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Tappa an Overview - by Chaitanya Kunte


Chaitanya Kunte is a talented composer, Harmonium player and scholar in the field of Hindustani music. He has received fellowship from Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India for research work on Tappa. This article is derived from this research document and exclusively written for SwarGanga.

What is 'Tappa'?
Tappa is one of the major genres of musical tradition in India. 'Tappa' is believed to be originated from musical talent of Ghulam Nabi Shori, i.e. Shori Miyan after getting influenced by folk music of Punjab and Sindh. It is supposed that Tappa is originally, the folk song of camel-drivers of Punjab-Sindh region, so it contains the lyrics in Punjabi language. Basically the lyrical content depicts the love and sorrow of separation of Hir and Ranjha or any lovers. Raags expressing romance, light mood or pathos such as Khamaj, Kafi, Bhairavi, Jhinjhoti, Tilang, Sindhura, Des, and Taals such as Punjabi, Pashto, Sitarkhani are popularly practiced for Tappa. The special feature of Tappa is the energetic Taan and uneven rhythmic accent.

About Shouri Miyan:
Ghulam Nabi Shori alias Shori Miyan, son of Ghulam Rasool Khan was court-singer of Nabab Asaf Uddoullah of Lucknow (1776-1797 A.D.) The common myth tells that he was initially trained in Khayal singing and had a great command on 'Taan'. He was not satisfied with Khayal for expressing his skill of singing Taan. So, he restlessly traveled in Punjab, where he listened to the folk songs of camel-drivers, which he thought to be suitable for his own style of singing. He composed 'Tappa' using various ornamentations with Taan, Jamjama, Khatka, etc. In the Tappas of Shori Miyan, in Antara we find his name as 'Shori'.

Tappa Gayaki:
The style of singing Tappa involves intricate patterns of typical 'Taan of Tappa'. In Taal Punjabi, which is also called as 'Tappe ka theka', each cycle of Taal should have the 'tension and release' principle followed during singing Taan. The rule about improvising Tappa is, firstly show the Thumri-ang in Alap and then proceed towards the Tanayyat, using the words woven in speedy and uneven rhythmic accent. Tappa does not include only acrobatics of 'Tanayyat', but it has an important aspect of emotional content produced through the appropriate pronunciation of the lyric. The 'Chhoot Taan' in Tappa has a typically Arabic character - starting with a jerk, it slows down and then again gets accelerated. The words are uttered by uneven pace and accent, which is another feature of Tappa. Tappa gayaki also inculcates other ornamentations such as jamjama, gitakari, khatka, murki, harakat. Tappa is a specialty of Gwalior Gharana. There are two main styles of Tappa singing - Tappa in Gwalior Gharana and of Benaras Gharana. There are a few structural differences such as use of Taal and style of improvisation, but the fundamental principles are the same.

One can notice the influence of Tappa gayaki on the Khayal rendering of vocalists from Gwalior and Benaras gharana. Even the singers from Patiyala gharana have some glimpse of Tappa in their Taan. The influence of Tappa on the other genres culminated into the development of dual natured compositions such as Tap-Khayal, Tap-Tarana, Tap-Thumari, etc.

The Laawani, Keertan and Natya-sangeet in Maharashtra are also influenced with Tappa Gayaki. There few Marathi Tappas also. Nidhubabu's Bengali Tappa and the impact of Tappa on the Rabindra Sangeet also reflects the popularity of Tappa as genre in the last century.

Tappa in the last century:
In school of Gwalior, Krishnarao Pandit and Rajabhaiyya Punchhawale flourished as important Tappa singers in the early decades of 20th century. In the post independence period, Balasaheb Puchhawale, Sharachchandra Arolkar, Jal Balaporia, etc. were the torchbearers in this tradition. Arolkar's disciples such as Sharad Sathe and Neela Bhagwat had kept the tradition intact. In the scenario of performing stream, the most illustrious Tappa performer from Gwalior Gharana is, no doubt, Malini Rajurkar! In 60's and 70's, when Tappa did not remain frequent in concerts, she popularized Tappa in common audience; and by so, she became a reason for rousing general curiosity for Tappa in later generations. Her excellence in Tappa is marked with her clear, bright Taan and some new techniques she used in exploring Tappa such as Murcchana.

Pt. Kumar Gandharva, the famous maestro of Gwalior Gharana, had his own ideas about Tappa and he presented a special concert - 'Thumarai-Tappa-Tarana Mehfil' in which he deliberately displayed this thought on the co-relation of these three forms. He also composed few Tappas, in Punjabi as well as Malawi dialect. His disciples, Mukul Shivaputra and Vijay Sardeshmukh attest proficiency in Tappa rendering. Jitendra Abisheki studied Tappa from both, Gwalior and Banaras school, and his disciple Vijay Koparkar is an accomplished Tappa singer in contemporary scene. Popular artistes like Arati Ankalikar, Asha Khadilkar and Manjiri Asnare exhibit their inclination for Tappa while performing in concerts, which shows rising popularity for Tappa. In Benaras Gharana, after many masters of Tappa in early decades of 20th cent, such as Bade Ramdasji and Sidhheshwari Devi, noteworthy vocalists giving full justice to Tappa are Girija Devi , Rajabhau Kogje, Ganesh Prasad Misra, Rajan and Sajan Misra.

Very few instrumentalists, such as Pt. Budhaditya Mukherji (Sitar) and Dr. Arawind Thatte (Harmonium) have performed Tappa on their instruments with much precision and command.