19 comments on “Three Queens of the Indian Drums

  1. Firstly,Tansen-ique shall always be obliged to grace the page with your posts which are so rich with celebration, spirit of inquiry and importantly to bring forth forgotten days of music, musicians, songs and styles.You will surely whet the curiosity of the keen and serious,add joy in the readings of the fun seekers and surely surprise the many like me who are completely unaware of the breadth, range , evolution and development of tools of entertainment.You have stimulated me to seek for more and find something to add if I can. Setting out then…..

  2. Swarup, thank you for the article link. I think I’ve seen that before but never got around to reading it. That was interesting. I don’t know if the author would know anything about Indian drummers, because she doesn’t say a word about Indian drums except in a brief reference to the different kinds of drums her teacher had played (unless I missed something here)… But her descriptions of the religious/ecstatic drumming rituals in the ancient world (meaning Greece and Rome) bear a strong resemblance to descriptions of drumming in Sufi rituals, and her description of the greater variety of sounds achieved by playing the frame drum with bare hands matches things I’ve read about the great variety of sounds that people can play with hands and fingers on the tablas.

    It is interesting that the drummers were exclusively or mainly women for thousands of years. The author of the article blames Christianity for changing that (completely), but it must have been a social change that extended well beyond Christianity. I got the impression that there were taboos against women joining the drumming groups in India which extended back well before the Christian colonizers arrived. I would guess that at one time India always had female drummers also, but we can’t really get an answer to that question from this article.

    Sunil (Wingedream), as I said over in your great Facebook group called Tansenique, I once again feel very encouraged by your nice words, and good luck with your search. I look forward to seeing anything that you can find, but if you don’t find anything, that’s fine, too, because I am certainly happy enough with the comment that you already contributed. :)

  3. Richard, I thought that since she referred to one Glen, who learnt drums from Soth Indians among others, she might know. Anyway, there are some female drummers in Indian sculptures at various times. But I do not know how frequent it was and whether it disappeared completely at any stage.

  4. Those are very nice sculptures, and I like the performance, too. I think these would fit in with the woman-centered drumming rituals from the ancient world that Layne Redmond wrote about in that Drum Magazine article.

    I was really wondering if there were any female drummers, say, in the mid-20th Cenutry who might be the type who would be called upon to do drumming in a film. The scenes from Dholak (1951) seem to be a fictional representation of something that didn’t generally exist – that is, women playing drums in popular bands at the time. All the women whom I mentioned above talked about how they were breaking some kind of taboo against female drummers – or, if not exactly breaking a taboo, then at least doing something that people in different circles were not used to seeing women do.

    I’m reminded of some material I read about the famous sarod player Sharan Rani. I first saw her name in a nice little illustrated book that I found about 10 years ago in a thirft store in Ithaca, NY, selling for about 30 cents. :) Sharan Rani has been mentioned in some places as the first Indian woman to become a world-famous musician. She started getting a reputation in India in the ’30s and got worldwide recognition in the ’50s (the same time as the Vintage and Golden age in Indian films). I understand that it was particularly unusual for her to master the sarod, because it was simply not considered a “woman’s instrument.” I haven’t seen a lot of women who were famous in the mid 20th century for anything to do with music outside of singing and dancing. (And as we know, female dancers were also not so accepted in “respectable” society in the 19th and early 20th centuries.) So, anyway, it would be interesting to find out if there were any women who managed to break through – or even just get gigs – as drummers during the Golden/Vintage era of films. As far as I know, there weren’t any. But since we saw women drummers in films like Dholak, I suppose it wasn’t unthinkable? (I have seen a few scenes in films made after the mid ’50s of women playing modern western drums – one with Helen comes to mind right away. But Helen often represented an exotic, non-Indian woman, and she wasn’t playing an Indian drum. :) )

  5. Richard, This won’t address your main questions. But I remember some from Tamil films of 1940s. I do not know how systematic they were or whether there were differences between North and South.

    There is a more popular one from 1941

  6. Those are very charming! I like the first one especially. I should get more into South Indian films and scenes again…

    Re. Hindi films, these reminded me of the scenes with all the female musicians in Sargam (1950), but those actually have a man or boy playing the drums, with the women playing the string instruments.

    Now, the question is, are the women on the screen really playing the instruments, or is someone else dubbing it in? I know that in the early ’40s, it was always much more likely for the singer to be on screen and playback techniques weren’t used as often, but I don’t know if that applies as much to the instruments as the voice.

  7. Thank you to Sidharth Bhatia, who saw a link to this to this post that I’d shared on Facebook and sent me a link to the Web site of Anuradha Pal. She is a tabla player residing in Mumbai, who, according to her biography, was “hailed as the First Professional female Tabla Virtuoso in the world by the prestigious Encyclopedia Britannica, Who‘s Who journal of the World & Limca Book of Records (1991).” Of course, if the first professional female tabla virtuoso in the world was recognized in 1991, this would explain why I have not found any from the 1950s. Still, she predates the ones I wrote about above by a few years,

    Anuradha Pal was taught tabla by Alla Rakha and Zakir Hussain, so she has something big in common with Suphala, too.

    Here’s a good video of one of her solos:

  8. The all-female group called Sakhi has two female drummers who play on a regular basis. Savani Talwalkar plays the tabla and Mahima Updadhyay plays the pakhawaj. Check this link youtube.

  9. Thank you to Soumya Banerji for the latest music clip. There really are quite a few talented female players of Indian percussion being brought out in the present day. It’s nice to see someone playing the pakhawaj; that’s a little different. I see that these musicians were brought together by Kaushiki Chakrabarty… I certainly have heard her singing a few times, might even have her voice on some MP3s.

  10. Swarup, thanks for the interesting articles. The first one, from Livemint, certainly answers one of my question with this statement:

    The existence of this photograph, however, establishes the fact that both tabla and sarangi were played by professional female performers in the 19th century, if not earlier. Later claims by women tabla artistes declaring themselves the first in this regard are also proved incorrect by this photograph.

    Yes, the picture at the top of the Tasveer Journal‘s “Beauties of Lucknow” article might the one mentioned in the Livemint article… I may have seen this a while back (maybe recommended by you before?). The pictures are impressive. The text tells the familiar tale about the ignorant British imperialists who had no understanding of the courtesans and their rich traditions.

  11. Richard, Thanks to your interesting posts and questions, I am learning a bit more about the historical background of some of these arts. Sorry for the repeat. Please delete one of them. Thanks

  12. Swarup, thank you for the nice words above. Per your request, I have consolidated your last few posts so that there are no repeats now. (Although I don’t mind when you repeat, because your links are always worth repeating. :) )

  13. Swarup, thanks for adding this as a follow-up several months later. It’s nice that you remembered! I’m looking over these comments to make the connections again. Very interesting…

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