- For all genres other than
it is the tabla (two-piece tuned drum set) that is Hindustani music's
indispensable time-keeper. Popular and scholarly texts (e.g. the widely-found
and manuals list dozens of
most of which are rarely, if ever, performed outside of an artificial
context. The Bhatkhande Sangeet Vidyapith tabla syllabus,3
for example, expects a working knowledge of, among others, "Shikhar,
Rudra, Yati Shikhar and Chitra" and "Basant, Brahma, Laxmi, Vishnu,
Ganesh and Mani." Taranath Rao's Pranava Tala Prajna (Feldman
1995) lists, in addition to several common and not-so-common varieties,
ranging from two to thirty-five counts. All painstakingly notate the
(the beginning of the cycle, with an X),
(counts). One purpose of this seemingly perverse interest in
esoterica is, I think, to vindicate the tabla as an Indian instrument
with a quintessentially Indian theory, terminology, and repertoire rooted
deeply in a Hindu past. Since the tabla has traditionally been played
almost entirely by Muslim hereditary specialists, the socio-political
significance of this revisionary change in focus becomes obvious, particularly
in the context of an increasingly Hindu nationalist India following
- Although the late-twentieth century has seen an increasingly large
in use, the tabla's traditional role of accompaniment was carried out
with just a few of them and its solo repertoire was, for the most part,
set in just one: .
vocal genres have repertoires of compositions in various
of six, seven, eight, ten, twelve, fourteen, and sixteen counts. Instrumental
music, according to Ravi Shankar, only began exploring beyond the boundaries
as a result of innovative
(compositions) introduced by his teacher Alauddin Khan in the early
part of the twentieth century. Shankar himself added more, often using
with odd numbers of counts (nine, eleven, thirteen, fifteen) and even
fractions (Shankar 30).
- Scholars continue to puzzle over the incongruities (see Figure
2) of the Hindustani
system. Why does seven-count
begin with a wave instead of a clap? Can the
also be the ?
Why does a ""
occur on the ninth count in
when the structure suggests a ","
and, conversely, why is there a ""
on the thirteenth count when one expects a ""?
(See Erdman 23.) Why does the
seemingly defy the internal divisional structure of the ?
And why does
have two ?
As Joan Erdman found (ibid.), there is little to be gained from
asking traditional musicians since they tend to accept uncritically
the knowledge they inherit from their forefathers. Among writers it
is common to offer the ready excuse that
(theory) simply lags behind
(practice) (Ramanathan 15). But most modern theory, in my view, suffers
from an inability to problematize Hindustani
and an unwillingness to relate it to the sociocultural milieu in which
this system emerged.
- The answer to these
puzzles at the broadest level, I would suggest, is that Hindustani
has developed organically from the rhythmic characteristics of a range
of folk, popular, and semi-classical genres, and it simply does not
fit the classical theoretical model for rhythm and meter. Effectively,
the rhythms of these other genres, or grooves as I like to characterize
them, have largely been superimposed on existing metrical frameworks
derived from Sanskrit verse. This idea is not new: Rebecca Stewart has
made a splendid case for this view, and Peter Manuel's excellent work
has provided evidence that this most influential of genres used folk-derived