Small encyclopedia with Indian instruments
The text is taken from an excerpt of Suneera Kasliwal, Classical Musical Instruments, Delhi 2001


Mridang was also called muraj and later on in the thirteenth century it was known as maddalam. In the medieval period, after fifteenth century, there was yet another name for this instrument pakhavaj or pakhvaj. This instrument with its new name, which is a distorted version of pakh+ouj = pakhavaj or paksh+vadya = pakhvaj, became a major percussion instrument of North Indian classical music, whereas the instrument with other regional characteristics and with the name mridangam, developed in the Carnatic system. Though the name mridang has not faded into oblivion and is occasionally used as synonym for pakhavaj, the latter is the more popular and commonly used name for this instrument in north India. Pakhavaj acquired a place of great importance in Hindustani music till the nineteenth century. It was the only accompanying instrument of the dhrupad style of singing and for the instruments played in dhrupad style such as been, rabab, sursingar and surbahar, etc., and thus was looked upon with great reverence. With the fall of dhrupad and with the advent of khayal in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, pakhavaj also lost its reigning position, and made way for the tabla. Pakhavaj is mainly an instrument to be played upon with open hand (thapi), which suppresses the delicateness of bols of khayal, thumri and sitar, whereas the tabla is played with fingers. It is a more supple and delicate instrument and suits the temperament of delicate and emotive kinds of musical forms such as khayal, thumri and sitar.


Pakhawaj in our catalogue

The instrument is barrel shaped with an asymmetrical convexity towards the left. In fact, the drum has a barley shape (yavakriti), one of the shapes referred to in Bharat's Natya Shastra and it is hollowed out of a block of wood. The wood used is of sheesham, khair, red sandalwood, vijaysar, etc. The total length of the instrument varies between two to two-and-a-half feet, the bulge is of about ninety centimetres circumference. The right face, which is smaller than the left, is the tuning face and emits the higher pitch, its circumference being about sixteen to twenty centimetres, i.e. six to eight inches. The circumference of the left face is about twenty-five centimetres, i.e. around ten inches. The circumference of the two faces is variable and is always kept in relation to the size of the instrument. The parchment called 'pudi' is prepared from two membranes, the inner complete skin and the outer peripheral ring. The two faces are held by braids (gajra) and connected by leather straps, which are sixteen in number and called ghat or ghar. The skin used for pudi parchment is of goat, whereas the baddhi or the braces are made of buffalo leather. Between the braces there are eight tuning blocks. For tuning, the blocks are pushed with a hammer to the left or the right; the pitch can be raised or lowered by this process. The blocks used in pakhavaj are bigger than those used in tabla. The preparation of the pudi of the right face is done exactly as the pudi prepared for the right tabla. But for the left face no black paste (syahi) is used. Instead a temporary mixture of wheat or barley flour mixed with water is applied at the time of the concert, which is carefully scraped off just after the programme. There is no fixed weight or standard quantity of dough that should be applied, but the artist judges it by experience. The intention is to get the pitch of the left face just half of the right face, or if the half is not possible, it is reduced to one-third. The application of dough on the faces of percussion instruments is an old tradition, which is a very special characteristic of Indian drums. Till a few years ago the application of dough, as done on the left face of the pakhavaj, was also prevalent with the left drum of the tabla, but later it was substituted with a permanent mixture, i.e. 'syahi', which appeared more convenient. In some parts of Punjab, this is still prevalent in respect of the tabla. Application of the dough works in two ways, i.e. it controls the pitch of the left face and also gives depth and resonance to the tone, which leaves a majestic, sober impression on the listener.

While playing, the player sits with his legs crossed, the pakhavaj is kept horizontally on the ground or in the lap and played with palm and fingers. The instrument is equally suitable for accompaniment as well as for a solo performance and has to its credit a vast repertoire developed for centuries by stalwart pakhavaj players.

Some of the great pakhavajies of recent times are: Purushottam Das (Nathdwara), Ayodhya Prasad (Rampur), Pagaldas (Ayodhya), Raja Chhatrapati Singh (Bijana), Lala Keval Kishan, Makkan Pakhavaji, Ambadas Agle (Indore), Totaram Sharma (Mathura) and Ramashish Pathak. In the younger generation Dalchand Sharma (Delhi), Devakinandan Goswami (Indore) and Ramjilal Sharma (Lucknow) have shown remarkable talent and perseverance in this field.