5 September 2006

Just a bit of me

Dhe-te-Dha-a-n-Dha-a-n-Dha. Ab aaye sam par.

Hi. I'm saattvic. That's my name. My complete name. No surname. But more on that later. Maybe in another post. As of now, let me tell you a little about 'Dhe-te-Dha-a-n-Dha-a-n-Dha'.

They're tabla bols. I play the tabla. Have been doing so for 11 years. I love it. Some others love it too, but that's ok. Dhe-te-Dha-a-n-Dha-a-n-Dha is a piece we use to arive at the 'sam' (pronounced sum). Is this confusing you? ok. There are three types of people. Those who know indian classical music. Those who don't care. And those who do care but don't know. Hope you're the third type. Let me start over.

Hindustani classical music (there is another indian classical form - carnatic. but if i say indian classical, take it to mean hindustani classical) is primarily for soloists. Sometimes you get duets. But usually just one artist. Most times this artist is either a vocalist or an instrumentalist (sometimes he is a percussionist, ie he plays the tabla or the pakhawaj or some other percussion instrument, but more on that later). A tabla player always accompanies vocalists and instrumentalists. His basic function is to keep the beat. Most times a tanpura plays in the background to provide the base note. Vocalists are also accompanied by a harmonium or sarangi for support.

A vocalist or instrumentalist plays with notes. These notes are represented by symbols. Westerners will be familiar with 'do, re, me, fa, so, la, ti'. Indians have this as 'sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni'. They're the same notes, they just have different symbols. 'do' and 'sa' are the same note. so are 'me' and 'ga'. Funnily enough, the second note is 're' in both styles of notation.

It follows that most of what a vocalist or instrumentalist plays can be captured on paper as a string of notes. The idea of the musician coming up with something first and then it being captured on paper is the exact opposite of the western tradition. There a composer composes everything and an orchestra plays it. Here, most music is based on improvisation.

The musician comes up with the piece based usually on a raag and within the raag, a bandish. A raag is a collection of notes. Raag Bhopali is 'sa-re-ga-pa-dha-sa, sa-dha-pa-ga-re-sa'. The ascent is called the aaroh and the descent is called the avaroh. A bandish is a composition within the raag, usually lasting one or two beat cycles (more on beat cycles later). This bandish then forms the base for all the improvisations. Well, I'll go into the details of a classical music performance in some other post.

The accompanying percussion instrument in hindustani classical is usually the tabla or pakhawaj, depending on the style of the main musician. His job is to maintain the beat cycle and improvise in tandem with the main artist within that beat cycle. A beat cycle is of utmost importance to hindustani music. All bandishes are set to a cycle of beats. The most common is a cycle of 16 beats called teentaal. This cycle repeats itself, and so all work in that piece has to adhere to the 16 beat cycle. The first beat in a cycle is called the sam. Most bandishes have a distinct point of emphasis and a definite sense of marking a partition between cycles at the sam. Most improvisations finish at the sam, or lead into the bandish, which provides emphasis at the sam.

Now, just like the doings of vocalists and instrumentalists can be captured in writing through various combinations of sa, re, ga, etc., percussion can, too, be caught on paper. What we do is, verbally imitate the each sound produced be the percussion instrument (as there is no scope for notes) and use that verbal imitation as the symbok for that sound. For example, if I stroke the outer rim of the tabla with my index finger, keeping the tip of the ring finger on the tabla for support while keeping all other fingers off, the resultant sound sounds like 'ta'. If at the same time, I stroke the baiyaa (the tabla is composed of two drums - one called the tabla and the other the baiyaa. the baiyaa basically provides the bass while most of the work is done on the tabla), the resultant sound sounds like 'dha'. So, most of what a tabla player does can be recorded on paper too.

Now back to Dhe-te-Dha-a-n-Dha-a-n-Dha. Now, this is a string of sounds produced by the tabla. This particular string is a small piece used at the end of a beat cycle to arrive at the sam.

So, that was one bit of me - my tabla. Expect some musically inclined posts in the future. But that's not all to me. I'm actually quite a lunatic. There's lots of sides to me. So many that to the untrained eye, I might even qualify as a sphere!! (Ok. Bad joke. I know)


  1. I was looking for thaap everywhere but could not find it...write a post about it...I forgot :)

    Welcome to blogger mania...

  2. saattvic. immaculate writing. I enjoyed Auroville tremendously, albeit the fact that it was 'stretched out'.

    Its been so many years since I met you last. Almost 4 years, and I am sure a lot has changed in your life and in mine.

    In any case, we ll chat soon on Msn.

    Varun Verma

  3. i have been learning hindustani classical music for 8 yrs now and have a tabla at home which my guru plays to keep me in taal.he tried to teach me too but i just couldn't do it.so really,keep iy up!i really admire people who can play the tabla!