The tabla is really a two drum set. The cylindrical, wooden drum played with the right hand is called the dayan, dahina, or tabla. The metal drum is slightly bowl shaped, played with the left hand, and is called the bayan, duggi, or dagga. The specialized goat-skin head of a tabla is called a puddi. The puddi has a main skin sandwiched between two donut-shaped skins. The three layers are intricately braided together by the collar called the gajara. Near the center of the head, is a multi-layered black spot called the syahi. The syahi is usually made of rice, glue, graphite, and iron fillings. It must not become damp or the layers will loosen. Once a syahi has been damaged the drum must be re-headed. At the bottom of the drum is the kundal, a ring made of coiled rawhide or wire. A tasma, or rawhide lace, holds the puddi tight to the drum. The tasma (rawhide lace) is woven over the gajara on the puddi (collar on the head), down the side of the drum, over the kundal (the ring at the bottom of the drum), and back up over the gajara. The tasma is woven through 16 slits found between the gajara and puddi and must exert an equal amount of pressure around the puddi. Once the puddi is tightly fitted, the drum can be tuned by inserting one or more tuning blocks, called gatta, between the tasma and the drum shell. These gatta are wooden dowels that can be adjusted to increase or decrease the tension on the puddi, which increase or decrease the tone of the drum.
Tabla with good kundal and Tasma (approx. 11 yards)
Light weight cord (approx. 4 yards)
A little arm strength
Time, approx. 60 minutes
If you have a bayan or dayan that has an old puddi (head) in place, look at the tasma (laces). Pay attention to the method used to weave the tasma around the kundal (bottom ring) and gajara (collar). Pay special attention to the way the tasma is tied at the beginning and end.
Remove the gatta (dowels). Find the end of the tasma and untie it and then unlace the entire puddi. Place your new puddi on the drum. Set the kundal under the drum. To make it a little easier take any piece of lightweight cord and wrap it around the drum, puddi and kundal. Start the cord on the top center of the puddi, wrap down, under, and up again. Give the drum a 1/3 turn, and wrap again. Repeat. You can tie the cord off on the top center of the puddi. It should now be tied like a package ready to ship. This cord will hold the parts in place while you weave the tasma.
You may think that soaking the tasma will make it more pliable and therefore easier to work with. Do not make this mistake. It will become more pliable but it will become so slippery that you will not be able to work with it.
Start on the bottom of the drum at the kundal. With the drum sitting up-side-down push 4" of one end of the tasma between the kundal and the drum shell. Push it from the bottom of the drum toward the puddi. Now bend the long end of the tasma over the kundal toward the puddi. Hold it against the drum shell, this is your starting lace. Take the 4 inch end and wrap it, from left to right, OVER the lace. Then tuck it, from right to left, UNDER the lace. Make sure the loose end passes between the kundal and the 4 inch piece on the left side. Pull the loose end tight and it should lay on the drum shell parallel to the kundal. This should tie off the starting place for your tasma. In this manner you will weave right to left around the drum. As you proceed, the loose end from the starting knot will be secured under subsequent wraps.
You will be lacing from right to left around the drum. Each time you weave the tasma you want it to pass over the outside of the gajara (collar). It passes over the outside of the gajara, and then through one of the 16 pre-made slits in the puddi. The slits are between the gajara and the puddi. They are sometimes difficult to see since they are found where the gajara is laced onto the puddi. Pull the tasma through the slit in the puddi and down along the drum shell. It then passes over the outside of the kundal. Tuck it back down between the kundal and the drum shell. Pass it along the drum shell and then repeat over the gajara. You are always passing the tasma OVER the outside of the gajara and kundal.
The tasma may be a bit unruly. It can be stiff and may have a tendency to flip about. Make certain, as you weave the tasma over the gajar and kundal, that it does not become twisted. If you pull the tasma tight and there is a twist you have to back it out of the slit and start again. This is most likely to happen when you just begin, since there will be so many yards of tasma flipping about. Just work carefully.
As you continue to tighten the tasma remember to keep the gajara and kundal straight. You also want to get an even amount of pressure around the drum. You may find it more comfortable to work with your hands and feet. This is a traditional method, take off your shoes and brace the drum with your feet. Pull on the tasma with your hands and push the drum with your feet.
At first you need to keep the tasma lightly snug, but not tight. When all 16 slits have been used you can take up the slack in the tasma. Start at the beginning knot and pull the tasma tighter. Work from right to left and continue to take up the slack until the puddi is snug. Remove the light weight cord.
When you have tightened it completely the end knot should be next to the starting knot. When you tie it off you want to create a mirror image of the beginning knot. With the drum up-side-down, pull the loose end of the tasma between the kundal and the drum shell toward the puddi. Pull it to the right side of the lace. Fold it over the tasma to the left. Then tuck it under the tasma from left to right. Pull tight to make the knot. Push the loose end over and under each lace to the right. If you have several inches you can weave it in and out of the loops, do not cut it off.
The Exotic Percussion of the World video is available from nuLime.com. It provides an introduction to a number of percussion instruments. The video also demonstrates the tabla. nuLime.com also carries an "Introduction to Tabla "video (code VBT1). This video covers the parts the tabla, care and maintenance, tuning, and several learning exercises.
When tuning the tabla make an effort to keep the tension equally dispersed around the entire head of the drum. Uneven tension on the head will create problems. All nuLime.com dayans come with eight gatta (wooden dowels) in place. The gatta can be moved up or down to change the tension and the tune of the drum.
On a newly re-headed tabla, tension is increased by adding the gatta. If the tasma are very tight you may have to begin with smaller diameter gatta. You can use 1 inch thick dowel rod cut into 3" lengths.
As you add gatta maintain an even number to keep the tension even. Once the gatta are in place you can achieve considerable tuning by hammering the gatta. Hammer them downward to increase the tension and pitch, and hammer them upward to decrease the tension and pitch. Or you may lift additional tasma (laces) over the existing gatta. When inserting gatta, or lifting tasma, there is a prescribed way. Look at the side of your drum. The tasma run up and down, up and down around the drum. Do not think of this as 16 individual laces- rather think of this as four sets (remember there were 16 holes). Each set make a capital letter "M." The pattern is 1-up, 2-down, 3- up, 4-down. When positioning a gatta, insert it first under the 2-down lace. When you need to add tension pull the tasma over the gatta in the following sequence: begin with 2-down, then 3-up, 1-up, and 4-down last. This sequence is important to avoid torque on the puddi.
Once you have the drum close to tuned you can fine tune by adjusting the gajara (collar). Tapping down on the top outside edge of the gajara with the flat side of the hammer tightens it and raises the pitch. Tapping up from the underside loosens the puddi and lowers the pitch. Important- the area of the puddi that overlays the drum's top edge is delicate, do not strike the head!
The wooden dayan should be tuned very low. However, do not tune the dayan so low that it does not compliment the bayan. Ultimately, the tuning of the tabla is dependent on the raga being played.
Remember the tasma and the puddi are natural animal skin. Over time they will stretch. This may be most noticeable in the first weeks after a re-head, so you may have to tune more often. Or even, re-tighten the tasma.