I searched the web for information on the chilla ritual but all I have been able to find are brief definitions. If anyone knows the answers to these questions I would appreciate a reply:
1. Do all gharana's practice this ritual? 2. Who decides when the first chilla is to be performed, the guru or the pupil? 3. Are subsequent chilla's determinded by the individual? I know there are 3 that should be accomplished; is there a time interval for doing the next two or is it decided by some other factor? 4. It is 40 days of continuous playing. What about eating? Are you allowed to eat or is it water only? Is there some sort of schedule to follow such as,"play until you fall asleep, wake up, and play until you fall asleep again, etc." ? 5. What about the location. Is it a remote mountain top in the Himalayas or can it be a room in the city? 6. Are there any published accounts of a chilla done by a renowned tabla player? 7. Could someone provide a website or a book that covers these topics?
No offense to anyone here, but I doubt any of us have immediate experience with the chilla. However, I have read that the chilla is/was once(?) a Sufi spiritual practice, historically undergone by initiates into their mystical order. In fact, the famed British explorer Sir Richard Burton underwent this ritual, which for religious purposes was more like isolation until a prophetic vision appeared. Regarding the Tabla, everything I've heard seems to be rumor so sorry I can't help with any more info. I can only assume that perhaps certain tabla players in the past would have adopted the sufic practice, but most likely not all of them did.
Yes, Zakirji's chilla experience is indeed mentioned in Mickey Hart's "Drumming at the Edge of Magic". Zakir talks about his first chilla (forty days) and the amazing things he experienced--his routine, his visions...
He describes his second chilla as well.
In addition, Mr. Hart recounts his experience with Alla Rakha as well--someone who influenced the Grateful Dead more than you might realize!
In a book - "Series A. I. M. Percussion Text Indian Influence" by Jerry Leake, the author has written that "A chilla is the ultimate challenge for the artists; forty days (and nights) of practicing within a completely isolated environment. A chilla is anything done forty days without stopping - five minute practices done every day at the same time is chilla. The length of the practice is not a factor, only the forty day discipline.".
Mickey Hart, percussionist for The Grateful Dead, was interested in world music and ethnomusicology early on. But way back when, when he happened to hear a record of Alla Rakha, he was dumbfounded (naturally). He couldn't believe it was just one man playing (like many of our first experiences with tabla).
He got the chance to hear Alla Rakha play live a few weeks later, met with him, and had his eyes opened to the wonders and complexities of Indian rhythm. In fact the Grateful Dead song 'The Eleven' (i.e. an eleven beat cycle) was born out of this introduction.
The Grateful Dead then began to evolve from a kind of blues band to a group that embraced and experimented with rock n' roll along with polyrhythms, truly unique in its day.
In addition, Alla Rakha later brought his son Zakir Hussain, then only 18 years old, to Mickey live with him. They even formed a band together, the Diga Rhythm Band.
Finally, when I attended Alla Rakha's memorial concert in San Francisco, where Zakirji and others played, sure enough, there was Mickey Hart, playing in the procession and during the concert as well.
So, although I don't have any Grateful Dead CD's or really know much about them, once again we see how the magical allure of tabla has influenced the Western world, and those who open their hearts to it. Beautiful.