The pakhawaj, a twin-faced horizontal drum, has a layer of syahi or powdered metal ore permanently pasted on one of its skins. This lends a treble tone to this side of the drum. The bass tone on the opposite side is produced due to the layer of wheat dough that is rolled onto the skin. Unlike the powdered metal ore on the treble side, this layer of wheat dough is removed after each performance or practice session. The broad faces on either side of this large cylindrical drum and the structure of the instrument give rise to the deep and resonant tone that is so unique to it.
The pakhawaj player tunes the treble side to the keynote chosen by the vocalist or instrumentalist who he or she is accompanying. In the case of pakhawaj solo recitals, it is left to the soloist to decide the keynote.
Over the last fortnight, we have heard tracks featuring representatives of the Kudau Singh and Nana Saheb Panse gharanas of pakhawaj solo. For several decades, representatives of the Nana Saheb Panse gharana have been holding an annual day-long concert in memory of the founder in the heart of Mumbai’s business district. Here is a link to a short clip from one event.
The Naathdwara style is believed to have begun in Jaipur and developed in the Vaishnav temple of Naathdwara. There are a few other styles that have also developed in the Vaishnav environment of northern India and Gujarat. This environment sees music being offered as a part of worship ritual to the deity Krishna.
The following track features Purshottam Das (1907-1991), one of the chief representatives of the Jaipur-Naathdwara style. He plays a solo in Chautaal, a favourite rhythmic cycle with most pakhawaj players. This taal contains 12 matras or time-units.
There have been times when pakhawaj players like other instrumentalists and vocalists have trained in more than one style, and have consequently, included repertoire from more than one style in their solo recitals.
The next two recordings feature Tota Ram Sharma, who belongs to the Kudau Singh tradition but was also trained in the Naathdwara style by Purushottam Das. Tota Ram Sharma recites and plays two compositions in Chautaal. As is the case with certain pakhawaj compositions, this one too includes mnemonic syllables from the language of the instrument alternating with words from spoken language.