The Tala System in Karnatic Music

A Tala is a rhythmical cycle similar to a measure in Western Music, but often more complex. The elements which construct a Tala are

  1. Anudrutam (U) :
    it contains 1 beat (Akshara),i.e.: 1 clap of the palm of right hand in the palm of the left hand.
  2. Drutam (O):
    it contains 2 beats, i.e.: 1 clap of the palm of right hand in the left hand and 1 clap with the back of the right hand in the palm of the left hand.
  3. Laghu (I) or Fingercount:
    it contains n = 3 (Tisra), 4 (Chaturasra), 5 (Khanda), 7 (Misra) or
    9 (Sankirna) beats
    i.e.: The 1st beat clap of the palm of right hand in the left hand for the first beat. The 2nd beat you tab the little finger in the palm of the left hand. The 3rd beat the ring finger and so on. The 6th beat falls on the thumb, the 7th beat falls again on the little finger, the 8th and 9th beat fall respectively on the ring finger and middle Finger.

The different variations are called Jatis.

Avartanam:
is 1 whole Tala cycle, which contains at least 1 Laghu (I).

Nowadays in Karnatic Music are 7 different Types of Talas in use.

  1. Eka Tala (I): contains only a Laghu.
  2. Rupaka Tala (O I): starts with 1 Drutam and is followed by 1 Laghu
  3. Jhampa Tala (I U O): starts with a Laghu and is followed by 1 Anudrutam and 1 Drutam
  4. Triputa Tala (I O O): starts with a Laghu and is followed by 2 Drutams
  5. Ata Tala (I I O O): cotains 2 Laghus followed by 2 Drutams
  6. Matya Tala (I O I): starts with a Laghu and is followed by 1 Drutam and 1 Laghu
  7. Dhruva Tala (I O I I): starts with a Laghu and is followed by 1 Drutam and 2 Laghus

If there are more than 1 Laghu in a Tala they all must have the same number of counts.

For example:
Chaturasra Jati Dhruva Tala (I4 O I4 I4) starts with a 4 beat Laghu and is followed by 1 Drutam and 2 x 4beat Laghus.

Every Tala-type has 5 Jati variations. The result lines up to 35 different Talas.

Eka Rupaka Jhampa Triputa Matya Ata Dhruva
Tisra I3 O I3 I3 U O I3 OO I3 O I3 I3 I3 OO I3 O I3 I3
Chaturasra I4 O I4 I4 U O I4 OO I4 O I4 I4 I4 OO I4 O I4 I4
Khanda I5 O I5 I5 U O I5 OO I5 O I5 I5 I5 OO I5 O I5 I5
Misra I7 O I7 I7 U O I7 OO I7 O I7 I7 I7 OO I7 O I7 I7
Sankirna I9 O I9 I9 U O I9 OO I9 O I9 I9 I9 OO I9 O I9 I9

The most common Tala in Karnatic music is the Chaturasra Triputa Tala or Adi-Tala (I4 O O) = 8 beats

The Talas are played mainly in 3 different tempi: 1st speed or Vilambitha Laya,
2nd speed or Madhya Laya (double time)
3rd speed or Duritha Laya (triple time).

The subcounts are called Gati. There are 5 varieties:

Tisra Gati Chaturasra Gati Khanda Gati Misra Gati Sankirna Gati
3 4 5 7 9

The combination of all possibilities line up to:
35 Talas x 5 Gatis x 3 speeds = 535 variations!

©

Rainer Pusch

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