Sonic Saturday

Listen: Maestros of the resonant Banaras style of tabla playing

This gharana differs from the others in its use of the baayaan or bass drum.

In our series on gharanas or lineages related to tabla, we focus on yet another khula baaj or open/resonant style named after Banaras, Uttar Pradesh.

Ram Sahai (1780-1826), founder of the Banaras gharana, is said to have been a disciple of Makkhu Khan of the Lucknow gharana, though some sources refer to him as being a disciple of another lineage from Lucknow. The Banaras gharana made significant changes to the Lucknow style. This gharana differs from the others in its use of the baayaan or bass drum. Most of the practitioners of this gharana place their baayaan with the syaahi (black portion) pointed towards them, with the result that they need to rub their wrists against the surface of the pudi to bend the sound. In other cases, this would be accomplished by changing the pressure of the wrist on the surface of the pudi. The Banaras tabla players also place the ring-finger of the right-hand on the daayaan or treble drum very differently.

This gharana has focused on mathematical complexities, as was the case with traditional pakhawaj compositions. Additionally, practitioners of this gharana have explored uncommon taals for solo presentation.

Ram Sahai

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The Banaras gharana tabla players start their solo renditions with an utthaan that may cover several aavartans of the taal, exploring different metrical patterns. The uthaan is a non-extendable pre-conceived composition or a spontaneous piece marking the entry into a section of the performance. The uthaan ends with a complex tihai, a rhythmic device that involves the playing of a phrase thrice in order to arrive at the point of resolution. The uthaan is often preceded by the bhumika or an elaboration of few bols.

The first track features a solo in Teentaal, a cycle of sixteen matras or time units, by maestro Sharda Sahai (1935-2011), a direct descendant of Ram Sahai.

Kanthe Maharaj

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Kanthe Maharaj (1880-1970), a disciple of Baldev Sahai, one of the foremost exponents of the Banaras style, presents a solo in the twelve-matra Ektaal.

Anokhelal Mishra

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This recording features the inimitable Anokhelal Mishra (1914-1958) known for his virtuosity.

Kishan Maharaj and Samta Prasad

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Any discussion related to the Banaras gharana would be incomplete without the mention of two maestros, namely, the charismatic Kishan Maharaj (1923-2008), a disciple of his uncle Kanthe Maharaj, and Samta Prasad (1921-1999), known for his incredibly power-packed performances.

Here is an extract of a concert recording where Kishan Maharaj plays a solo in Teentaal.

The final track is a Doordarshan recording of Samta Prasad presenting a solo in Teentaal.

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