South Indian (Carnatic) Taal system

The soundness of a system, primarily mathematical in character, consists of its internal coherency, logical rigidity and numeric accuracy. Carnatic Tala system satisfies all these conditions and is not only perfect but also beautifully elastic. Mainly, it is prevalent in Southern part of India. These are the main elements of Carnatic Tala:

1. Kriya

It signifies the action of hand to maintain the Tala and to express various Angas and Matras of a Tala. It is mainly two types: - Sashabda means with sound and Nishabda means without sound. There are seven types are Kriyas popular in Carnatic Tala System: -

  • Druvakam is a beat by the palm.
  • Visarjitam is raising up the right hand with palm facing downwards,
  • Vikshiptam is counting of fingers starting from the smallest to index finger,
  • Sarpini is moving the hand towards left side for 4 Aksharas,
  • Patitam is lowering the hand for 4 Aksharas.
  • Krishya is moving the hand towards right side for 4 Aksharas,
  • Patakam is raising up the hand for 4 Aksharas,

2. Anga

It signifies various parts that form the basic structure of a Tala. There are six types of Angas mentioned in the ancient text as Shadanga:

  • (a) Anudruta consisting of one Matra is expressed through Druvakam. Its symbol is U. In Sapta Tala, it is used only in Jampa Talam.
  • (b) Druta consisting of two Matras is expressed through Druvakam and Visarjitam. Its symbol is O. In Sapta Tala, it is used in all the Talas except Ekatalam.

(c) Laghu is expressed through Druvakam and Vikshiptam for rest of the Matras. Its symbol is I3, I4, I5, I7, I9 (a vertical line with numbers of Matras in subscript). In Sapta Tala, It is used in all the Talas. The Matras of Laghu is variable and depend on its Jaati: -

  • (i) Tisra Jaati Laghu has three Matras, i.e. one Druvakam and two Vikshiptam.
  • (ii) Chaturasra Jaati Laghu has four Matras, i.e. one Druvakam and three Vikshiptam.
  • (iii) Khanda Jaati Laghu has five Matras, i.e. one Druvakam and four Vikshiptam.
  • (iv) Misra Jaati Laghu has seven Matras, i.e. one Druvakam and six Vikshiptam.
  • (v) Sankeerna Jaati Laghu has nine Matras, i.e. one Druvakam and eight Vikshiptam.

To finger counts for Laghu, one starts with the small finger and ends with thumb. For Misra and Sankeerna Jaati Laghu, one comes back to the little finger after exhausting the fingers while counting up to six.

  • (d) Guru consisting of eight Matras is expressed through Druvakam, Vikshiptam and Patitam. Its symbol is S.
  • (e) Plutam consisting of twelve Matras is expressed through Druvakam, Vikshiptam, Sarpini and Patita. Its symbol is S (a vertical line on Guru).
  • (f) Kakpadam consisting of sixteen Matras is expressed through Sarpini, Krishaya, Patakam and Patitam. Its symbol is +.

3. Graha

It denotes the starting point of a song. It is known as Eduppu in Tamil. There are two types of Graha - (i) Sama and (ii) Vishama.

  • (i) Sama, when the music starts with the Tala,
  • (ii) Vishama again has two varieties:
  • (b) Anagata, when the music starts after the Tala,

    (c) Ateeta, when the music starts before the Tala.

4. Jaati

It is a very important factor that determines the value of Laghu. There are five types of Jaatis: –

  • (a) Tisra consists of three (3) Matras,
  • (b) Chaturasra consists of four (4) Matras,
  • (c) Khanda consists of five (5) Matras,
  • (d) Misra consists of seven (7) Matras,
  • (e) Sankeerna consists of nine (9) Matras.

For example, let us see how these Jaatis changes the value of Laghu and affects the over all structure of Rupaka Tala: -

Rupaka Tala

We can see that same Rupaka Tala has a minimum of five and maximum of eleven Matras. Due to variation in the Jaati of Laghu we get five different Talas to suit our purpose.

5. Gati

It refers to a specific but fixed time-interval between any two Matras of a Tala. Whereas Jaati refers to the value of a Laghu, Gati refers to the value of each Matra. Whereas Jaati affects only Laghu, Gati affects each Matra of a Tala. Gati determines the gait of the Tala. It is referred as Nadai in Tamil scriptures. There are five types of Gatis: –

  • (a) Tisra consists of three (3) Aksharas,
  • (b) Chaturasra consists of four (4) Aksharas,
  • (c) Khanda consists of five (5) Aksharas,
  • (d) Misra consists of seven (7) Aksharas,
  • (e) Sankeerna consists of nine (9) Aksharas.

The common names for the types of Jaati and Gati only indicates the values of a unit as 4, 3, 7, 5 and 9. For example, let us see how Gati affects each Matra and determines the gait of a Tala:

Thus, we get a convenient and workable selection out of twenty-five variations of Rupaka Tala consists of a minimum 15 (fifteen) to maximum 99 (ninety-nine) Aksharas and total 175 varieties of Tala due to variation in the Gati to meet the requirement of different types of compositions.

6. Laya

Laya is often confused with Tala. Laya refers to the innate rhythm in anything. Irrespective of whether it is demonstrated or not, it is always present. Laya can be explained as the primeval method of movements. Expression of Laya in a prearranged method through fixed time cycles is known as Tala. Thus, it serves as the structured rhythmic meter to measure musical time-intervals. It can be referred to as the physical pace of any musical movement. The common flawed belief is that rhythm or Laya is confined to percussion instruments and the rhythmic patterns produced therein. But Laya is not limited to just that. It is present not only in melodic compositions, which usually have a rhythmic metre in an obvious manner but also in the creative aspects, sometimes evidently like in Neraval or Kalpanaswara and delicately at others like in Raga Alapana and Tanam. Laya signifies the speed or tempo of the music and dance. It determines the time interval between the two Matras. It denotes the gaits of a Tala and is classified into three categories:

  • (a) Vilambita is slow or basic speed.
  • (b) Madhya is medium speed. It is double of Vilambita Laya.
  • (c) Druta is fast speed. It is double of Madhya Laya.

An example of the three types of Laya is given here-under in Aditala that consists of eight (8) Matras and thirty-two (8x4 = 32) Aksharas. First line indicates Vilambita Laya, second line Madhya Laya and third line Druta Laya

7. Notation

It refers to the signs used to express duration, Avartana etc.

Gyanendra Bajpai, Lecturer - Bharatanatyam
Office: Bhatkhande Music University,
1, Qaiserbagh, Lucknow - 226 001. India