Taalam is a Sanskrit word which means “to clap”.
In Carnatic music , it represents a rhythmic pattern of beats that every song is set, to do a concert. There are songs that are set to multiple rythms.
Physical display of talam is called “kriyai”. There are two types of kriyai.
- Sashabda kriyai – Displaying the talam by making a sound ( usually done by hitting the palm on the thigh or on the other palm)
- Nishabda kriyai – Displaying the talam (done by not making a sound by waving the palm)
Sashabdha kriyai is subdivided into four types:
1.Druva kriyai – Produce sound by thumb and middle finger
2.Samya kriyai – Beat over the right palm with your left palm
3.Tala kriyai – Beat over the left palm with your right palm
4.Sannipata kriyai – Both palms trike together facing each other
Nishabdha kriyai is subdivided into four types:
1.Avapa kriyai – Display talam by folding the fingers
2.Nishkrama kriyai – Display the talam by opening the folded fingers
3.Vikshepa kriyai – Display the talam by waving the hand to right side
4.Pravesa kriyai – Display the talam by bringing it back
There are basically 7 types of Talam in Carnatic music called “Suladi sapta talam”. They are listed below:
- Dhruva Talam
- Matya Talam
- Roopaka Talam
- Jampai Talam
- Triputa Talam
- Ata Talam
- Eka Talam
Every hit or pulse is called “Angam” or “Akshara”. The aksharams are arranged in a particular pattern placed at equal intervals which is then repeated throughout the music/song and is called “Avartanam”. Every Talam is defined by the number and arrangement of the aksharams in the avartanam.
Every Talam is a combination of “Laghu and Drutham” and “anudritham”
Laghu is hitting with your palm and counting the fingers while Drutham is hitting and waving the palms and anudhrutham is just hitting.
Gathi, Kalam and Yathi
The sub units of each akshara in one avartanam of any talam are called Gathis or Matras. They are the same like the the Jaathis mentioned before as the sub countings of a laghu.
Carnatic music recognizes 5 types of Ghati’s or nadai which forms part of the Talam. Mridangams (Drums) are one of the major percussion instrument used in bharatantyam music that uses the Ghati’s as the drum syllables. They are listed below:
- Thishram – 3 beats ( Ta ki ta )
- Chaturashram – 4 beats ( Ta ka dhi mi )
- Khandam – 5 beats (Ta ka ta ki ta )
- Mishram – 7 beats ( Ta ka dhi mi Ta ki ta ) Combination of chaturashram & Thishram
- Sankeernam – 9 beats (Ta ka dhi mi Ta ka ta ki ta ) Combination of chaturashram & Khandam
When each akshara has just one count (say for eg.Ta Ka Di Mi) of the Gathi, then we call it as One Kalai and when it has two counts of Gathi foreach akshara it is called Two Kalai and so on.
Gathi is also known as Nadai.
Chathurashra nadai has four mathras for each akshara of a talam. For example, in Adi Talam if it is chathurashra nadai the total mathras in one avartanam is 32 (8 x 4) and if it is Thishra nadai the total mathras will be 24 (8 x 3) and so on.Hence each of the 35 Talas as described in the post“More about Suladi Sapta Talam” has variations with the above 5 nadais and thus making it to have 175 talas (35 x 5).
Yathi is nothing but arranging the symbols of the talam (Like Tha , Thi , Thom , Nam etc)to get a beautiful combination that synchronize with the music.
When all the syllables are equal in number for each akshara as its Gathi then it is called Sama Yathi. For example, in Adi Talam with chathurashra gathi, sub units of each akshara are implemented as Ta Ka Di Mi whereas in Thishra gathi sub units of each akshara are implemented as Ta Ki Ta and so on.
When the syllables are arranged in a jumbled way as one’s own imagination then it is called Vishama Yathi. For example in Adi Talam with Chathurashra Gathi, there should be 32 (8 x 4) mathras. Hence the Yathi could be in the form of (5 + 4 + 9 + 7 + 3 + 4) that makes it a total of 32 mathras or in any other combination which will add up to 32 mathras.
Apart from these two Yathis there are also other types like Mridanga Yathi, Damaru Yathi (Veda Madhyama Yathi), Gopucha Yathi and Srotovaha Yathi).
When the syllables are arranged in the shape of a mridangam it is called a Mridanga Yathi.
When the syllables are arranged in the shape of a damaru it is called a Damaru Yathi.For example Takadimi Takajanu Taka Takajanu Takajanu Taka Takajanu Takadimi Takajanu
The equivalence of few of the syallables in terms of matras is given below:
Ta – 1
Ta a – 2
Ta m – 2
Ta ka – 2
Ta ki ta – 3
Ta ka di mi – 4
Ta ka ja nu – 4
Tadimginatom – 5
Tadi..mginatom – 6
Ta..di..mginatom – 7
Chaipu talas do not fall into the category of the Suladi Sapta tala. However they are used in conjunction with the Suladi sapta talas with corresponding teerumanas. They are talas that consist of only beats without having any anghas (laghu and drutham) of the suladi sapta tala system. They are called Chaipu talam because the tala distribution is having “chaiv”(slant) towards one side. In other words, we cant divide the tala syllables definitely or equally.
There are four Chaipu talas in use and they are the following:
• Thishra chaipu tala – Ta Ki Ta (One and half aksharas that equals to six matras)
• Khanda chaipu tala – Ta Ka Ta Ki Ta (Two and half aksharas that equals to ten matras)
• Mishra chaipu tala – Ta Ki Ta Ta Ka Di Mi (Three and half aksharas that equals to fourteen matras)
• Sankeerna chaipu talam – Ta Ka Di Mi Ta Ka Ta Ki Ta (Four and half aksharas that equals to eighteen matras)
Chaipu denotes that the cycle is not uniform. For example in Khanda chaipu the cycle is one – two, one – two – three where there is a sub division of the cycle into two parts that are not equal. The first part with two beats duration and the second part with three beats duration. Viloma chaipu talam is a variation of chaipu where the pattern is reversed. In this example it is Ta Ki Ta Ta Ka Di Mi in order to get a three – four beat cycle unlike mishra chaipu where it is a four – three beat cycle.
The matra representation of the above four Chaipu talas are as below:
- Thishra chaipu talam : Takadimi Taka
- Khanda chaipu talam : Takadimi Takadimi Taka
- Mishra chaipu talam : Takadimi Taka Takadimi Takajanu
- Sankeerna chaipu talam: Takadimi Takajanu Takadimi Takadimi Taka
Most commonly used talas
Though we have seen and understood from the above descriptions, that there are so many types of talas which add up to a big number as a conclusion, we can notice that only few of the talas are very commonly used by musicians and composers. Let’s see these talas:
• Chaturashra nadai chaturashra jaati triputa talam which is the most commonly used Adi Talam. Many kritis and most of the varnams are set in this talam.
• Chaturashra nadai chaturashra jaati rupaka talam that eventually becomes a 24 beat cycle. Many kritis are set to this talam.
• Chaturashra nadai khanda jaati ata talam which is a 14 beat cycle. There are many varnams set to this talam.
• Thishra nadai chturashra jaati triputa talam also known as thishra nadai adi talam which is 24 beat cycle. Compositions in this talam can also be sung in rupaka talam.
• Khanda chaapu and Mishra chaapu talams are also very commonly used. There are many padams and kritis set to these talams.