The khol drum, popular in north-east, is an integral part of bhakti and folk music
We were at the International Society for Krishna Consciousness temple in Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai, where we witnessed the Khol being played during the puja. Khol is usually used as an accompaniment for bhajans, kirtans, light classical songs and folk music.
Khol, which means ‘open sound’, is commonly seen in Assam, Manipur, Odisha, West Bengal and Bangladesh. Khol is also known as mridang and belongs to the category of avanaddha vadyas/percussion instruments where the resonating body known as the ‘anga’ is made of clay or terracotta. Fiberglass and brass have also been used to make this instrument.
The head portion of thekhol known as khol puri includes the gajra, kinar, maidan and syahi. The gajra is the outermost rim, where the tuning straps (tasma), 32 on each side, are woven. According to the Gaudiya Vaishnavas, the 64 straps are believed to represent the Lord.
The kinar or the rim is the next layer. The section between the kinar and the syahi, an open layer is called the maidan. The black circle in the middle of the puri is the syahi, which is made of clay, rice pudding, iron fillings, wheat and an unknown vegetable extract that is also referred to as the ank or gab. Of the two heads, the smaller one is known as the dayan, while the bigger one is referred to as the bayan, meaning right and left. Due to the application of a special paste, the right side gives a high, sharp sound and the left bass sound. The skin between kinar and gab is rubbed with a moist cotton cloth when the bass side is too taut. Khols of higher quality generally use red-coloured syahis on both heads.
There are three positions in which the khol is played. One in which the the performer sits down and the drum is placed on a cushion in front of the performer, in the other, the performer sits on the floor with the khol on the lap while the third is the standing posture. The khol is played with both the hands. The drumming technique is similar to tabla but the bols are different such as ta, deta, dhoia, jhan, ghini, tit, tini, naka and guru.
Other materials such as fiberglass and brass have also been used to make this instrument. The ISKCON devotees believe that khol came along with Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu around the mid-1400.
Legend says that Radha, Vishakha and Tungavidya played khol at rasa lila. Gaudiya Vaishnavites believe that the khol is the avatar of Lord Krishna’s flute. A reason why it is worshipped in some Vaishnavite temples in Bengal. The drummer chants mantras to the khol before every kirtan performance.Kirtan is popular in Bengal. There are many kinds of kirtan such as Pala Kirtan, Syama Sangit, Nama Kirtan and Lila Kirtan. The most ancient in Bengal being the Pala Kirtan. Usually performed with khol and jhal as the main accompaniments, Syama Sangit is the kirtan performed by the the worshippers of Sakti. Namasankirtan is the recitation of the names gods.
Khol is the main accompanying instrument for bhajan and kirtan at ISKCON and in Gaudiya Vaishnava societies. The Bengali kirtans by medieval poets such as Gyanadas Chandidas and Govindadasa were performed with khol. The instrument also accompanies the Gaudiya Nritya.
Khol is an intergral part of the Assamese Vaishnavite culture and are used in bhaona, gayan-bayan, prasanga-kirtan, borgeet, apart from folk music such as deh-bisar geet, thiyo-naam and borage geet. Saint-scholar Sankaradeva adapted and evolved gayan-bayan by using musical instruments khol and tal. According to Assamese Vaishavites, playing khol is regarded as a holy activity and it is also considered to be one of the most important traditional percussion instruments.