James Kippen
University of Toronto

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  1. (Sanskrit: ) refers both to the abstract rhythmic system found in the music theory of the Indian subcontinent and to specific metric patterns. Repeated cyclically, these metric patterns provide a stable framework for composition and performance. Their structural properties are marked by an ancient system of hand gestures which subdivide the cycle into segments of equal or unequal length and create an internal rhythmic hierarchy. Performers and audience members are often seen gesturing with claps and waves: the clap is produced by slapping the right palm down onto the left, or onto the thigh; the wave is, by contrast, a silent gesture in which the right hand moves away and turns palm-upwards, ending with a small bounce akin to a conductor's beat that effectively marks the absence of a clap. By convention, claps are notated with a sequence of numbers, and waves are designated by a zero (0). However, the clap marking the all-important beginning of a cycle (sam) is usually accorded an X rather than the number 1.

  2. The system of gestures is adhered to rigorously in the southern Indian classical system known as Karnatak music, and somewhat less rigorously in the northern Indian classical system known as Hindustani music. The modern performance traditions that now dominate Hindustani music are rooted in developments that occurred in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: singing (see Bonnie Wade's comprehensive discussion of this genre, 1984), and the and instrumental traditions (see Allyn Miner's seminal work, 1993). These are now routinely accompanied by the tabla drum pair, whose provenance can also be traced to the early eighteenth century. However, the tabla was originally used to accompany the lighter songs and dances of the (courtesans), and it gradually spread and rose in importance until it finally supplanted the older and more austere (double-headed barrel drum) as the pre-eminent drum of Hindustani classical music by the end of the nineteenth century. It is my contention that the main reason the clapping gestures are less rigorously adhered to in this music is that the metric-rhythmic system of the upstart tabla is in many ways incongruent with the older system of that is preserved in the drumming tradition. By contrast, the tabla's drumming patterns are largely indebted to folk, light, and semi-classical rhythms and meters that follow different rules. I have characterized these rhythms as grooves, by which I mean regularly repeating accentual patterns rooted in bodily movement (i.e. dance).

  3. Modern Indian scholars and performers of Hindustani traditions, particularly those who have come to it as a vocation and not as an hereditary occupational specialization, have often promoted a revisionist interpretation of the music: one that emphasizes its ancient Hindu roots, its spiritual and intellectual properties, and its solid theoretical sophistication. The remarkable yet unpublished dissertation of Rebecca Stewart (1974) was the first to challenge this view by investigating : the fixed accompanimental patterns played by the tabla. I intend to build on this work by peeling away some of the layers to expose the true nature of tabla . What is revealed, I think, has implications for the retelling of Hindustani music history.