A Brief Introduction to Tabla and Indian Tal-s

Dr. Peyman Nasehpour


"Good King Bahram Gour of Persia was moved by the laments of his most impoverished subjects. They called for music, and wished to celebrate like the rich. Bahram Gour asked his father-in-law, King Shankel of Kanauj, who lived in the high valley of the Ganges, to send twelve thousand musicians. When they arrived, the king provided them with a means of living off the fact of land, giving each a donkey, a cow and a thousand bushels of wheat. After a year had passed, they appeared before him, starving. They had simply eaten the cows and the wheat. Annoyed, the king advised them to fit their instruments with strings of silk, mount their donkeys and take to the road - and henceforth earn their living from their music."

Maybe this was the first influence of Indian music on Persian music. Melodies and musical instruments came to ancient Iran. Even now this influence has been remained in contemporary music of Persia. In Radif repertoire of Persian art music, there are some melodies named Rak-e-Abdollah, Rak-e-Kashmir and Rak-e-Hindi. Rak here is arabicized of Rag and Rag in Indian music means musical mode. Rag literally means color and is the same as Persian word, Rang. The names of melodies say us that they should be Persian version of Indian Rag-s. Also Ramkali in Dastgah-e-Abu-Ata should be related to Rag Ramakali in Indian music. At last it is possible to give another important example, which it is the melody Danaseri, which should be related to Indian famous Rag, Dhanashri [S] & [DA].

The instruments, Dara-ye-Hindi (A kind of metallic percussion instrument from India to be used in Iran) and Van (Van is ascribed as a kind of stringed instrument with two gourd resonators) that should be the same as Indian instrument Rudra Vina, are another examples for showing the influence [S].

It is well known that today there are two systems of Indian music. One system is found in Northern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. This system is called Hindustani Sangeet. The Carnatic Sangeet is the system found in Southern India. The Hindustani system may be thought as a mixture of traditional Hindu musical concepts and Persian performance practice. The advent of Islamic rule over Northern India maybe caused the musicians to seek patronage in the courts of the new rules. Several centuries of this arrangement caused the Hindu music to absorb musical influences from Islamic world, primarily greater Persia. This shows the influence of Persian music on Indian music. For instance the word tabla is a generic term for drum in Arabic language [C].

It should be mentioned that Persian art music uses a modal system which provides a set of modal frameworks. This system has much in common with the modal music of this part of the world, where the main musical cultures other than that of the Persians are those of the Turks, the Arabs and to some extent to the Indians [T].

Because of the common history of the Persian and Indian musical cultures and applying the tabla in these years by some Persian musicians in Persian music it seems necessary to have a brief discussion about tabla and Indian Tal-s.


This is a pair of drums. It consists of a small right hand drum called dayan (literally means right) and a larger metal one called bayan (literally means left).

Undoubtedly the most striking characteristic of the tabla is the large black spot (called siyahi) on each of the playing surfaces. The siyahi (Siyah literally means black) is mixture of gum, soot, and iron filings. Its function is to create the bell-like timbre that is the characteristic of the instrument. The invention of sitar and tabla and many other things is attributed to Amir Khosro Dehlavi. There is a tendency among Indians to attribute the development of almost everything to him. Anyway it is unfortunate that the history of the beginning of tabla is still in dispute [C].

Indian Tal-s

Tal is a framework in time. Tal is structured into two or more sections, each having the same or different numbers of beats. The particular arrangement of audible sounds and silence is what defines the unique character of each Tal. Since drums are used to maintain the flow of Tal in music and dance, the character of Tal becomes vividly when manifested on a drum. The technical term for this manifestation of Tal on a drum is theka [DU].

Here is the theka-s of those Indian Tal-s that I think they can be used in Persian music.

Dadra: Dadra is in 6 beats divided into 3+3.

Dha Dhi Na, Na Tu Na.

Rupak: Rupak is in 7 beats divided into 3+2+2.

Tin Tin Na, Dhi Na, Dhi Na.

Kaharba: Kaharba is in 8 beats divided into 4+4.

Dha Ge Na Ti, Na Ke Tu Na.

Ektal: Ektal is in 12 beats divided into 3+3+3+3.

Dhin - Dhin - Dha Ge, TeRe KeTe Tun - Na -, Kat - Ta - Dha Ge, TeRe KeTe Dhin - Na -.

Dipchandi: Dipchandi is in 14 beats divided into 3+4+3+4.

Dha Dhin -, Dha Dha Dhin -, Na Tun -, Dha Dha Dhin -.

All Tal-s that are in 16 beats are very suitable for Persian music especially the most popular Indian Tal,Tintal.

Tintal: Tintal is in 16 beats divided into 4+4+4+4.

Dha Dhin Dhin Dha, Dha Dhin Dhin Dha, Dha Tin Tin Na, Ta Dhin Dhin Dha.

Remark. These Tal-s have been extracted from [DU].

Acknowledgement. The author wishes to thank Pt. Arvind Parikh (master of Indian sitar) and Mr. Lakshman Rai for helping the author in order to research Indian music.


[C]: David R. Courtney, Fundamentals of Tabla, Vol. I, Sur Sangeet Services, Houston, 1998.
[DA]: Alian Danielou, The Raga-s of Northern Indian Music, Barrie & Rockliff (Barrie Books Ltd.), London, 1968.
[DU]: Aloke Dutta, Tabla (Lessons and Practice), 2nd Edition, Texas, 1995.
[S]: Mehdi Setayeshgar, Vazhe-Name-ye-Musighi-ye-Iran Zamin, Tehran, Vol. I (1995) & Vol. II (1996).
[T]: Dariush Talai, A New Approach to the Theory of Persian Art Music (The Radif and the Modal System), Mahoor Cultural & Art Publication, Tehran, 1993.