According to Don Michael Randel in his book “The Harvard Dictionary of Music,” the tabla is the main percussion instrument of North Indian music. It is regarded as the queen of drums and percussion instruments, making it the most popular Indian rhythm instrument.
According to “Solo Tabla Drumming of North India”, a book by Robert S. Gottlieb, the tabla drum was originally used for an important military function. They were employed during the 16th and 17th century military campaigns of the Mogul Emperors Akbar and Babur. Thousands of drums were carried on the backs of horses and camels, with each rider beating them furiously with hard wooden sticks in an attempt to alarm enemy forces in battle. The tabla also accompanied female courtesan dancers and forms a major component of sarod and sitar classical music.
The Tabla consists of two drums, the Dayan and the Bayan (big bass drum). The dayan is made of rosewood and the bayan is made of German silver, brass or copper. The heads of both drums are made of goatskin, and the black spot controls the vibration of the drum.
The art of playing Tabla lies in the strength with which a particular spot is hit. For instance, the rim of the dayan is called the kinar. Striking it with a firm fingertip produces a loud ping. The center of the drumhead is called the sur; striking it produces a gentle ringing tone.
Tabla is an extremely sensitive instrument. Too hot or too cold conditions cause the skin to over stretch and eventually burst. It is also sensitive to moisture, including the sweat on a drummer’s hands. Hence it must be kept dry at all times.