, another, of a slightly smaller circumference, is put on, again polishing it with the stone. Layer after layer is thus affixed, each successive one of less diameter than the previous one; the number of layers is determined by the size of the drum head and the pitch to which it is to be adjusted.
While mentioning the gharanas of the pakhavaj and the tabla, a reference was made to various strokes on the drums. This again is a notable and characteristic element of Indian drumming. Every strokes has been well defined in terms of the point of striking, the position of the fingers and the palms and so on. This is often the case even in tribal music, for example the Santals who call the stroke patterns rad. In classical music texts the name for these is patakshara or merely pata or akshara. In current practice the drum alphabets for the pakhavaj are known as the thapi, for the tabla the bole and for the mridangam the sollu. There are many kinds of rhythmic arrangements of the patas and these are called the paran, gaida, the rela and so on in Hindustani music and the solkattu in Karnataka music. The memorizing of the patas for any pattern enables the drummer not only to elicit them on the instrument but keep him on the right time track. The Hindustani system has also a way of defining a tala or the rhythmic cycle by boles or thapis, and this basic definition is the theka by which the tala can be identified.
There are not many friction drums in India. One of them, played by the worshippers of Mariyamma in south India, is the burburi which is a cylindrical two faced instrument. While the right hand beats the rhythm with a straight stick, the left hand rubs the membrane on the other side with curved twig. The same method is adapted in the urumi, an hourglass drum found in Tamil Nadu.