The Cyclic Form in North Indian Tabla

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      Fard and Sath
      Ladi and Rao
      Ekhatthu and Dohatthu
Works Cited



Peshkar has a number of interesting characteristics. It often uses interesting counter-rhythms (layakari) and has a fully developed process of theme and variation. If the process of theme and variation follows the rules of kaida then it is called kaida-peshkar. Often substitution processes are used which, although logical, violate basic rules of kaida. In such cases it is simply referred to as peshkar.

masterPeshkar.GIF (14179 bytes)


The laggi is a light form of aggressive accompaniment. Some musicians define laggi by its function and others define it by its bol. Therefore the form of laggi my vary tremendously from artist to artist. When laggi is defined by function, one may find almost any bol used. Bols of rela may be used with patterns derived from folk or kathak traditions. This style is inherently freeform so it is difficult to make generalizations concerning bols or structure. This freeform approach is emerging as the dominant definition of laggi for modern performances. When laggi is defined by the bol, it is usually based upon the use of fast, open, resonant strokes. This definition is still used for pedagogic purposes although it is falling out of fashion for performance. Common bols for laggi are:

masterLaggi.GIF (16082 bytes)

The definition of laggi by bol has an interesting ramification. It allows us to develop the bols in a strict kaida format. This would at first appear to be a stylistic mismatch because kaida is used in formal situations while the laggi is used in light performances. Still, the use of a kaida-laggi gives another color to tabla solos.


Minor Forms

We have already covered the major cyclic forms, yet there are a number of minor forms. We will consider a form to be minor if it meets one of three criteria: 1) it is not played by all of the gharanas, 2) it is seldom performed, or 3) there is substantial disagreement as to the definition. The sath, rao, thappi, ekhatthu, dohatthu, stuti, and chalan fall within this category.



Thappi is the form of accompaniment which was common in the old pakhawaj style. The thappi is so similar to theka that most musicians call it theka. The important difference is that thappi does not define the tal while theka does. The most well known thappi is the bol for choutal:

masterThappi.GIF (5316 bytes)

Fard and Sath

Fard and sath are two forms of cyclic material. They are composed of only a single structure. The bols of sath and fard are exactly the same, the only difference is function. Sath is an aggressive form of accompaniment of the old pakhawaj tradition while fard is a solo piece found in the Benares tradition. This difference is largely insubstantial and fard may be merely the Benares name for sath. One may even hear of these forms as being referred to as paran, however the most be considered to common form of paran is cadential and therefore out of the scope of this paper.


Ladi or rao are poorly defined forms which impinge upon both rela and laggi. Many artists and gharanas do not even use the terms. The only thing that can be said with any certainty is that they are fast improvisations in a cyclic form.


Throughout India musicians say they play chalan. Unfortunately what they play may be so dissimilar that it is hard to make a definitive statement as to what chalan is. Many consider it to be a variation of kaida (Kippen 1988). The only thing that can be said with certainty is that it is a cyclic form.

Ekhatthu & Dohatthu

It has already been said that the most common criteria for defining tabla forms are structure, bol, and function (Courtney 1994a). However in very rare cases technique is a defining criterion. This is what defines the ekhatthu, dohatthu, and stuti. Ekhatthu is a style of performance where only a single hand is used. This is used for special effect in tabla solos. The term ekhatthu means "single-handed". Ekhatthu may be executed in any form so it is not strictly cyclic in nature. Dohatthu is a style of performance where two hands are used on the same drum. The word dohatthu means "two-handed". The dohatthu is sometimes referred to as a "lalkila " composition. The term "lalkila" is said by some to allude to the up and down motion of the nagada players on the walls of the Red Fort. Unfortunately the term lalkila means different things to different people (Vashishth 1977). It is probably better to avoid this term, due to the lack of agreement as to a correct definition. Dohatthu may be used for any compositional form so it is not strictly cyclic in nature.



We have seen that the mass of compositional forms for the Indian tabla fall into two classes; cyclic and cadential. The cadenza moves toward a specific point of resolution while the cyclic material is characterized by a sense of balance and repose. The common cyclic forms are the kaida, theka, peshkar, gat, laggi and rela. There are other minor forms, but in cases the minor forms are mere variations. It must be remembered these types are defined by unrelated criteria. These criteria most are structure, function, bol and in rare cases the technique. Since different criteria are used, it is common to find compositions which satisfy meet two definitions. Kaida-rela, kaida-gat, and kaida-peshkar are just a few the cyclic forms are the backbone of the rhythm of north Indian music. An understanding of this form gives a good view of the common examples. Collectively, the very soul of the music.



Ajrada - A town in northern India, origin of one of the tabla gharanas.
aroh - The ascending sequence of a lom-vilom (palindrome) gat.
avaroh - The descending sequence in a lom-vilom (palindrome) gat.
avartan - A cycle.
bal - A variation in a kaida (theme and variation).
bant - Another name for a kaida.
banti - Another name for a kaida.
Benares - A town in northern India, origin of one of the tabla gharanas.
bhajan ka theka - A variation of kaherava.
bhari - The first half of a binary structure, characterized by full resonant strokes of the left hand drum.
bol - The mnemonic syllables
cadential form - A passage or composition which is marked by tension and release, usually resolving upon the first beat of the cycle.
chakradar - A type of tihai where a passage is repeated nine times.
chalan - A type of cyclic form.
chaupalli - 1) A cyclic form of the gat variety characterized by a passage repeated four times. 2) A cadential form characterized by a passage repeated four times.
choutal - An ancient 12-beat tal, formerly played on pakhawaj.
cyclic form - A passage or composition characterized by a sense of balance and repose.
dadra - A tal of 6 beats.
Dilli - (Delhi) A town in northern India, origin of one of the tabla gharanas.
- Any form where two hands play on the same drum
dupalli - 1) A cadential form based upon the repetition of a phrase twice. 2) A domukhi.
ekhatthu - A composition which uses only one hand.
fard - A composition played by Benaresi tabla players similar to sath
Farukhabad - A town in northern India, origin of one of the tabla gharanas.
gat - A strictly-composed form played in a purbi style.
gharana - A stylistic school.
guru -Teacher
Hindi - The most common language in Northern India.
Kaherava - A common tal of eight beats.
kaida - A formalized system of theme and variation.
kaida-gat - The bols of a gat developed in a strict kaida form.
kaida-peshkar - The bols of peshkar developed in a strict kaida form.
kaidas-laggi - The bols of laggi developed in a strict kaida form.
kisma - Variations upon the theka.
ladi - A light style similar to rela or laggi.
laggi - A light aggressive form of accompaniment found in light and semiclassical music.
layakari - Counterrhythms.
lom-vilom - A musical palindrome (It is the same when played backward or forward)
Lucknow - A town in northern India, origin of one of the tabla gharanas.
matra - The beat
mukhada - A cadential form, usually a simple flourish resolving upon the first beat of the cycle. nagada - A large pair of kettle drums played with sticks.
pakhawaj - An ancient barrel shaped drum with heads on both sides.
palta - The variation in a kaida (theme and variation).
paran - A cadential form based upon the bols of pakhawaj.
peshkar - A type of theme and variation used to introduce a tabla solos.
prakar - The variations upon the theka.
prastar - The variations of a kaida (theme and variation).
Punjab - A province in northern India, origin of one of the tabla gharanas.
purbi - literally "eastern". The style of playing which originated in the Eastern part of the old Mogul empire. (i.e., Farukhabad, Benares, and Lucknow).
rao - A fast accompaniment similar to laggi or rela.
rela - The very fast manipulation of small tabla bols.
Rupak - A tal of seven beats.
sam - The first beat of the cycle.
sath - A pakhawaj piece which was used in the old days as accompaniment but today is a fixed composition, similar to fard.
shishya -Student.
stuti - A piece which uses words instead of tabla bols (e.g., bol paran).
swar - The vowels in the Sanskrit or Hindi alphabet
tabla - The main percussion in northern India, consisting of a pair of drums.
tal - 1) The Indian system of rhythm. 2) An Indian rhythmic pattern.
thappi - An accompaniment form of the old pakhawaj.
theka - 1) The fundamental rhythmic pattern used for timekeeping. 2) A type of theme and variation, similar to peshkar, used by musicians of the Benares gharana.
tihai - A cadential form based upon the repetition of a phrase three times ending on the first beat of the cycle.
Tintal - A very common rhythmic cycle of 16 beats.
tipalli - A type of tihai or gat in which has each phrase is in a different tempo.
vibhag - A measure or bar.
vyanjan - The consonants in the Hindi or Sanskrit alphabet.


Works Cited

Bergamo, John
1981 Indian Music in America. Percussionist. Vol 19, #1, November 1981: Urbana IL. Percussive Arts Society.

Courtney, David R.
1980 Introduction to Tabla. Hyderabad, India. Anand Power Press.
1992 "New Approaches to Tabla Instruction". Percussive Notes. Vol 30 No 4: Lawton OK: Percussive Arts Society.
1993 "An Introduction to Tabla. Modern Drummer". October: Modern Drummer publications.
1994a "The Cadenza in North Indian Tabla". Percussive Notes. Vol 32 No 4, August: Lawton OK: Percussive arts Society. pp.54-63.
1994b Fundamentals of Tabla. Houston. Sur Sangeet Services

Kapoor, R.K.
-no date-Kamal's Advanced Illustrated Oxford Dictionary of Hindi-English. New Delhi: Verma Book Depot

Kippen, James
1988 The Tabla of Lucknow: A Cultural Anaylysis of a Musical Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Saksena, Maheshnarayan
1978 Tabla Parichay, Tal Ank. Hatharas, India: Sangeet Karyalaya.

Sharma, Bhagavat Sharan
1973 Tal Prakash.Hatharas, India: Sangeet Karyalaya.(5th edition)
1975 Tabla-shiksha, Vadhya-Vadan Ank. Hatharas, India: Sangeet Karyalaya.

Shepherd, F. A.
1976 Tabla and the Benares Gharana. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International. (Ph.D. Dissertation)

Stewart, Rebacca M.
1974 The Tabla in Perspective. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International. (Ph.D. Dissertation)

Pathak, R.C.
1976 Bhargava's Standard Illustrated Dictionary of the Hindi Language.Varanasi, India: Bhargava Bhushan Press.

Vashisht, Satya Narayan
1977 Tal Martand. Hathras, India: Sangeet Karyalaya.

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