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The Tabla of Lucknow (A Cultural Analysis of a Musical Tradition)

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Item Code: NAM376
Publisher: Manohar Publishers And Distributors
Author: James Kippen
Language: English
Edition: 2005
ISBN: 9788173045745
Pages: 250 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 10 inch x 7.5 inch
Weight 770 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

The cultural psyche of Lucknow is heavily informed by a deeply sentimental nostalgia for past glories. Although the modern image of the city continues to lean heavily on qualities such as eloquent speech, refined manners, elegant poetry, subtle and sophisticated music and dance, and a host of rarefied arts and crafts ranging from embroidery to perfume, kite flying to cuisine, the reality of the present is perceived to be but a shadow of the "golden age" that culminated in the reign of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah (1847-56).

The Tabla of Lucknow presents a synoptic overview of music making in the city of Lucknow based on ethnomusicological fieldwork conducted in the early to mid 1980s. It also documents and explores Lucknow's celebrated tradition of tabla drumming as seen through the eyes of the head of the family of hereditary tabla specialists associated with the city since the late eighteenth century, Afaq Husain Khan (1930-90).

Beginning with general information on the history of Lucknow and its pivotal role in the evolution of Hindustani music in the nineteenth century, the book studies and investigates the employment of musicians, political machinations in the music world, the social organization of Lucknow's hereditary specialists, and traditional versus modern methods of musical training. Throughout this book, the paradigm of Lucknow's cultural decline from pre-eminent centre of excellence to quiet backwater is reflected in the Lucknow tabla tradition's fight for survival and recognition amid the social and cultural upheavals of the past 150 years.

The tabla is the most important and popular drum in North Indian classical music. This book aims to increase our understanding of the Lucknow tabla-playing tradition by showing what distinguishes it from other styles both musically and technically and by analysing the processes involved in composition and improvisation. In conjunction with the musical discussion James Kippen considers the socio-musical development of Lucknow from the late eighteenth century to the present day and analyses several important aspects of the lives of a particular group of hereditary musicians connected with Lucknow who specialise in the tabla. He investigates the-scope for music-making in Lucknow today, the social relationships of the musicians and the controversial topic of political intrigue, perceptions of, and attitudes towards, musical change, and institutionalised methods of musical instruction. The author shows that the individuality of the Lucknow tradition is linked to the individuality of the cultural climate that sustained it through most of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and that the disappearance of that climate along with the demise of princely patronage and the increased control of the State during the twentieth century have contributed to Lucknow's position as a cultural backwater where the older traditions struggle to survive alongside new ones that cater to the tastes of modern Indian audiences.

About the Author

James Kippen is a Professor of Ethnomusicology in the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto. His recent publications concern the social history of both tabla and pakhavaj, and include translations and analyses of late nineteenth and early twentieth century indigenous works on drumming, rhythm, and metre. His new book, Gurudev's Drumming Legacy, examines one such work in the context of the Indian nationalist movement.

James Kippen has illustrated his book with notations which for the first time facilitate a technical reconstruction of pieces as they are played. An accompanying cassette provides recorded examples of the pieces discussed.


The tabla is the most commonly played drum set in North Indian classical music. It is the instrument most frequently used to accompany vocal, instrumental and dance musics, where its primary function is to maintain the metric cycles in which compositions are set. However, tabla players are also soloists in their own right, and many have vast repertoires of elaborate compositions some of which have been handed down orally from father to son over seven or eight generations. Until this century, tabla knowledge was the domain of families of hereditary occupational specialists, commonly known as gharanas. Six gharanas are widely recognised: those of Delhi, Lucknow, Ajrara, Farukkhabad, Punjab and Benares. Increasingly, non-hereditary musicians are being recruited as tabla knowledge is more widely disseminated, helped in part by India's music schools, colleges and universities.

Some tabla traditions, in particular those of Delhi and Benares, have received considerably more attention than others in the literature. By contrast, the musics of Ajrara and Lucknow are little known either inside or outside India. Furthermore, most tabla studies have concentrated largely on descriptions of drum strokes and the repertoire, whilst information provided on tabla musicians has tended to be anecdotal and non-analytical. However, Daniel Neuman's anthropological work The Life of Music in North India (1980) has given an important lead by helping to shift the focus of Indian music studies to the musicians themselves. My own work may be viewed as an attempt to tread the middle path. My aim has been to understand the tabla playing of Lucknow: to learn what distinguishes it from other styles both technically and musically, to identify the scope of its repertoire, and to investigate its dynamism in terms of the processes involved in composition and improvisation. But since the creation and performance of music are the acts of individuals whose sensibilities are shaped by the culture of a particular time and place, it is vital to relate any musical analysis to its wider cultural context. Therefore, this is also a study of the lives of those musicians who create and perform the tabla music of Lucknow: how they earn a living, how they organise themselves socially and interact with other individuals or groups of musicians, how they perceive the music world about them, how they transmit their music, and how they perceive and respond to musical change.

Essentially, I relied upon the social anthropological method of participant observation in order to carry out this investigation. This involved learning the tabla (which I had studied before and in which I was greatly interested) with the intention of becoming, as far as possible, a performer. This approach was invaluable as it not only gave me an opportunity to document both the music and the teaching and learning processes but it also afforded me tremendous insights into how the tabla players of Lucknow viewed their world. Additionally, I collected hundreds of hours of taped interviews with several key informants and nearly one hundred casual informants. I also made trips to other centres of music in North India in order to observe how they differed from Lucknow and to compare notes with other researchers in this field.

This book is based on work submitted for a Ph.D. at The Queen's University of Belfast in 1985, supported by a grant from the Social Science Research Council of the United Kingdom (now the Economic and Social Research Council). Fieldwork was carried out in two periods: sixteen months in 1980-2 and four months in 1982-3. Further periods of fieldwork - in 1983-4 funded by the National Centre for Performing Arts (Bombay), and in 1986 as part of ongoing postdoctoral research supported by the Leverhulme Trust - provided me with opportunities to gather further information.

It would be impossible to thank all those who were kind enough to assist me in the collection of data and the preparation of this book. To all my informants and advisers I extend my deepest gratitude. However, nothing would have been possible without the co-operation of the character central to this study: the head of the Lucknow tabla gharana, Ustad Afaq Husain Khan. As my teacher and guide, I owe to him my understanding of the music and my ability to play the tabla. I only hope that others may have an opportunity to experience as I did the degree of love and affection possible in the relationship between a master and his disciple. Others I should especially like to thank are as follows: Sri Bhupal Ray Choudhuri and the late Ustad Habib Raza Khan, both of Calcutta, who generously shared their knowledge with me; Ilmas Husain Khan, Probir Kumar Mittra, Pankaj Kumar Chowdhury, Christian 'Layal' Lacourieux and Gilles Bourquin, my closest guru-bha' is, whose friendship and assistance not only made my life in Lucknow easier but also happier; Dr S. S. Awasthi and Mr V. P. Mathur, who kindly gave their permission to observe classes at the Bhatkhande Music College of Lucknow; Mrs Saeeda Manzoor, who taught me Urdu and provided me with a home whenever I needed it; Saiyed Farhad Husain, who also taught me Urdu and provided me with an insight into the bygone days of Lucknow; my friends Bernard and Andreine Bel and Jim 'Wasiuddin' Arnold, with whom I shared many ideas; and finally Professor John Blacking, Dr John Baily, Dr Richard Widdess, Dr Neil Sorrell and my wife Dr Annette Sanger for their helpful comments on parts or all of the text.

Throughout the text I have used the twenty-four hour clock for times of the day. The exchange rate for Indian rupees during my periods of fieldwork fluctuated between fourteen and eighteen rupees to one pound sterling (nine to twelve rupees to one US dollar).


'Ah! What a beautiful sight', I said to my Urdu teacher, Saiyed Farhad Husain, who, with his long white beard, sherwani coat, and pointed topi somewhat reminiscent of the caps worn by Urdu poets of old, was accompanying me on an evening stroll through the old city of Lucknow in the heart of the Gangetic plains of North India. All around us were the silhouettes of vast domes and minarets that rose above parapets punctuated by towers and gates through whose pointed arches scores of rickshaws and cycles, their bells constantly ringing, were being skilfully guided. The still, warm air at sunset was filled with the mellifluous tones of a dozen mu' azzins, each calling the faithful to prayer from surrounding mosques. Yet this picturesque scene was in reality an illusion, for not even the encroaching dusk could totally conceal scarred and broken masonry everywhere. 'Hae hae!', sighed my companion as he surveyed the horizon with a graceful sweep of his hand, 'but you should have seen it when I was a boy!' He described how, during his own lifetime of some eighty years, he had witnessed so many beautiful though sorely neglected buildings crumble, finally to collapse or be demolished, and how the city that was once renowned for its gardens had lost them one by one. Yet even in the early twentieth century, when Farhad Husain was a boy, Lucknow was but a remnant of former days. It had suffered the devastation and ruin of a British onslaught aimed at crushing a revolt and breaking a siege which had become the most celebrated symbol of rebellion in British India: the Indian Mutiny and the Siege of Lucknow of 1857 and 1858. William Russell, correspondent of The Times newspaper, was perhaps the last person to see Lucknow in pristine condition, for with him were the British regiments waiting to advance on the city in order to wrest it from the hands of the rebels. His panoramic view from atop Dilkhusha Palace just to the east of the city on 3 March 1858 inspired the following entry in My Indian Mutiny Diary (1957: 57-8):

A vision of palaces, minars, domes azure and golden, cupolas, colonnades, long facades of fair perspective in pillar and column, terraced roofs - all rising up amid a calm still ocean of the brightest verdure. Look for miles and miles away, and still the ocean spreads, and the towers of the fairy-city gleam in its midst. Spires of gold glitter in the sun. Turrets and gilded spheres shine like constellations. There is nothing mean or squalid to be seen. There is a city more vast than Paris, as it seems, and more brilliant, lying before us. Is this a city in Oudh? Is this the capital of a semibarbarous race, erected by a corrupt, effete, and degraded dynasty? I confess I felt inclined to rub my eyes again and again.

All this was soon to change, for the initial looting and ransacking of the palaces by the troops whom Russell was accompanying, and the subsequent dynamiting of large tracts of the city by the new British government, were devasting blows from which Lucknow has never recovered.

The region known as Awadh, written Oudh or Oude by the British, was, according to Hindu mythology, awarded by Ram to his brother Lakshman after the conquest of Sri Lanka. A settlement was established on a hill situated on the south bank of the river Gomti. The site is still know as Lakshman Tila, on which in the late seventeenth century, the Emperor Aurangzeb built an imposing mosque, the Shah Pir Muhammad Hill mosque. The settlement had grown steadily to become the seat of a governor when the Emperor Akbar divided India into twelve provinces in 1590. As a provincial capital, the city enjoyed a period of growth, and much of what now constitutes the old city of Lucknow, the Chowk, dates from this time. By the mid-seventeenth century Lucknow was known as a major centre for trade and Islamic teaching.

In 1720, Saadat Khan, a Shiite Muslim from Nishapur in the north of Persia, was appointed as nazim, or governor, of Awadh by the Mogul Emperor Muhammad Shah. The post was a reward for services rendered in battle. Saadat Khan, otherwise known as Burhan- ul-Mulk, set up his capital not in Lucknow but in Faizabad, building up the latter into a formidable fortress until his death from poisoning in 1739. Saadat Khan's successor, his nephew and son-in-law Safdar Jang (1739-54), was the first governor to be designated a nawab (later nawab wazir or vizier). The new title carried with it the status of viceroy although sovereignty was firmly retained by the Mogul Emperor in Delhi (Pemble 1977: 4). Nevertheless, this succession was representative of a new dynasty in the making.

Nawab Shuja-ud-daula (1754-75) spent much of the first half of his rule in Lucknow. He joined battle with the British at Baksar (or Buxar) in Bihar in 1765, but defeat merely proved he could do nothing to prevent the inexorable movement towards the domination of India by the British East India Company. The gradual collapse of the Mogul system was creating an ever-increasing power vacuum which the opportunist British were eager to fill. As victors at Baksar, they forced Shuja-ud-daula to forfeit one-third of the revenue of his territory. In return the Company would establish a military presence, so guaranteeing Awadh's nominal independence from the imperial Mogul court in Delhi.

With independence and security thus ensured, Shuja-ud-daula moved back to Faizabad, where he embarked upon a rebuilding scheme that was to develop the fortress into a bustling, crowded city and an irresistible attraction for thousands of emigrants from the crumbling imperial capital, Delhi. The military was still very much in evidence, but in that short period of time the city became known as a centre of wealth and fashion. Furthermore, the Nawab was very fond of music and dance, and consequently many courtesans, dancers, singers and instrumental musicians also made their way from Delhi to Faizabad. Delhi had been replaced as the major centre of patronage for the arts in North India.

Nawab Asaf-ud-daula acceded in 1775 and immediately transferred his court to Lucknow. A nawab remembered fondly to this day by Lucknow is for his generosity and liberality (Oldenburg 1984: 16), Asaf-ud-daula's potential as a great patron drew a large number of people from Faizabad who evidently surmised that there were considerable benefits to be enjoyed by keeping in contact with the court. Those disenchanted with the socio-political situation in Delhi who had not hitherto been enticed by fashionable Faizabad under Shuja-ud-daula were quick to make their way to Lucknow, for the new capital promised to be an even greater centre of wealth and splendour. Indeed, so great was Asaf-ud-daula's patronage that it has been said he became more famous throughout India than the Mogul Emperor himself (Hay 1939: 14).

The British, ever intent on extending their sphere of influence, saw vet another opportunity to increase their administrative authority over the region, this time by limiting the Nawab's army, a feat easily achieved as Asaf-ud-daula maintained little interest in military affairs. As a reward for his friendship and co-operation the British extended Awadh to incorporate Ruhelkhand to the north-west, making the Nawab the nominal ruler of a territory roughly equivalent in size to modern- day Uttar Pradesh (see Map I).

Freed of the need to spend much of his revenue on defence, Asaf-ud-daula embarked on a massive project of construction aimed at creating a city of magnificence and splendour unrivalled elsewhere in India. Many of the great palaces and mosques of Lucknow date from this time, as do numerous elaborate residences and religious meeting places called imambaras. The Asafi or Bara (Great) Imambara complex, complete with a vast mosque, was constructed in 1784 at a cost of two million rupees. The visible splendour of the city increased and with it the decadence of a life of unmitigated luxury and affluence. For instance, one of the more celebrated excesses of the court of Asaf-ud-daula was the wealth lavished on the wedding of the Nawab's son and successor, Wazir Ali, in 1795. In the procession, 1,200 elephants paraded through the city, and the heir to the throne wore a robe onto which jewels worth two million rupees had been sewn (Sharar 1975: 47).

Following the death of Asaf-ud-daula in 1797, the British demonstrated their total control over the court by deposing Wazir Ali, who had occupied the throne for less than a year. More acceptable to the British was Saadat Ali Khan (1798-1814), who was seen not only as a good administrator but also as a more sympathetic ally. In return for promotion, Saadat Ali was forced to sign a treaty yielding half the territory of Awadh to the British and formally ending its independence. Although this gained the Nawab many enemies among his own people, the British guaranteed his security by maintaining a strong and permanent military presence in the city itself.

The remaining five nawabs of Awadh were known more for their extravagance and self-indulgence than for their administrative prowess. For example, an extraordinary and unquestionably exaggerated account of the frivolous amusements of Nasir-ud-din Haider (1827-37), evidently written with the full intention of shocking a British audience, appeared under the title The Private Life of an Eastern King, by William Knighton, in 1855. Michael Edwardes's book The Orchid House: Splendours and Miseries of the Kingdom of Oudh, 1827- 1857 (1960) covers much the same ground. These accounts represent just a small part of the damning evidence against what William Russell called an 'effete and degraded dynasty'. However, more recent studies of the role of the British in Awadh up to and beyond annexation in 1856, such as the survey of nawabi architecture by Llewellyn-Jones (1985) and Oldenburg's (1984) analysis of the early years of colonial Lucknow, paint a different picture. The nawabs were of course little more than puppets in the hands of the Residents appointed by the British East India Company who, though perhaps morally outraged, manipulated and blackmailed the nawabs, and encouraged their seemingly eccentric behaviour, because they believed it distracted them from having any designs on political power.

What had in practice been a monarchy for almost one hundred years became so in theory when in 1819 the British bestowed upon Nawab Ghazi-ud-din Haider the title 'King of Awadh'. From Ghazi-ud-din (1814-27) onwards, the nawabs shared a tremendous zest for religious ceremony. Their courts were dominated by Shiah religious observations and superstitions, which dictated, for example, that one should wait for an auspicious moment, to be determined astrologically, before setting out on a journey. Wet gram was hand-fed to donkeys in the belief that it was a cure for smallpox, and expectant mothers were kept awake for fear that sleep would damage the unborn child (Hasan 1983). The courts were also teeming with courtesans and musicians, and the nawabs gave full vent to their passion for music, dance and poetry. They continued the beautification of Lucknow by adding palaces and mosques, the most notable of which were built under Muhammad Ali Shah (1837-42) and Wajid Ali Shah (1847-56). The city was greatly extended under Amjad Ali Shah (1842-7), who built the fashionable areas of Aminabad and Hazratganj (see Map 2). The nawabi love of the European style of architecture came out particularly strongly in the new areas of the city (for a full account, see Llewellyn-Jones.198 5), leading Bishop Heber (1828) to liken Lucknow to Dresden. The most lavish patronge of the arts; particularly of music and dance, was offered by Ghazi-ud-din Haider, Nasir-ud-din Haider, and not least by the last and most notorious King of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah.

Wajid Ali Shah is traditionally known for his unbridled pursuit of pleasure and amusement, though an excellent and sympathetic study of his life by G. D. Bhatnagar (1968) suggests he was in fact a much misunderstood character. Wajid Ali spent most of his time in the company of courtesans and musicians, some of whom came to wield considerable administrative power (Miner 1981: 218). He learned music from them and was himself an accomplished dancer and poet. His poetry unashamedly describes in detail events that occurred in his various love affairs, descriptions which earned him the censure of many because he 'had no hesitation in showing shamefully low taste and in using obscene language' (Sharar 1975: 64). As a religious zealot he donned black to head the sombre processions of the Shiites, while as a frivolous actor he would take female roles in plays (Hay 1939: 54-5) or become an ash-covered yogi at the public fairs held in his palace complex at Qaiser Bagh (Sharar 1975: 64).

The British Governor-General, Lord Dalhousie (1848-56), had already annexed a large number of states in India, and he saw in the decadent behaviour of Wajid Ali Shah and his court a plausible excuse to add Awadh to his list of appropriated territories. The British took over the complete administration of the kingdom in 1856 (see Map I) by sending an armed force to Lucknow and by issuing the King with the instruction that Awadh was no longer under his rule. Intending to plead with Queen Victoria in London for reinstatement, Wajid Ali Shah departed from Lucknow with his retinue to travel to Calcutta, from where members of his family left for a royal audience in England. During their absence, new and momentous events shook Lucknow and the deposed King was never to see the city again. He remained until his death in 1887 in Matiya Burj, Calcutta, pursuing his eccentricities and fulfilling his taste for the arts and luxurious living.


List of plates, charts and maps ix
Preface to the second printing xi
Preface xiii
Terminology, transliteration and translation xv
The organology and nomenclature of the tabla xvi
An explanation of the notational system used for tabla xviii
1An introduction to Lucknow1
The history of the city 1
The culture of the city 11
The history of music in Lucknow 16
2Musical life in present-day Lucknow27
All India Radio and the Doordarshan Kendra 27
Public teaching institutions 33
Public concerts 36
Private lessons 40
Tawa' ifs 42
3The social relationships of musicians46
Living and meeting in Lucknow 46
The variables that influence social rank 49
'Politics': competition and conflict among musicians 54
4Tabla gharanas in Lucknow 63
Tabla gharanas 63
Origins of the Lucknow gharana 66
The genealogy and history of the Lucknow gharana 69
Kothiwal: a separate gharana? 81
Assessing genealogical and historical data 84
5Musical change as a result of perceptions and attitudes 86
Perceptions of, and attitudes towards, tabla players 87
Perceptions of, and attitudes towards, the listeners 90
Changes in performance 96
Trends in education as precipitants of musical change 104
6Learning the table 112
The gharana system of training 112
The college system of training 136
7Lucknow tabla technique 143
The placement of instruments and playing posture 143
Strokes 145
Further aspects of technique 155
8The repertoire 160
Theme and variations 161
Endings 179
Fixed compositions 185
Conclusion 203
Glossary 206
Select bibliography 212
Appendix: items on the cassette 215
Index 217

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