The word gharana literally means "house" or "from the house of" and is an important aspect of learning to play Indian classical music on both melodic and rhythmic instruments alike. When discussing the performing aesthetics of tabla the term gharana refers to the study of a particular style, or school of play which evolved in specific areas of north India. Indeed, a Delhi gharana would be learned in Delhi, just as a student of the Benares style of play would seek out such compositions in the city of Benares. Tabla compositions and techniques which are characteristic of each gharana are passed onto students who choose to sincerely continue the gharana tradition. Each gharana was very protective of their tabla compositions, least they become incorporated into other gharanas. Were it ever suspected that a student from one gharana taught a composition to someone from a differing gharana, this person would be cast away from the old gharana, left for shame by even their own family members.

Unfortunately, the details of the following anecdote are vague, having been told to me as an almost mythological occurrence. Hundreds of years ago, there was a great ruler and accomplished tabla player. During a performance, an inquisitive student overheard the performance of a tabla composition that his master had composed. On one listening, he memorized the composition and, at a later performance in his master's honor, performed the same composition. Rather than receiving words of praise for his attuned ears and strong hands, the infuriated ruler ordered that the thief of his composition have the middle finger of his right hand removed. This crippled player continued his craft and a kaida of his creation appears in Volume II: Indian Influence (Tabla Perspectives).

Gharana specifics

Let us look at some specific aspects which have direct practical application for the student. As an ancient tradition, the gharana system was very strict with each gharana named after a specific city (or state, in the case of Punjab) where the student studied. The absence of mass transportation and communication insured the survival of these strict practices. These tabla gharanas include. Delhi, Benares, Punjab, Ajrada, Lucknow, and Farukhabad. Each, in their purest form, possess unique interpretations of both playing technique, application and composition.

If we support the theory that the Delhi Gharana came first, there is one possible explanation for the evolution of the other five. Three sons of tabla master Sudhar Khan Dhadhai from Delhi travelled great distances to the other regions where they were commissioned as court performers. Upon arriving at these locations, the desire to apply new concepts and techniques surfaced, resulting in the possible evolution of the other styles. Gradually, these techniques and applications evolved into highly prescribed forms which were strictly practiced within the region.

Today, there is very little left of the "pure" gharana system. Certainly, today's players refer to their playing style with respect to their parent gharana, but so much criss-crossing has taken place that it is very hard to define. Today's young artists, in striving to further their own abilities and playing repertoire, have learned or adapted their techniques for the rendering of compositions from the other gharanas. This has had positive impact because it allows the player to present a variety of compositions prescribed by several schools of thought. Such diversity inevitably proves more interesting for both the performer and the listener. The molds of ancient tradition may have been broken, but new molds now exist which guarantee the survival and prosperity of classical Indian music.

Following is a historical breakdown of the gharanas, beginning with a flow chart highlighting the evolution of five of the six schools of thought. Much of this material was researched, compiled and presented to me by my Guru, Rajiv Devasthali, in Pune, India, January of 1997. Any misspellings of names are errors on my part.

Gharana Family Trees


Delhi Gharana players:
• Sudhar Khan Dadhi Pakhwaji - father of Bugara Khan, Ghasita Khan and XYZ/name unknown
• Bugara Khan - father of Shitab Khan - father of Nasir Ali - father of Bade Kale Khan - father of Bolibaksh Khan - father of Natthu Khan
• Bugara Khan - father of Gulab Khan - father of Chhote Kale Khan - father of Gahem Khan - father of Inam Ali
• Chand Khan (younger brother of Sudhar Khan Dhadhi) - father of Lilli Masit Khan - father of Langde Hussain Baksh Khan - father of Nanhe Khan and Ghasita Khan
• Disciples of Sudhar Khan Dhadhi. Roshan Khan, Kallu Khan, Tullan Khan
• Disciples of Shitab Khan. Kallu and Miru Khan (founders of Ajrada Gharana)
• Disciple of Bolibaksh Khan. Munir Khan of Laliyana
• Disciples of Munir Khan. Amir Hussain Khan (nephew), Ahmedjan Thirakwan, Nasir Khan Panipatwale, Shamshuddin Khan
• Disciple of Natthu Khan. Habeebuddin Khan
• Disciple of Nanhe Khan. Jugna Khan
• Disciple of Jugna Khan. Mehboob Khan Mirajkar - father of Abdul Mirajkar
• Disciples of Mehboob Khan Mirajkar in Pune. Pandurang Salunke, Jaiwantrao Mirajkar

Considered by most to be the oldest Gharana, the Delhi Gharana utilizes more of the middle finger. More emphasis is placed on "kinar" strokes (dha) and lighter renderings of dry strokes such as dhita (dhete), tita (te te), tirakita, dhati, dha gi na dha, dhina gina, etc. Delhi compositions are very melodic with concise development of kaidas, peshkars, and other theme/variation compositions. More emphasis placed on Peshkar, Kaida, Rela, less emphasis on Paran and other pakhawaj translated bols.


Farukhabad Gharana players:
• Bakshu Khan Dadhi taught his daughter who was then married to Vilayat Ali Khan Dadhi of Farukhabad - came to be known as "Haji" Vilayat Ali - father of Hussain Ali Khan
• Descendant Nanhe Khan - father of Masit Khan - father of Karamatullah Khan - father of Sabir Khan
• Disciples of Masit Khan • Azim Khan, Munne Khan of Lucknow, Gyanprakash Ghosh of Calcutta
• Disciples of Haji Vilayat Ali Khan • Salari Khan, Chudia Imam Baksh - father of Haider Khan - father of Bande Hussain Khan, Mubarak Ali Khan, Chunnu Khan
• Disciples of Hussain Ali Khan • Nissar Ali Khan (Modu), Munir Khan
• Disciples of Munir Khan • nephew Amir Hussain - father of Fakir Hussain, grandson Gulam Hussain Khan, Ahmadjan Thirakwa, Babeebudding Khan, Nasir Khan, Abdul Karim Khan, Shamshuddin Khan

The Farukhabad Gharana evolved from Lucknow, however also influenced by Delhi and Ajrada styles, e.g., in use of Bayan. Predominant strokes include dhir dhir (dhire dhire), dhina gina, takita.


Lucknow Gharana players:
• Makkhu Khan, Modu Khan and Bakshu Khan - grandsons of Sudhar Khan Dhadhi (fatherís name not known) - Modhu Khan and Bakshu Khan invited to play at court of Lucknow
• Modu Khan - father of Mammu Khan - father of Muhammad Khan - father of Bade Munne Khan and Abid Hussain
• Bade Munne Khan - father of Wazid Hussain - father of Afaque Hussain Khan - father of Ilmas Khan
• Disciples of Abid Hussain Khan Biru. Mishra of Banaras, Jehangir Khan of Indore and Hiru Ganguly of Calcutta.

The Lucknow Gharana makes prevalent use of open (Khula) sounds, use of ring finger, use of luv (sur), influenced by kathak dance, stresses the importance of sonority and loudness. Characteristic strokes include dhir dhir (dhire dhire), tak ghidan, kita taka, dingada, kda dhe tita, dhita dhita (dhete dhete), ga di ga na, dhina gina, tuna kata.


Ajrada Gharana players:
• Kallu and Miru Khan
• Descendant of Kallu Khan • Muhammadi Baksh - father of Kale Khan • father of Hassu Khan - father of Shammu Khan - father of Habeebuddin Khan, also Abdul Karim Khan (nephew of Shammu Khan)

Within the Ajrada gharana there is prominent use of the bayan, complicated phrasing, tisra jati (groups of 3), long kaida compositions with additional second line, not too many variations of the kaida. Characteristic strokes: ghenaka, tinna, ghetak, katak, gheghe naka, taka dhilanga, dinga dina, etc.


Benares Gharana players:
• Pandit Ram Sahay • Disciple of Modu Khan (Lucknow)
• Disciples of Pt. Ram Sahay. Janaki Sahay (brother), Ramsharan, Bharon Sahay (nephew), Bhagatjee, Pratap Maharaj (known as Paratappu)
• Disciples of Janaki Sahay. Gokul and Vishwanath
• Ramsharan - father of Durgajee - father of Bikkujee - father of Gama Maharaj (alias Gummojee) - father of Rangnath Mishra
• Bhairon Sahay - father of Baldeo Sahay - father of Nunhujee
• Disciples of Nanhujee. Bhola Shreshtha and Kanthe Maharaj - father of Kishan Maharaj (nephew of adopted son)
• Disciple of Bhagatjee: Pandit Bhairav Prasad
• Disciples of Pandit Bhairav Prasad. Maulaviram Misra, Mahabir Bhat, Pandit Mahadeo Mishra, Pandit Anokhelal and Nageshwar Prasad
• Disciples of Anokhelal. Ramji (son), Mahapurush Mishra
• Pratap Maharaj - father of Jagannath - father of Shivsunder and Bacha Mishra Shivsunder - father of Banmohan Maharaj
• Bacha Mishra - father of Gudai Maharaj (alias Samta Prasad) - father of Kumarlal and Kailash
• Disciples of Manthe Maharaj. Pandit Sharada Sahay, Pandit Kishan Maharaj

The Benares Gharana is heavily influenced by the Pakhawaj with many parans adapted to tabla. The Benares player utilizes the complete palm of the hand for playing dry strokes such as te te, tira kita, etc., with a much stronger emphasis on the sur strokes of the tabla. This sur stroke greatly resembles the "na" stroke on pakhawaj, thus supporting the direct link to the ancient double-barreled drum. Also, players make more use of full hand "din" strokes which are very prevalent on pakhawaj. More emphasis is placed on kaida, rela, paran, with less emphasis on peshkar. Other characteristic strokes. nada, dhada, dhadagina, tadagina, dhatinada, dhika dhinada, etc.


Punjab Gharana players:
• Fakirbaksh Khan (father of the Punjab Gharana), Kadirbaksh Khan and Haddu Khan • disciples of Pakhwaji Lala Bhawanidas
• Fakirbaksh Khan adapted Pakhawaj Bols to tabla - father of Kadirbaksh Khan
• Disciples of Fakirbaksh Khan. Karam Ilahi Khan, Baba Malang, Malan Khan, Firoze Khan (Lahore) and Pandit Baldeo Sahay (Benares)
• Disciples of Kadirbaksh Khan. Lal Muhammad Khan, Shaukat Hussain Khan, Alladitta Khan, Allarakha Khan - father of Zakir Hussain, Taufiq, Fazal Qureshi

The Punjab style also utilizes the entire hand for play with strong influence from the Pakhawaj. Conversion of pakhawaj bols into tabla bols, mishra jati compositions (multiple speeds). More emphasis is placed on Kaida, Rela, Paran, with less emphasis on peshkar. Predominant strokes, dhitata, dinga dinga, kadadhan, ghidana, tadanna, dhadanna, dha dha, etc.