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The oldest instruments...

All over the world, archeologists list simple idiophones as the first prehistoric musical instruments. This includes rattles, scrapers, and bone flutes (without holes). The neolithic strata contains slit drums, flutes (with holes), shell trumpets, and musical bows. The paleolithic strata yields basket rattles, xylophones, flutes, friction sticks. These early instruments, at least the instruments which survived, often resemble tools that early society utilized. In India, the doddu rajan, found among the Savaras, resembles a fire producing implement (a tool to create heat by friction). This type of scraper, also found as the kokara among the Palayans of Kerala perhaps became the Palayans' scraper, and used in the music of exorcism.

Earthen pots, used for cooking and storing grain, served as percussion instruments. Examples are the noot, rouf (Kashmir), matki (Rajastan), gugri, gagra (north India), ghatam (south India). Since many of these instruments, built out of perishable materials, did not leave evidence for us to trace their history, we rely on sculptures, paintings, and manuscripts which depict or describe them.


The seals of the Mohenjodaro

The seals of the Mohenjodaro Indus valley civilization contain depictions of men playing long cylindrical drums hung around their necks played horizontally. These drums are most similar to the kharrang of Assam and with the dhole of the Reddis of Andra Pradesh. Other drums inscribed on the seals include an hour glass shaped drum like the hudukka, castanets and cymbals. Some arched harps found in their hieroglyphics and unearthed clay whistles demonstrate they developed a tonal system, but no literature exists which we can translate in order to learn about that system.


Vedic literature

Our first documentation of music occurs in the Vedic scriptures, of the Aryan culture. The most ancient Vedic literature describes drums covered with the skins of wild animals, large earthen drums, and the role of the drums in various rituals. The bhumi-dundubhi, a giant earth drum, consisting of a hallow pit covered with skin, struck by legs of wood, signaled danger or approaching enemies with its thunderous and deep resonating pitch. Vedic singers used the dundhubi, a drum formed out of hallow tree trunks with the upper part covered with skin.


Literature from the Nardiyasiksa and the Natyasastra.

A great deal of our musical knowledge of India stems from the Nardiyasiksa (written approximately around 100 B.C.E.) and Bharata's Natyasastra, a later work during that period which offers a scientific approach (also called: the Natyaveda, panchamaveda, gamdarvaveda, or the "fifth" veda).
Naradiysiksa, describes vedic and ghandharva music. It states that semi-divine ghandharva music is composed of three elements: svara, tala, and pada. Narad describes the essentials of vocal and instrumental music. In the 31st and 32nd chapters, the Natyasastra gives descriptions of tala, the fundamental aspects of India rhythm. According to Bharata, tala was known as 'ghana' and time as 'kala'. Laya, called kalapata, subdivided into vilamvita (slow), madhya (medium), and druta (fast). Kala divided into three parts, citra (two matras), vartika (four mantras), and daksima (eight mantras). Bharata stated that tala, or time unit, was known as the measurement of kala, ('kala kala pramanena tala ityabhdhiyate' 31.7). Two kinds of talas existed, n'sabda (soundless or beatless), and sa'sabda (with sound or beat). The soundless tala again subdivided into 4 kinds: samya, tala, dhruva, and sannipata. Other terminology regarding rhythm included: yati (a method of applying a tempo of a tala -- of which they had several kinds: sama, srotogata, gopuccha, damaru, pipilika), prakarana (to make a song ready for singing), satala (with any rhythm), atala (without rhythm). With such terminology they clearly developed a complicated rhythmic system. This originated before the classical music age (600 to 500 B.C.E.), as ghandharva music became obsolete before the Bharata period. Ghandharva music provides the link between vedic music and post-vedic marga type of music (which evolved around 700 B.C.E., and provides insight to the classical period as well.


During the classical and post-classical period...

The classical or post-classical period featured drums with complex designs, like the puskara, bhanda, panava, and mrdanga. The ancient dhundubhi became a prototype for these drums, as well as, the bhanda vadya, the modern pakhawaj and the khole. The puskara consisted of three drums, two horizontal and one leaning drum. They tuned these drums to defined pitches (gandhama, sadja, and pancama -- the tones considered as the primal ones of the gama or 'scales'). The bhanda vadya, mrdanga, and the pakhawaj all have similar designs. Played horizontally, these barrel shaped (almost cylindrical) drums, feature a tuned multi-layered composite membranes covering both ends (connected by leather straps).


Other drums found in India during this period...

Other drums found in India during this period include the madal which features a similar but less sophisticated design. This drum is found among the Santals, Oraons, Baigans, and Ghasias (all the non-Aryan people of the central Indian belt). Similar drums existed throughout India with variations on this name: maddale (Kannada), madol (Bengalic), mandar (Hindi), mardal (Sanskrit), maddelam (Tamil). Other double membrane drums from this period include: the tavil (Tamil), the pung (Manipur), and the khole (Bengal).


Origins of the tabla, and development to present day.

The tabla developed as a hybridized drum, influenced by all of these varieties, in particular, the mrdangm and the puskara. Muktesvara temple (6th-7th century) and Bhuranesvara (and three other cave temples) of Badari in Bombay (6th century) contain depictions of the Puskara. Musicians often placed the puskara's smaller verticle drum (called 'alinga'), on their lap and played more than one drum at a time. Given the the design, technology, and musical structure for drums common in this this period, we can piece together numerious features of the tabla.
The name 'tabla', probably derived from the Arabic word for a drum (generic), called the 'tabl'; and possibly to some extent the Turkish word 'dawal'. Another popular notion is that Amir Khursuro invented the tabla by splitting the Pakawaj into two drums. This is highly disputed. Abul Fazil, the court recorder neither mentions nor describes the tabla, leaving doubt that Amir Khursuro invented the tabla, contrary to a previously popular notion. The Muslim invaders undoubtedly influenced the culture and structure of the tabla. However, the earliest depictions and literature describing the tabla as we recognize it today come from the 18th century.
Details available from this point on enable us to chart the development to modern day. Over the last two centuries the tabla begins to take the forefront of percussion instruments in north Indian classical music. We can trace the family lineage of the gharanas from the 18th century onward. Over this time, the tabla slowly changed, the dayan decreasing in size while the bayan increased. During this time the instrument slowly became the primary drum for both classical and popular music of north India.


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