Tala (music)

In Indian classical music, Tala (tāl (Hindi), tāla (anglicised from tālaṃ in Sanskrit, tāḷam in Tamil), literally a "clap", is a rhythmical pattern that determines the rhythmical structure of a composition. Each composition is set to a tala, and as a composition is rendered by the main artiste(s), the percussion artiste(s) play the pattern repeatedly, marking time as well as enhancing the appeal of the performance.


The most common instrument for keeping rhythm in Hindustani music is the tabla. In Carnatic music, the Mridangam is a stock feature in vocal, violin, Veena and flute concerts, with the Ghatam, the Khanjira and the Morsing also featuring at times. In Nagaswaram concerts, the Thavil takes the place of the Mridangam.

While Indian classical music has a complete and complex system for the execution and transcription of rhythms and beats, a few talas are very common while most others are rare. The most common Tala in Hindustani classical music is Tintal. This tala has a cycle of 16 beats divided in 4 bars. Bars 1,2 and 4 are accented while bar 3 is light. Most talas can be played at different speeds, but no tala is generally slowed down as much as Ektal, with its 12 beats sometimes taking more than a minute.


Tāḷam in Carnatic music

Traditionally, Carnatic music vocalists mark the tāḷam by tapping their laps with their palm. Instrumentalists such as violinists and flautists that use both hands mark the tāḷam by tapping their feet on the ground inconspicuously.

Tāḷam varieties

In Carnatic music, each repeated cycle is called an āvartanam, while each "tap" is called an akṣaram or a kriyā. A tāḷam thus describes the number and arrangement of akṣaram-s inside an āvartanam. Note that the intervals between the akṣaram-s are all equally long.

There are three patterns of beats that recur in all tāḷam-s - these are the laghu, the dhṛtam and the anudhṛtam.

  • A dhṛtam is a pattern of 2 akṣaram-s, with the first akṣaram marked with the palm face down, and the second with the face up. This is notated 'O'.
  • An anudhṛtam is a single akṣaram, marked with the palm face down and notated 'U'.
  • A laghu is a pattern with the first akṣaram marked with the palm face down, followed by a variable number of akṣaram-s marked with successive fingers starting with the little finger. This is notated '1'

The number of akṣaram-s in the laghu is one of 3, 4, 5, 7 or 9, and this characterises the variety (jāti) of the tāḷam. The five varieties are:

# akṣaram-s in laghuJāti
3Tiśra (or Triśra)
4Chatuśra (or Chaturaśra)

Tāḷam families

Modern day Carnatic music uses a comprehensive system for the specification of tāḷam-s, called the śūlādi sapta tāla system. According to this system, there are seven families of tāḷam-s differing on the way an āvartanam is constructed from the laghu, dhṛtam and anudhṛtam.

These are respectively:

TāḷamDescription of āvartanamDefault length of laghu

For instance, one āvartanam of Khaṇḍa-jāti Rupaka āḷam comprises a 2-long anudhṛtam followed by a 5-long laghu. An āvartanam is thus 7 akṣaram-s long.

Thus, there are 5 x 7 = 35 tāḷam-s, with lengths ranging from 3 (Tiśra-jāti Eka) to 29 (Saṅkīrṇa-jāti Dhruva) akṣaram-s.

naḍai or gati

The duration of an akṣaram, although fixed within a rendition of a composition in its tāḷam, varies across tāḷam-s. The fundamental unit of time used is called a mātrā or a svaram, and each tāḷam is also characterised by the number of mātrā-s in an akṣaram. This count, which corresponds to the length of an akṣaram is called the naḍai or gati of the tāḷam. The naḍai can be one of 3, 4, 5, 7 or 9, and these are respectively called Tiśra, Chatuśra, Khaṇḍa, Miśra and Saṅkīrṇa, as above.

As in the example above, Chatuśra-gati Khaṇḍa-jāti Rupaka tāḷam has 7 akṣaram, each of which is 4 mātrā-s long; each āvartanam of the tāḷam is 4 x 7 = 28 mātrā-s long.


In practice, only a few tāḷam-s have compositions set to them. As in the table above, each variety of tāḷam has a default family associated with it; the variety mentioned without qualification refers to the default. For instance, Jhampa tāḷam is Miśra-jāti Jhampa tāḷam In addition, the default naḍai is Chatuśra.

The most common tāḷam is Chatuśra-naḍai Chatuśra-jāti Triputa tāḷam, also called Ādi tāḷam (Ādi meaning primordial in Sanskrit). From the above tables, this tāḷam has 8 akṣaram-s, each being 4 svaram-s long. Most krtis and around half of the varnams are set to this tāḷam.

Other common tāḷam-s include the following:

  • Chatuśra-naḍai Chatuśra-jāti Rūpaka tāḷam, or simply Rūpaka tāḷam). A large body of krtis is set to this tāḷam.
  • Khaṇḍa Cāpu (a 10-count) and Miśra Cāpu (a 14-count), both of which do not fit very well into the śūlādi sapta tāla scheme. Many padams are set to Miśra Cāpu, while there are also krtis set to both the above tāḷam-s.
  • Chatuśra-naḍai Khaṇḍa-jāti Aṭa tāḷam, or simply Aṭa tāḷam). Around half of the varnams are set to this tāḷam.
  • Tiśra-naḍai Chatuśra-jāti Triputa tāḷam<i> - A few fast-paced krtis are set to this <i>tāḷam.

Sometimes, pallavis are sung as part of an RTP in some of the rarer, more complicated tāḷam-s; such pallavis, if sung in a non-Chatuśra-naḍai tāḷam, are called naḍai pallavis.de:Tala


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