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  • Meher Nigam

India's 7 Greatest Tabla Players of All Time

An integral part of Indian Classical Music, Tabla is one of the most popular musical instruments worldwide. Because of its diversity in many other music styles, today Tabla is one of the most used percussion instruments. While the history of tabla is unknown, modern research suggests that it was invented around 1738 by poet, singer, drummer, and scholar Amir Khusro. This led to invention of a new music style called Khayal.

Over the years, tabla has had various Gharanas like the Delhi Gharana, Punjab Gharana, Benaras Gharana, and the Lucknow Gharana. But do you know who all are the most loved, respected and celebrated Tabla artists in the world?

Not to worry, we bring you our favourite tabla players of all time. So, go on, read, learn and get inspired!

1. Ustad Allah Rakha (29 April. 1919 – 3 Feburary 2000)

Ustad Allah Rakha, popularly known as Abbaji by his loved ones and close disciples, was a tabla maestro hailing from Jammu and Kashmir. He was 12 years old when he had his first encounter with the Tabla while he was visiting his uncle in Gurdaspur. His love for Indian Classical Music led him to Lahore, where he became a Shagird (disciple) of Ustad Mian Khadarbaksh Pakhawaji and learned the style of the Punjab Gharana. Later, Mian Khadarbaksh called him the next head of the Punjab Gharana of tabla players. Not many people know, but Ustad Allah Rakha also had a strong connection with theatre, and worked with a theatre company for several years. In 1930, he started working with All India Radio station in Lahore. Later in 1940, he moved to Bombay and became that station’s first solo tabla player. He has also composed music for Hindi Films under the name A.R. Qureshi. His partnership with Pandit Ravi Shankar began in the 1950s and they presented Indian Classical Music to a wide audience in the west. His performances at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and the Woodstock Festival in 1969 are fondly remembered, and the duo performed in many festivals later on. Other than Pandit Ravi Shankar, he also worked with renowned Kathak dancers like Smt. Sitara Devi and Pandit Birju Maharaj. In 1986, he established the Allah Rakha Institute of Music in Bombay and was later awarded with the Padma Shree in 1977 and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1982. Talking about his personal life, Ustad had 2 marriages and 5 children. His son and disciple Ustad Zakir Hussain is one of the most celebrated Tabla artists in the country today. He was extremely close to his daughter Razia. The news of her death caused a fatal heart attack to Ustad Allah Rakha, leading to his death in the year 2000.

Follow this link to hear some of his music on YouTube - Ravi Shankar, Alla Rakha - Tabla Solo in Jhaptal

2. Ustad Zakir Hussain (born 9 March, 1951)