Few Thoughts on Kaida

Few thoughts on Kaida


It is a well known fact that a typical Tabla Solo performance has the following elements to a certain degree as per the performer’s Taalim, Understanding, Riyaaz & thought process. It goes without saying that the style of Tabla playing i.e. his Gharana will definitely weigh upon his preference of choosing the material for presentation. 

1 Peshkar

2 Kaida

3 Rela/ Chalan/ Rav

4 Gat/ Tukda/ Chakradhaar

I want to share my thoughts on the Kaida in this write up.

Kaida (Qaeda) is a word of Arabic origin. “Al-Qaeda” has different meanings, among them “Base”, “Ground”, “Norm”, “Rule”, “Fundament”, “Grammar”. The exact meaning is dependent on the context in which it is used. Almost all the meanings apply when we discuss Kaida of Tabla. Though it has been widely accepted that Kaida means Rule, in my opinion it does not fully grasp what Kaida is all about. Yes a certain Kaida is a certain Rule to play a specific Bol or specific phrase. But Kaida does not mean only that, it has its own grammar like Kaida has to be a structured composition showing distinct Khali Bhari. There are quite beautiful exceptions in some Ajarada Kaida as they do not have an exact Mirror image of Bhari & also there is no development of Khali section if we consider Kaida to be divided into 8+ 8 = 16 format. If time permits I will post a Ajarada Kaida of this feature. The Bols of Kaida are Tita, Titakda Dhikita, Tirakit, Kit Tak, DhirDhir etc., so by practising Kaida one learns, understands & polishes the fundamentals of Tabla by extension. There is norm to develop/play Kaida, one must never use any Bol outside the Kaida (Mukh). As far as possible one should not change the structure of the composition during development. One can easily draw parallel to this to singing a certain Rag (Outside Swara is not allowed & sequence/distance between 2 Swara’s needs to be maintained.). A Tabla student will immediately grasp how the meaning of Base is perfect for Kaida as the practice of a certain Bol can only be done by practising Kaida.   


Amir Hussain Khansaheb used to say that “The Stamina can only be built through practice of Kaida by observing Chilla. I have copy-pasted meaning of Chilla from Wikipedia for better understanding.

Chilla-nashini (Persian: چله نشینی) is a spiritual practice of penance and solitude, known mostly in Indian and Persian traditions. In this ritual a mendicant or an ascetic attempts to remain seated in a circle without food, water, or sleep for 40 days and nights. The word ‘chilla’ is adopted from the Persian word ‘chehel’, meaning ‘forty’. The nashini is the person who does the 40-day fast and remains seated in the circle of seclusion. It is believed that those who try it but do not succeed usually die or suffer madness.

Of course the concept is modified in practice of Tabla, as the student does not seek to speak to God but to do Akshar Sadhana. I have chosen this word as it not only perfectly describes what one does while observing Chilla, but was used by Amir Hussain Khansaheb while stressing the need of Akshar Sadhana if one wishes to play with the same vigour even in his old age. The same has been exemplified by Ahmedjaan Thirakwasaheb, Amir Hussain Khansaheb & Habibuddin Khansaheb as well. Afaq Hussain Khansaheb has also recommended practicing Kaida, by saying if Kaida is practiced by understanding it properly then there will be refinement (Nafasat), better assimilation of knowledge (Ilm) among other things.  


A small note here would not be out of context: when we say Kaida, it is normally understood that one is talking about Teentaal. Most, if not all of the old compositions have been composed in Teentaal & it is my inherent belief that Tabla Solo means Teentaal. There can be other Taals but it is just for the sake of variety or in recent times to show off one’s arithmetical prowess.   


Normally development of Kaida is expected to be done in an orderly manner. I have scanned below a Kaida by Siddhar Khansaheb Dadhi, the founder of Delhi Gharana. It may be noted that this Kaida is not a very straight forward composition & can be expanded in terms of Tirakit as well as Titakda Dhikit. Secondly it is in Tishra Jati. Due to its beautiful structure, as well as melodious sound production this is a Kaida which can be played in regular concerts & need not be limited to practice sessions only.


This brings to fore the question of how far a Kaida can be expanded in a concert. I would prefer one or two well developed Kaidas instead of shabby treatment to 4 – 5 Kaidas as is done nowadays to show off the repertoire of material.


I have learnt the typical expansion of Kaida as below:


Mukh, Dohra, Adha Dohra (Optional), Vishram, Adha Vishram (Optional), Bal, Palta to be concluded by Tihai.   

Mainkarji in his book explains additional types like Pench, Fandah & Girah:

I have tried to loosely translate the terms. Pench is the question arising during development, Fandah is the situation from where it is difficult to get back to the track of Kaida & Girah is almost out of context to Kaida.


May be this terminology is used exclusively in Delhi Gharana & hence not too commonly known & hence the novelty. As per Afaq Hussain Khansaheb, Bal & Pench is the same, just different terminology used by different people. As per Guruji, ‘pench’ should always be followed by simple ‘Bal’ so that listener can savour the change in thought process. Of course it goes without saying that all the variations are accompanied by Mukh. 


I have taken references from various recordings of Amir Hussain Khansaheb, Afaq Hussain Khansaheb, Guruji’s book “Tabla (in Marathi) & Sudhir Mainkarji’s book, “Tabla –Kala Aur Shastra”. Apart from the old masters whom I will remain indebted to forever, I am in equal debt if not more to my Guruji, (Arvind Mulgaonkar) who has taught me very patiently & lovingly in spite of my obvious deficiencies.

I am also grateful to Shri James Kippen for his painstaking work in Lucknow. I have referred the recording he made during his stay there, available on British Archives for listening.

It should be noted that all the names need to be read with honorific Khalifa or Ustad or Pandit as the case may be. I have not mentioned these titles as it affects the flow.  

Please find below Scan of Delhi Kaida:ImageImageImageImage

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Few Thoughts on Kaida 2(Continued)

Chilla Khalwat


In continuation of write up on Kaida, I would like to delve into Chilla & practice aspects more.

Chilla-nashini (Persian: چله نشینی) is a spiritual practice of penance and solitude, known mostly in Indian and Persian traditions. In this ritual a mendicant or ascetic attempts to remain seated in a circle without food, water, or sleep for 40 days and nights. The word ‘chilla’ is adopted from the Persian word ‘chehel’, meaning ‘forty’. The nashini is the person who does the 40-day fast and remains seated in the circle of seclusion. It is believed that those who try it but do not succeed usually die or suffer madness.

Chilla-nashini is a severe penance. A circle is drawn on the ground by the penitent’s own hand; for forty days and nights he must not step out of the circle, he must forgo food, water and sleep. He must face whatever comes. Chilla-nashini is known to both Sufi and Vedantic ascetics.

It is also called Khalwat in Arabic. ‘Khalwat’ , which lasts 40 days, is publicly called ‘chilla’ , meaning ‘ severe trial ‘. The word ‘chilla’ is adopted from the Persian word ‘chihli’ , meaning ‘ forty ‘. The term is also used to refer to endure troubles . ‘The Khalwat Khana’ is called ‘ The Chilla Khana’ , as well.

‘ Khalwat ‘ as a theosophical term, can be defined as, ‘to speak to God secretly’. In Sufi terminology ‘ khalwat ‘ means, by the Shaykh’s order and approval Mureed’s secluding himself in a dark and small room to spend his time in worship, consideration, supervision ‘muraqbah’, dhikr and reflection ‘tafakkur’. A forty day khalwat is also called ‘ arbain ‘, which means a period of forty days.

Shaykh –Ustad                                                                                               Mureed – Student                                                                                       Muraqbah – Supervision                                                                                                        Dhikr  – Worship, invocation of God                                                                                                             Tafakkur – It means to think on a subject deeply, systematically, and in great detail.

One can see why so much of importance is attached to observing Chilla by old masters of Tabla after going through the significance of Chilla/Khalwat. In Tabla Chilla is observed of Kaida. There are certain rules if one wants to observe Chilla. Though the process I have been taught is not mystical, it is certainly very difficult to say the least. Following are the basic rules one needs to observe.

  1. Basic tenet is to follow 40 days of uninterrupted practice.
  2. Second rule is to observe timing. It is obvious that it is not possible physically/mentally to practice for more than few hours a day. One needs to have pre-defined hours for observing Chilla. The best time is pre-dawn. Amir Hussain Khansaheb used to say that in pre-dawn session the angels are moving on earth & they bless the people who are busy in the ‘Sadhana’. Apart from his own experience, I suppose his belief must have been cemented from seeing his forefathers observing Chilla at pre-dawn & being benefitted immensely. In a way we students of this century are at great loss as we do not have an opportunity to see “Riyaaz” of masters with our own eyes. So it is kind of easy not to really believe in stories of hard “Riyaaz” of Ahmedjaan Thirakwasaheb, Amir Hussain Khansaheb & others. It is equally true that maybe it was easier to do “Riyaaz” in those days of very less distractions. Life was not so complicated; it was OK if one did not have formal education. I intend to discuss this subject at length in another blog.   


  1. “Chilla” is traditionally observed for certain Kaida. Meaning it won’t be counted as “Chilla” is one just practices just anything one fancies for say 2 hours at pre-decided time for continuously forty days. Another important condition is that same Kaida has to be practiced over & over for forty days. This is most tiresome part I suppose.


  1. The way to practice Kaida is to play Kaida Mukh at very low speed for say 10 -15 minutes. This needs to be followed by Dohra. The sequence of Mukh/Dohra is repeated quite a few times at very slow speed. One needs to double the speed after some time. It is very critical that all, repeat all the Bols are sounding as clear in they were in “Ekgun”. One needs to again revert to “Ekgun” & repeat the whole exercise. It is very difficult to discipline mind to play “Ekgun” when one can play “Dogun” reasonably well. In one of the few rare recordings of “Habibuddin Khansaheb” available, one can hear him remark that “Riyaaz” is most difficult thing to do. Minimum period is time required is till the muscles start aching. I feel real “Riyaaz” starts when your muscles start aching. Another benefit of observing Chilla that I missed in earlier post was, once a Chilla has been observed for certain Kaida, it is ok to concentrate on other things, as even after a gap of two – three months one can play that Kaida with same Dumsaans & Taiyyari. This becomes particularly important if one knows say 50 odd Kaidas. It would be impossible to keep practicing every Kaida every day.  Eventually the only favourite Kaidas will be practiced, played & passed on to further generation leading to loss of knowledge. This is particularly important considering that knowledge was passed on in Maukhik (Oral) tradition. I would like to come to this topic some other day if it is interesting enough to others & my enthusiasm about this whole exercise does not wane.


  1. Another dictate is “Riyaaz Hameshaa Langotband hona chahiye” I suppose apart from the spiritual aspect of actual “Chilla” which has percolated into “Chilla” for Tabla, practical reason would be a person’s mind would get easily diverted if he is not celibate & in contact with normal world.

Now let us look into why only Kaida is suitable for observing “Chilla”, though it should be pretty obvious by now. The Kaida by itself is rule or set of Rules & is governed by certain rules. So it does not help by practising Rela or any other type of composition as it does not make your fingering better or finer, but will only help to play at higher speed. ‘Akshar sadhana’ can only be done while practising Kaida. Moreover my observation is practice of other compositions (Gats/Chalan etc.) tend to entertain as they have been composed from that point of view only. But if we closely look at Kaida, it is always composed to facilitate “Riyaaz” of certain Bol or phrase.

I suppose it would not be out of place if we discuss few aspects of Riyaaz (practice).

By correct Riyaaz I mean following:

  1. Paying attention every second to correctness of fingers, position of fingers. It is seen that many Tabla players including leading names change the position of fingers while playing Bols like Tita & Tirakit away from centre of Syahi at Dogun/Dugun. This makes it easy to play the Bol faster, but not correct from theoretical point of view but tonal quality point of view also. Tabla being instrument of single “Sur”, the language is/has been developed so as to make it interesting & varied & hence the various positions of fingers, so if once changes the position even a little the texture of the sound changes a lot.   
  2. It is also important that one should pay attention to the Tonal quality, though by paying attention to correct fingering & position it does improve a lot. One needs to pay attention to Tonal quality as it is very rare to see a gifted (Kudrati) player, who has good balance, good sound from Syahi, as well as Chaati & good control over Bayan with Meend, Ghumak etc. The tonal quality as achieved by the masters like Amir Hussain Khansaheb, Thirakwa sahib, Habibuddin Khansaheb et al is ideal, even after 50 -60 years, their recording on spools/mono tape recorders etc. sound so beautiful even after digitization. One could only imagine what an experience it would be to listen to them in person.  
  3. One needs to pay attention whether he is playing from his “Dumsaans” or shoulders or his fingers.
  4. Physical strain/stress should not be visible on face while playing at higher speed. This was aspect which was stressed upon by most of the old masters.
  5. Once certain tonal quality is achieved, one can aspire for greater speed.
  6. There is another aspect which is likely to be missed is that ‘Tabla’ is supposed to be played by only finger tips(first digit), nothing more nothing less. The tonal quality deteriorates considerably if the second digit also comes in contact with Pudi.   


In this section I have attached a snippet of Kaida played by Amir Hussain Khansaheb in his first record way back in 1935 (Mediafire share key: http://www.mediafire.com/?k5ioxqzg6ir2tpr ).




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