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 Brahma himself have created this divine instrument, from the skin and blood of an evil demon. When Lord Shiva have defeated Tripurasur, the demon with his trident, he started dancing his tandava, so the earth started shaking and falling apart, because the lack of proper rythm. Lord Brahma has decided to fix this situation by mixing the demon’s blood with the soil of Earth, and using his skin, to create the Pakhawaj, and ordering Lord Ganesh to play it.
In the old days, the instrument was used by sadhus (hindu monks) as a supplementary instrument for chanting religious prayers to gods, called shlokas. As a fruit of this ancient tradition, these religious poems still remain in practice, and are still the essence of Pakhawaj music.

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.

In the 20h century, a new instrument, Tabla has gained popularity along with the rise of Khyal music,  so Pakhawaj music has became a very unique artform of India. However, Pakhawaj today is gaining back it’s popularity as an accompanying, as well as a solo instrument, due to it’s complex sophisticated rythmic patterns and pure depth of meditative sound.

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.


The pakhawaj was originally made of clay but today is more commonly made of wood, mostly black sheesham wood, with two parchment heads each tuned to a different pitch.

The heads are three layered skins, made from goat skin or shagreen. On the right head, the skin has a black paste applied, called Syahi. The syahi is made from rice, coal and iron powder, and is slowly applied on the skin in a circular motion, requiring preciseness and long practice from instrument makers.

It is tuned by knocking the wooden side-blocks (gattas) into place, putting tension in the straps (baddhi), holding the skin (puddi). A tuning hammer is also used to alter the pitch on the treble side of the drum. The left side of the drum, is tuned by applying dough, made of flour (atta) and water.