Pandit Ram Sahai Ji (1780 - 1826)
The Benares tabla gharana was developed a little over 200 years ago by Pandit Ram Sahai. Ram Sahai began studying the tabla with his father from the age of five. At the age of nine, he moved to Lucknow to become the disciple of Modhu Khan of the Lucknow Gharana. When Ram Sahai was seventeen years old, Wazir Ali Khan, the new Nawab, asked Modhu Khan if Ram Sahai could perform a recital for him. Modhu Khan agreed, on the condition that Ram Sahai would not be interrupted until he finished playing. It is said that Ram Sahai played for seven consecutive nights, and that after this incredible performance, Ram Sahai was praised by all the members of the community and was showered with gifts. Shortly after this performance, Ram Sahai returned to Benares.
After some time performing in Benares, Ram Sahai felt the need to make a significant change in his tabla playing. For six months, he withdrew into seclusion, and worked to develop what is now known as the Benares baj or style of tabla playing. The philosophy behind this new style of tabla playing is that it would be versatile enough to perform solo, and to accompany any form of music or dance. The tabla would be able to play delicately, as required for khyal, or more aggressively, like pakhawaj, for the accompaniment of dhrupad or kathak dance. Ram Sahai developed a new way of fingering the tabla strokes; especially important is the sound Na, being played with a curved ring finger to allow for maximum resonance of the dahina. He also composed numerous compositions within existing compositional forms (gats, tukras, parans etc.) and created new forms, such as uthan, Benarsi theka, and fard.
Pandit Bhairav Sahai Ji (1815 - 1894)
Pandit Bhairav Sahai Ji was a great devotee of Lord Bhairav from whom he received blessings to be a great tabla player. His performances were extremely powerful and he was renowned for his playing of laykari (cross rhythms). He boasted that the only way he wold get tired while playing was if he accompanied dance, vocal and instrumental all at the same time and with each playing a different taal.
He had a very strong personality and was a sword fighter and a great horseman. Once when he performed in the court of Nepal he was asked by the King what he would like. He asked for a horse, a sword and a gun explaining that he had to corss a mountain to get home and it was a dangerous journey. With the blessings of Lord Bhairav he became a musician in the court of Darbhangar in Bihar. Pandit Bhairav Sahai Ji had one son - Pandit Baldeo Sahai Ji.
Pandit Baldeo Sahai Ji (1856 - 1906)
Pandit Baldeo Sahai Ji was a great devotee of Lord Ganesh and due to His blessings became a musician in the court of Nepal.
He was very softly spoken, quiet and simple in manner, the exact opposite of his father. It is said that when he played the tabla it was like the flute of Lord Krishna. There are many anecdotes told to this day about passers by such as vegetable sellers, stopping to listen to him when he was practising. Pandit Baldeo Sahai Ji had 3 sons: Pandit Durga Sahai Ji, Pandit Bhagwati Sahai Ji and Pandit Lakshmi Sahai Ji.
Pandit Durga Sahai Ji (1892 - 1926)
The eldest son of Pandit Baldeo Sahai Ji was Pandit Durga Sahai Ji. He was blind and his nick name was Surdas Nanuji.
He spent much of his life in Calcutta where he made his name as a soloist and accompanist. He was a great devotee of Godess Kali with whose blessings he became a court musician in Maktagacha state of West Bengal. He never failed to visit the Daksineswar Temple of Godess Kali to pray by playing tabla before the deity evvery Tuesday and Saturday.They say that Pandit Durga Sahai Ji had inner eyes. He was highly regarded not only by other Benares tabla players but also by Muslim ustaad jis for his versatility. He was unparelled in his speed, clarity, boldness and sweetness. Pandit Durga Sahai Ji was the favourite accompanist of Ustaad Inayet Khan (father of Ustaad Imrat Khan and Ustaad Vilayat Khan).
Pandit Lakshmi Sahai Ji (1894 - 1935)
Pandit Lakshmi Sahai Ji was a gifted all round musician. He devoted his life to looking after his brother, Pandit Durga Sahai Ji.
Pandit Bhagwati Sahai Ji (1896 - 1942)
Pandit Bhagvati Sahai Ji was a devoted Hindu who worshipped all the major Gods. With their blessings he worked in the Tamkhui Court near Azamgar in Uttar Pradesh.
He was another exceptionally gifted tabla player who was famous for the speed at which he could play the difficult pieces such as Fard.
Pandit Bhagwati Sahai Ji had 4 sons: Pandit Mangala Sahai Ji, Pandit Vidya Sahai Ji, Pandit Sharda Sahai Ji and Pandit Ram Shankar Sahai Ji.
Pandit Mangala Sahai Ji and Pandit Vidya Sahai Ji
Pandit Bhagwati Sahai Ji's eldest son was Pandit Mangala Sahai Ji (1927 - 1943). He was the last left handed tabla players in the Sahai family. Pandit Kishan Maharaj Ji had said that whenever he listened to Pandit Mangala Sahai Ji he felt the urge to also play. He very sadly died at the young age of 18 and it is believed he was poisoned.
Pnadit Vidya Sahai Ji is the second son of Pandit Bhagwati Sahai Ji. At the age of 15 years old he broke his arm and could not continue to play tabla. He undertook training in Sarangi under Pandit Hanuman Prasad.
Pandit Sharda Sahai Ji (1935 - 2011)
Pandit Sharda Sahai, the legendary tabla virtuoso, was widely regarded as one of India's great ambassadors for tabla being at the forefront for the spread of Indian music in the East and West. As a performer, composer and educator, his contribution to the field of tabla was unmatched and achieved after long years of dedicated study under his father Pt. Bhagvati Sahai, and his illustrious guru Pt. Kanthe Maharaj.