The Benares tabla gharana was developed about 200 years ago. The founder was the legendary Pandit Ram Sahai (1780–1826). 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 gharānā.
"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."
The gharana is categorized into the Purbi (eastern) baj, which includes the Farukhabad, Lucknow, and Benares gharanas. This powerful playing style makes use of the more resonant strokes of tabla, such as Na, and Din. Benares players preferentially use the full-hand TeTe strokes, rather than the single finger alternation preferred by the Delhi style. The Benares baj makes use of over twenty different compositional types. There is extensive use of full hand "din" strokes which are very prevalent on pakhawaj.
There are considered to be 2 main branches of the Benares Gharana. One stemming from the original Ram Sahai family which many term as "pure Benares", and the other, following the time of Kanthe Maharaj when his son Kishen Maharaj rose up and was heavily influenced by the compositions within Kathak Dance. The most recent great maestro of the dance style was the great Kishen Maharaj and from the pure Benares style the legendary Anokhelal Mishra. It was said that Anokhelal Mishra set aside a period of 12 years where he only practiced D Di Di D... (single finger resonant strokes) and when again emerged into the music scene, he had developed these essential strokes to a level never seen before in tabla.
PROMINENT EXPONENTS OF THE BENARES GHARANA:
Mahadeo Prasad Mishra
Anokhelal Mishra (12 years D Di Di D)
Nandan Mehta (SAPTAK Festival)
Lalji Sri Vastav
Ram Kumar Misra
Sukhwinder Singh Namdhari
Shubh Maharaj (Grandson of Kishen Maharaj)