The father of all North Indian drums, the pakhawaj is also known as the mridang, the generic sanskrit word for a barrel-shaped drum. The pakhawaj is considered to be the ancient most percussion instrument of North India. According to mythology, Lord Shiva himself have created this divine instrument. In the old days, it was used by sadhus as a supplementary instrument for chanting religious prayers to gods, called shlokas. As a fruit of it, these ancient religious poems still remained in practice, and are still the essence of the tradition.
The Instrument Today
The pakhawaj was originally made of clay but now it is more commonly made of wood, with two parchment heads each tuned to a different pitch. It is tuned by knocking the wooden side-blocks into place. A tuning hammer is also used to alter the pitch on the treble side of the drum.
Pakhawaj in Arts
The pakhawaj is the usual percussive accompaniment for Dhrupad music, including whether vocal, veena or the “bass sitar” known as surbahar – as its low, mellow tone and rich harmonics are ideally suited to pure, less heavily ornamented classical styles. It was also used for the accompaniment of the rabaab, a predecessor of the sarod.
The pakhawaj was also the mainstay of a temple genre of song known as haveli sangeet and is the main percussion accompaniment for Odissi dance.