First Meeting with Abbāji (Ustād Allārakhā Khān)

First-Meeting-with-Abbaji

First Meeting with Abbāji (Ustād Allārakhā Khān)

It was 1975 or 1976. I came to know that Ustād Allārakhā khān was coming to Ahmedabad to accompany Panḍit Ravi Shankar. It was a program arranged by Sur Singār, an organization for which I was a young volunteer.
I received news of Ustādji’s arrival and that he had checked into a hotel across from Town Hall (I can’t recall the name). I went to the hotel at 8:30am with a small bouquet of flowers. I knocked on his door. I distinctly remember how he looked when he opened the door. He looked royal and emanated an immense personality. I gave him the bouquet, took his blessings and introduced myself.
He asked me who I was learning from. I gave my Gurū’s name – Panḍit Sudhirkumar Saxenā.
“Yes, I know him. He looks like me,” replied Abbāji.
This all happened at the door of his room. I began to doubt whether or not he would invite me into the room. But with a broad smile, he asked me to come in. He asked me to join him for breakfast. I was very hungry, but was too excited and shy to accept the food he offered. When I said no, he placed the piece of sandwich in my hand and encouraged me to eat. That was the moment when I fell in love with this great maestro.
After breakfast, he asked me to recite some compositions. He listened very seriously as I recited a composition of Ajrāḍā Gharānā. After I spoke the composition, he said, “See, in Punjāb, we do it like this,” and he started speaking some amazing compositions, which sounded like magic to me, but were beyond my comprehension, as I was a junior at that stage.
“I would love to learn this, if you feel that I am competent someday,” I told Abbāji.
“Yes, I will teach you, but the thing is that I don’t spend much time in Mumbai. I spend more of my time abroad.” Then again he started to speak some more compositions.
After an hour and half, I don’t know how, but I asked him, “Can you come to my home for lunch today?”
He started laughing. I was only a young youth. He asked where I lived. I lived only 20 minutes away.
“I would be honored if you would come,” I said
“OK. I don’t disappoint anybody. Let me call Raviji. If he does not have a commitment for me, I’ll come to your house.”
He called up Raviji and said to him,”There is a kid in front of me. He is very sweet and is asking me to come to his house. Do you have something for me?”
Raviji wanted to rest, so Abbāji was free to come to my home.
I called my parents, who were very excited to hear the news and insisted that Abbāji have lunch at our home. When I told Abbāji about lunch, he told me that he would see.
Now as I was only a young teenager, I did not drive a scooter, let alone a car. I asked Abbāji if he would be willing to travel by rickshaw, which he kindly agreed to.
A portion of the drive was along a lonely road next to railway tracks. Our luck was such that the rickshaw stopped working right along this lonely road! There was no one around and the rickshaw driver’s many attempts were futile. I was very embarrassed at this point, but to my surprise, Abbāji turned to me and suggested we find another rickshaw.
We walked about 1 km in the hot sun of Ahmedabad before we found another rickshaw and arrived at my home.
After meeting my parents and formalities, Abbāji asked me to get a pair of Tablā and play for him. After hearing some of my playing, he taught me a Punjāb composition, and this was my first Punjāb composition. I greatly enjoyed our time and it continued as we had our lunch.
After lunch, I had called a neighbour who has a car, so that we could drop Abbāji at the hotel in an appropriate mode of transportation.
The time we spent together that day is something I will always remember. After that day, whenever Abbāji came to Ahmedabad (once or twice annually), I would always be present as his sevak, and he regularly visited my home.
About 15 years later, after the demise of my second guru, Ustād Latif Ahmed Khān, I followed through on my desire to learn Punjāb Gharānā and became a Ganḍābandhit student of Abbāji. I’ll save stories about my Ganḍābandhan ceremony and other experiences with him for another time.

Tantra (Lecture Excerpt)

Tantra (Lecture Excerpt)

We have to understand that tantra is not spiritual. Tantra is physical. But tantra is not only physical. It works with the occult level. Tantra has five objectives:


Boghti or Ishtprapti (Control of Desired Objects or Enjoyment)

Mukti (Liberation)

Vibhuti (Control of Supernatural Powers)

Parimansankramana (Change of Dimensions)

Swa par-gyan (Knowledge of Self and Others)


What is physical and what is occult?


Physical means any matter that occupies space and is constrained by time – so it has a fixed beginning and end. Our body is physical. Yet there are many things in our body that are simultaneously physical and not physical. There are things that cannot be taken into the laboratory and defined by the dimensions of space and time. Some examples include memory, thoughts, dreams, dreams within a dream, and intuition. All of these things fall within the occult level, also known as supraphysical.


Tantra directly deals with occult matters, where science deals with physical matters.

Great Nakkārā Player – Ustād Dilāwar Khān

Great Nakkārā Player – Ustād Dilāwar Khān

One day, I received a phone call from some friends in Jaipur. A nakkārā player, Ustād Dilāwar Khān, was coming to Ahmedābād. (At the time, I did not know it, but he is one of the greatest nakkārā players in the world. I highly recommend that you listen to him.)
The Tablā has many influences and origins. The nakkārā (picture below) has a very strong influence on Tablā. It is two drums that are played with sticks. They are not widely played as an instrument. It is typically just played with the Śehnāi (Shehnaai). It is also rare to find nakkārā soloists of this caliber. Before hearing him, I had never heard the nakkārā played with such virtuosity.
The program was held in an old haveli (villa/ mansion). Almost all the good musicians of the city had congregated to hear the Ustād play. Before going to the program, I did not know what to expect, but my Jaipur friend had been adamant that this was not to be missed. I went to the program with a student of mine, Nitin Tripārti. As I watched him tune his instrument, I could anticipate the caliber of his playing.
His solo blew me away. He played all the complex compositions of the Tablā using sticks on the nakkārā . His solo was set in Tīntal. Similar to a Tablā solo, he began with a peśkār. He produced amazing mīnḍ using thin sticks. You could see his sādhanā in his playing. The speed of his kāidās and clarity of his relās. It was a Tablā solo, but with sticks. It’s difficult, but try to imagine Tirakiṭ compositions played with sticks. He played La killa (naga naga naga) with tremendous speed and power on one drum.
Everyone in the audience was amazed. Dilāwarsāheb took farmāiś from the audience. Panḍit Kishen Māhārāj was present and requested to hear a laggi. The way he played Dha Te Na Da laggi, with amazing speed and fluidity! The concert was truly a treat for musicians, especially for Tablā players.
I had always heard that Tablā, came from the nakkārā. That evening, I could clearly see and hear the relationship between the two.
After that solo, I never heard or saw Dilāwar Khānsāheb again. I searched for other nakkārā players, but never came across anyone who could play his level of playing and mastery. That evening was one of those rare concerts in my life, and even though there was no recording, I can hear it as clearly as I did nearly 30 years ago.

8 Things to consider when purchasing Tablā

8 Things Consider when Purchasing Tabla

For any artist, the quality of the instrument is very important. There are many factors to consider when purchasing Tablā. It is only in recent times that the wide majority of people purchase ready-made Tablā. Previously, each piece was bought individually to create a pair of Tablā.

Here are 8 things to consider to keep in mind when purchasing Tablā:

1) Wood A Good quality Tablā set is made from śīśam (Sheesham) or biyā wood. Śīśam is black in colour. A śīśam shell will have a solid bottom. Biyā, on the other hand, is yellowish in color and softer than śīśam. When looking at the shell, it is important to make sure that the shell does not have any fractures in the body and that the top of the shell is even. A good shell will have been seasoned for 3 years (or 3 monsoons) before it is used.

2) Vādhar The thickness of the vādhar is important to consider. Thin vādhars? are more susceptible to breaking, while very thick vādhars are difficult to stretch when tuning. I remember when I used to buy vādhar and soak them in butter (Makkhan) before using them to make a pair of tablā. This was a common practice to make the vadhar smooth and easier to stretch. These vadhars never dried out or snapped.

3)Gaṭṭā The thickness and length of the gaṭṭā are two important factors. The thickness of the gaṭṭā affects how much the pudi is stretched when moving the gaṭṭā. If they are too thin, then the pudi will not be stretched enough. If it is too thick, then it is difficult to increase the number of vādhars on the gaṭṭā, and when the vādhars are increased, the pudi can become overstretched. Generally, gaṭṭās should be 1 – 1.25 inches in diameter. If the gaṭṭās are too long, then the gaṭṭās will not stay in line when tuning, making precise tuning very difficult.

4) Gajar The Gajarā on a new pair of tablā should be even all around and in the middle. No house should be higher or lower than another. If any house is higher or lower, then that house is more likely to become imbalanced in tone.

5) Kinār The width of the kinār determines the amount of resonance that one gets. A wide kinār makes for a less resonant sound (which is sometimes required), but in general, a very wide kinār is not recommended. If the kinār is too thin, then the kinār bols can become metallic in sound because the application of “Tā” ends up on the top edge of the shell.

6) Shahi / ( syāhī , shahī ) The shahī/ syāhī gives weight to the pudi. A good shahī/ syāhī will have concentric circles and no loose “beads” or dānā. When playing a TeṬe on the shahī/ syāhī, it should result in a very crisp sound. A good shahī/ syāhī gives the best Tirakiṭa and TeṬe.

7) Pudi Size The pitch of the tabla changes with the size of the pudi. For beginners, a 5.5″ diameter is recommended.

8) Bayan (bāyāṅ) Bāyāṅ are generally made from German silver, copper or brass in original color or coated in chrome. Personally, I like brass bāyāṅs because they have a deep and round tone. There are two styles of bayans – tall or with a stomach. Those with a stomach have a bit more bass than the tall ones. Bāyāṅ come in three sizes – S, M, L. For a beginner, medium size is recommended. Bāyāṅs can come with vādhars, or strings. Those with the vādhar keep their stretch for longer, but they are susceptible to weather effects, while stringed bāyāṅs are not. Punjāb, Delhi, Ajrāḍā, Farukkhābād use bāyāṅs with vādhar, Benāras uses bāyāṅs with strings.

9) Tone Tone is the most important factor to consider when purchasing tablā. All the above are factors that influence the tone of a tablā. The tablā tone should be round, have good resonance and be balanced. The bāyāṅ tone should be round and not have too much or too little bass.

It’s a lot to consider, but a good instrument can greatly improve one’s practice, so take the time and spend the money to buy a good quality tablā , and remember to keep these 8 things in mind when purchasing tablā . Happy tabla shopping!

Looking to purchase Tablā in the US? Taalim School sells Tablā for beginners and professionals alike.

Playing with Panḍit Rasiklāl Andhāriā

Playing with Panḍit Rasiklāl Andhāriā

It was 1979 or 1980. I was working as the youngest tabla teacher in the city at the Gandharva Māhāvidyālaya Manḍal, one of the oldest music institutes in Ahmedabad. Our principal, Mr. Rāvjibhāi Patel, called me and said, “We are doing a national conference of Māhāvidyālaya Manḍal at Valsāḍ for three days. I am very happy with your playing and want you to play one solo and one accompaniment during the conference. We will all go to Valsāḍ the day before the performance in the morning by train, so be prepared for this event.”

At that time in my life, I did not understand the value of being able to travel with some of the greatest musicians of Ahmedābād and Gujarāt. I picked up Jhālāsāheb and Rāvjibhāi in my student’s car, and we arrived at the station at 6 am to catch the 7 am Gujarāt Express. At the station, we met up with Prānlālbhāi Shah (one of the best violin teachers of that time), Lāljibhāi Patel (best harmonium player), Neenā Shah (Rāvjibhāi’s student) and many young musicians.

Once we boarded the train, I was amazed to learn that all these senior musicians took great interest in eating snacks at each station. At the first stop, someone got off to get Fāfḍā and Jalebi; at Naḍiād, it was goṭā; at Baroḍā, yet another snack and the list goes on. Every stop was a new treat.

The accommodations for all the musicians was in a school and that was quite the nourishing experience. In one corner, someone would be singing, while a couple of beds down, another musician would be playing the violin. It was a great energy to be a part of. I was the youngest tabla player. Everyone gave me love and respect, which just increased my confidence.

The next day, the second performance was my solo. I played pretty well and got a lot of applause from the audience. After my solo, I went backstage. There, I found internationally-known singer Panḍit Rasiklāl Andhāriā. He was so impressed with my playing that he made me his accompanying artist for his program the following day. I was not too enthused about the idea, because the Tablā player generally only plays ṭhekā for vocal performances.

I thanked him for the opportunity and told him that I was not in the practice of accompanying vocals. I believe he understood why I said no because he immediately said that he wanted powerful Tablā in his vocal performance and that I had the freedom to play whatever I wished.

Excited by this, we decided to practice in the morning to prepare, and the performance that ensued is what I consider to be one of the best performances I have given.

Some thoughts on Kāydā and Palṭās

Whenever my mind is free, I think primarily about two things: experiences with my gurūs and experiences with my students. The truth is that what I learned from my gurūs was “half” learning. I fully learned what they had taught when I, in turn, taught it to my students. I may have taught a beginner kāydā like Dhā TeṬe, Dhā TeṬe more than a thousand times. This means I have learned Dhā TeṬe more than a thousand times. It is only through teaching the kāydā that I have truly digested the kāydā. The more I taught the kāydā, the more familiar with and attached to the composition I became. It has gone so deep in my soul that whenever I teach it, it comes out with a new form (palṭās or design). Every composition has its own mood and identity. To maintain the basics elements of the composition and create palṭās of the composition is the greatest fun.

Let me talk about Dhā TeṬe today.

Dhā TeṬe Dhā TeṬe Dhā Dhā TeṬe DhāGe Tinā Kinā/
Tā TeṬe Tā TeṬe Dhā Dhā TeṬe DhāGe Dhinā Genā

This composition is one of the famous compositions of Delhi Gharānā. This composition has existed for over 200 years in the field of music. In Hindustāni classical vocal, we have rāgas. We divide rāgas in three main scales: Oḍav-jāti, rāgas with five notes; Shāḍav-jāti, rāgas with six notes; and sampūrṇa-jāti, rāgas with all seven notes. In tablā compositions, they have maintained this concept. We, too, have compositions of five notes, six notes and seven notes. Dhā TeṬe is a composition of five notes – Dhā, TeṬe, DhāGe, Tinā, Kinā. These are the five major notes of this composition.

As I mentioned, this is a composition of Delhi Gharānā. The use of only the first two fingers is permitted. Almost all the compositions of Delhi Gharānā are played solely with the first two fingers. That is why Delhi Gharānā is also known as Do uṅgalīyo Kā Bāz, the Gharānā of Two Fingers. The most important thing in a kāydā is its palṭās or variations. Without disturbing the main composition’s form, by using the small changes, we create palṭās.

There is an interesting combination between technique and creativity. You can make hundreds of palṭās of each kāydā, but in performance, generally we play 7 to 15 palṭās of each composition (according to time limit and the nature of performance). The challenge is that every palṭā must have its own identity and we shouldn’t play palṭās that seem repetitive or very similar to others. With this challenge in mind, one has to take into consideration the balance between the bāyāṅ and dāyāṅ, the rules of the gharānā, and aesthetic values. From their variety of palṭās, we can assess the understanding and strength of the performer.

My First Meeting with Panḍit Saxenāji

My First Meeting with Pandit Saxenaji

On the first death anniversary of my first Tablā Gurū, Panḍit Sudhirkumār Saxenā, I want to reflect on this great man who had immense knowledge of Tablā. I had a great love for him, and he had the same for me.


It was an evening in the month of February, 1971. My father told me that a big music festival, called Baiju Festival, was going on in the city, arranged by the Government of Gujarat. In addition, he informed me that Tablā maestro Panḍit Sudhirkumār Saxenā was coming to perform and encouraged me to attend. I was very young at that time, but I was learning and playing Tablā for more than seven years. My teacher, Mr. Narmadā Śankar Bhaṭṭ, was a senior disciple of Panḍit Saxenā ji. I requested my father to take me to the festival.


He took me to the newly opened Jai Śankar Sundari Hall. With great curiosity, I sat in the third row, waiting anxiously for Saxenā ji’s turn to perform. He was slated to play two items: the first, with Gujarāt’s great vocalist Panḍit Rasiklāl Andhāriā, and the second with a sitārist.


When he came onto the stage, I was amazed by his presence and personality. He had a very small frame, not more than 5 feet in height. He wore a very nice kurtā and black koṭi. I would later learn that the koṭi was his signature style. Before him, I had already met many, many tabla players. Amongst of them all, he struck me as the most sober, most learned and calm person. His playing style mirrored his personality: neat, steady and balanced.


In his first item with the vocalist, he played nothing in vilaṁbit besides ṭhekā. I found this disappointing as I was expecting rolls and powerful drumming. But when madhya laya began with Rāga Megh, he played a small composition followed by a gat, which was enough to prove him to be the best student of Ustād Habibuddin Khān. In sitār accompaniment, he played some compositions, which I just could not understand at that time.


After the concert, I rushed backstage and touched his feet. I introduced myself. He told me he was coming back to Ahmedābād after ten days as a judge for the Gandharva Māhāvidyālaya competition. I told him proudly that I was participating in the same competition.


My father then arrived, did namaskar to Saxenāji, and asked him about me. Very humbly, Saxenāji replied, “I will be coming to Ahmedābād next week. Then I will get a chance to listen to him and give my remarks.”


With the determination to impress him at the upcoming competition, I returned home with my father and lasting memories of my first meeting with Saxenāji.


What happened next, I will write at another time.


Postnote by Gurūji Panḍit Divyāng Vakīl’s Student:
Panḍit Sudhirkumār Saxenā was one of the last Ustāds of the Ajrāḍā Gharānā. He spent many of his years in the care and service of the great Ustād Habibuddin Khān. He was the first professor of music in a higher-education institution in India, serving initially as a Professor, then Head of the Music Department at MS University in Baroḍā , Gujarāt. He passed away on November 30, 2007. He continues to live in the memories of his students and through his teachings.

To be a Master of Indian Music

To be a Master of Indian Music

I am amazed at how many students I get who want to be a master of Indian music or Tablā. The desire is commendable, but the effort these students make to achieve this aim does not reflect this goal. The world has changed. There was a time not long ago when music students would practice 7, 8, 10 hours a day. They did nothing other than practice! There were no weekends, no days off. They kept single-pointed focus on becoming a master. There were no birthday parties and movies, no social commitments. For a period of time, they left behind the world in order to achieve greatness. And once that level is attained, a beautiful world opens up that cannot be described in words.


Today, I believe that there are great distractions and more ways that a person can have their attention diverted, but the human capacity for focus and determination still exist. And without fully utilizing them, greatness cannot be attained. I am not speaking of greatness in terms of becoming a star; being a “star” and having true mastery are two different things and don’t necessarily go hand in hand. To be a master requires the same qualities it did centuries ago, decades ago, and a few years ago: focus, devotion and ability to leave everything. While the world may change, these qualities don’t change over time.


Here is a wonderful poem by Brahmānand that summarizes what a classical musician must do if they truly want to realize God through their music. Note that this can be applied to any field or work, if one desires to reach that level of mastery in it. This poem has been sung beautifully by Bhimsenji, who is a great model of a true sādhak.


Jo bhaje hari Ko sadā
Wohi param pad pāyegā
choḍ duniyā ke maze sab
baiṭh kar ekānt mein
Dhyān dhar gurū ke charaṇ ka
To prabhu mil jāyegā


Literal translation:


The one who remembers/praises God always
Will attain the Ultimate goal.
Leave the pleasures of the world,
Sit alone (in meditation),
Meditate upon the feet of your gurū,
And you will realize God.

The actual meaning of the poem is:

The one who always and fully engages in one’s work (this can be any work)
Attains the highest aim.
Leave behind worldly pleasures,
Sit alone with full concentration,
Aspire to follow the path your gurū(’s feet) have walked (upon),
And you will realize God