HistoryThe Pakhawaj in India is also called Mardal, Pakhawaj, Pakuaj, Pakhvaj, Pakavaj or Mardala, as it is a barrel-shaped, two-headed drum. The Indian Pakhawaj is a standard percussion instrument in the dhrupad style and is widely used and with accompaniment for various forms of music and dance performances.
The pakhavaj has a low, mellow tone and is very rich in harmonics. Player should sit horizontally on a cushion in front of the drummer's crossed leg, the larger bass-skin is played with the left hand, the treble skin by the right hand.
The bass face is smeared with wet wheat dough which acts as the kiran and is the cause of the vivid, bass sound the Pakhawaj produces. This makes it very traditional in its built and rich in sound.
The Pakhawaj is tuned like the Tabla with wooden wedges that are placed under the tautening straps. Such fine tuning is done on the woven outer ring which is part of the skin. The bass skin is traditionally prepared for playing with the instrument by a batter of flour and water which is freshly applied each time in order to receive its low-pitched sound.
There are many styles of pakhawaj playing. The most well known is the accompaniment of dhrupad and dhammar singers and the instrument is also very much used for Orissi dancers and occasionally for kathak. It is also found in a classical form from Rajasthan known as Haveli Sangeet. Pakhawaj's compositions are passed down from generation to generation. Unlike the tabla, they are taught by a series of mnemonic syllables known as bol. There are major differences between the tabla bols and the pakhawaj bols. These are usually confusing to musicians who wish to play pakhawaj compositions on the tabla.
Ball of dough from aata,(atta is wheat ground into powder form) is appled to the bass skin for tuning the Pakhwaj. And by adjusting the strings there are different ragas coming up which is normally seen with various other drums. The fundamental tone of the pakhawaj will always be the lower tonic. Traditionally, the Pakhawaj remains the most favored percussion instrument during high level performances of the Dhrupad-style, whether it is vocal, on Rudra-Veena or on Surbahar.
- Ayodhya Prasad
- Taranath Rao
- Manik Munde
- Chatrapati Singh
- Arjun Shejwal
- Ramji Upadhyay
- Mohan Shyam Sharma
How to play a PakhawajThe playing position is easy as for the right-handed person, the smaller end is placed on the right hand and the larger side is placed on the left side. The right side is often raised slightly by placing a small rolled up piece of cloth under it. The person playing the instrument should sit horizontally on a cushion in front of a crossed-leg and then the larger bass-skin is played with the left hand, the treble skin by the right hand. The membranes are looped with leather thongs around the hollowed barrel, which is widest in the middle. Eight pieces of such two inch wooden roundstock are pried between thongs and barrel and are hammered tight. Then later treble skin is fitted with three concentric rings of dense black hardened paste which helps create a sound resonant with harmonics.
The treble skin is tuned with a tuning-hammer of the instrument, holding the instrument in a vertical position, striking down along the rim over the barrel to raise the pitch, turning it on its vertical axis as it is tuned all along the circumference of the skin. The sound emitted by a particular stroke should merge well with that of the accompanying tanpura. The bass skin is tuned not by adjusting the tension but by applying a ball of dough from atrta, whole-fiber wheat. Its fundamental tone will be the lower tonic. Traditionally, the pakhavaj has been the most popular instrument for performances of the Dhrupad-style, be it vocal, on Rudra-Veena or on Surbahar. These are all capable of employing low registers so the colours match well.
Where to learn to play a PakhawajTARANG School for Classical Indian Dance and Music
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