The Pakhawaj, known by many names like, the mardal, pakuaj, pakhvaj and mardala is an ancient percussion instrument shaped like a barrel, equivalent to the South Indian Mridangam. There is great uncertainty about the exact origins and development of Pakhawaj
It is known as the main accompanying instrument for dhrupad vocal music as well as dhrupad style performances on Rudra Veena and Surbahar. Just like Tabla pakhawaj is also regarded high respect within Indian music culture.
The Pakhawaj has a low, mellow tone, rich in harmonics. Performer places it horizontally on a cushion in front of him, where he is sitting crossed legged. The larger side comprising bass-skin is played with the left hand, the treble skin with the right. The bass side is smeared with wet wheat dough which creates the clear bass sound that is a distinct feature of Pakhawaj. Pakhawaj is considered to be traditional in its built and rich in sound.
The Pakhawaj rhythms are taught just like Tabla. The quality of the high-pitched skin is same as used in Tabla to an extent. Again, it is made of different layers like Tabla and is also tuned like the Tabla with the help of wooden wedges by placing them under the tautening straps.
The fine tuning is done on the woven outer ring, which is part of the skin. The bass skin is traditionally prepared for playing by freshly applying batter of flour and water each time for getting the low-pitched sound.
The playing technique varies from Tabla in many aspects nevertheless. For instance while playing Pakhawaj, the player hits the bass face with his whole palm where as a Tabla player will only use finger tips. In the treble side, the performer hits his whole palm with the fingers that are appropriately placed on the skin to produce different bols. The Pakhavaj also resembles Mridangam; however, it is smaller in diameter and has a lighter timbre.