ThekaAmong the many aspects of tabla performance, the understanding and interpretation of theka is most important. In essence, theka is a fixed set of bols for a tal which cannot be changed. A tintal theka would comprise 16 bols, just as jhaptal theka comprise 10 bols, etc. Theka can be abstractly compared to the skeleton of the human body. Like the human skeleton, which provides strength and support, theka provides the rhythmic skeletal support for the music.
When you are asked to play theka, you are asked to play the specific accompanying bol arrangement of the given tal. In 16-beat tintal you play tintal theka; in 12-beat ektal you play ektal theka, etc. Indeed, theka is the primary accompanying rhythm in all tals which provides the foundation for melodic soloists to develop their improvisations. Within this accompaniment role, the tabla player also has many ornaments and variations that could be incorporated. However, he/she should always avoid over playing. By nature, tabla is a busily-played instrument which requires discipline to control and maintain.
Remember, the primary role of the tabla player is that of accompaniment - you accompany the featured soloist. However, within your accompaniment there can be moments for a tabla feature. At the first sum which begins the tabla feature, the tabla player stops playing theka and begins playing any one of a dozen different compositional forms. Tabla rhythms are indeed compositions, each carefully constructed and passed on from generation to generation; some surviving for hundreds of years. At the concluding sum of the tabla feature, the player resumes theka. Interestingly enough, once it begins playing, the tabla never stops until the conclusion of the raga in drut laya.
Theka is more commonly introduced to a raga in vilambit speed (not a strict rule) and is improvised upon using rhythmic ornaments on the initial bol structure. It is very important that the original bol structure remain intact during these ornaments; otherwise the character of theka could be inappropriately disguised. Yet, without these interesting ornaments, the performance could be viewed as boring and without life. Theka ornaments are as necessary to the performance of classical Indian music as are the ornaments used to enhance a Christmas tree. Without these ornaments in either context, the mood of the occasion is not clear, and no lasting impressions are formed. The importance and understanding of theka can not be stressed enough, for without this foundation there is no real aesthetic development of the cycle.
Following is a presentation of several popular thekas with basic analysis of the clap/wave pattern. Do not play these thekas on the drums. Recite them thoroughly until they are memorized and you are consistent with clap/wave emphasis.
• 1st - recite each theka repeatedly until memorized
• 2nd - recite each theka while left hand renders clap/wave
• 3rd - recite each theka with left hand clap/wave and right hand finger counting
Tintal 16-beat Theka (4 vibhags - 4+4+4+4)
clap + dha dhin dhin dha clap 2 dha dhin dhin dha wave o dha tin tin ta clap 3 ta dhin dhin dha
Ektal 12-beat Theka (6 vibhags - 2+2+2+2+2+2)
clap + dhin dhin wave dha ge tira kita clap tun na wave o ka ta clap dha ge tira kita clap dhin na
Jhaptal 10-beat Theka (4 vibhags - 2+3+2+3)
clap + dhin na dhin dhin na wave o tin na dhin dhin na
Kaharwa 8-beat Theka (2 vibhags - 4+4)
clap + dha ge na tin wave o na ka dhi na
Rupak Tal 7-beat Theka (3 vibhags - 3+2+2)
wave + tin tin na clap o dhi na dhi na
Dadra Tal 6-beat Theka (2 vibhags - 3+3)
wave + dha dhin na clap o dha tin na