The Pakhavaj, also called Mardal, Pakhawaj, Pakuaj, Pakhvaj, Pakavaj or Mardala, is an Indian barrel-shaped, two-headed drum, the North Indian equivalent to the Southern mridangam.
It is the standard percussion instrument in the dhrupad style and is widely used as an accompaniment for various forms of music and dance performances. The pakhavaj has a low, mellow tone, very rich in harmonics.
Goatskin drum-heads are fixed to the hollow barrel by means of looped leather thongs. Eight pieces of two-inch wooden dowel (gatthe) are hammered tight between thongs and barrel. The “treble” skin is constructed in a three-tiered concentric design, the innermost being composed of a dense black hardened paste (sihayi), a mixture of simple wheat flour and fine iron filings semi-permanently affixed to the second, the main skin. A third outer ring of goatskin overlaps the first around the full circumference of the head.
The “treble” skin is tuned with a tuning-hammer by means of the dowels until attuned to the accompanying tanpura. The “bass” skin is tuned by applying a ball of dough from atta, whole-fiber wheat. Its fundamental tone will be the lower tonic.
The pakhavaj bears resemblance to the Carnatic mridangam, however, it is not as notably barrel shaped and resembles the Tabla, in its gatthe and siyahi.
As with the tabla, the pakhawaj rhythms are taught by a series of mnemonic syllables known as bol.
In traditional pakhavaj-styles a student would learn a number of different strokes which produce a specific sound. These are remembered and practiced with corresponding syllables.
The very basic capacity is to play a theka in a particular tala or rhythmic cycle, as for instance chautala in 12 beats: | dha dha | dhin ta |
| kite dha | dhin ta |
| tite kata | gadi gene |
Advanced students learn reelas that are virtuoso compositions.