Taala in Carnatic Music

by Vishnuraj S.

Vishnuraj, a performing mridangam artist from kerala is an active expert in the field of laya in carnatic music and is one among the editors of Through this section, he elaborates the various angles of taala in carnatic music for the benefit of the aspiring students.

Being able to feel the beats and keep with time comes by nature to every human being.
No one can stop tapping his feet for good music. How does this tap come up? Our subconscious mind recognizes the rhythmic boundary and gets in sync with the music heard.
Rhythm represents nothing but time which is measured in terms of beats.
Without a conscious effort, many a times we would have felt the pulse and keep with time while listening to some music, following the rhythm by counting beats! One important thing to be aware of is the fact that music is primarily an intuitive process and so is the rhythm.
“Tala” in Sanskrit means a “clap”.Tala is the pattern that determines the rhythmic structure in a musical composition. Carnatic vocalists demonstrate tala by clapping their palms. Instrumentalists, having their hands engaged on the instruments , use their feet and the thighs to tap and mark the beats.

Taala (rhythm) is the basic factor involved in the three major branches of Indian classical arts being geetham, vadyam and nrityam. Tala (rhythm) is a concept adopted to explain the time frame in music and dance. Indian music has more number of taalas (rhythm) than any other forms of music in the world. The diversity of taalas (rhythm) is considered as the most important characteristic of south Indian classical carnatic music.


The most important talas in sout Indian classical carnatic music accounts to seven in number. They are dhruva, madyam, rupakam, tchampa, tripuda, ada and eka. Symbolic representation of the above said taalas are as follows.

Dhruva Taala | O | |

Madyam Taala | O |

Rupakam Taala O |

Tchampa Taala | + | anudhrutham + dhrutham

Tripuda Taala | O O

Ada Taala | | O O

E ka Taala |

All the above said talas have forms like Tisram, Chaturastam, Ghantam, Misram, Sangeernam. Altogether there are 35 taalas in Carnatic Music. The most popular talas presently used in carnatic music are adi tala, rupaka tala, misrachapu and ghantachappu. The details of these talas are as follows.

Adi Tala (Chaturasra Jati Tripuda)

The tala is having 8 aksharakkala. Total number of matra accounts to 32 (8X4).
The jati for the tala is ta - ka - dhi - mi – ta – ka – dhi - mi'


The tala is having 3 aksharakkala. Total number of matra accounts to 12 (3X4).

The jati for the tala is ta - ka - dhi - mi – ta - ka - dhi - mi – ta - ka - dhi - mi

Mista Chappu

This tala is mainly displayed using two beats. Misra Chappu Tala is having 7 aksharakalam. Jati of this tala is ta – ki - ta - ta - ka – dhi – mi.

Ghanta Chappu

This tala is also mainly displayed using two beats.Total aksharakkalam of this tala is 5 (2+3). Jati for this tala is ta - ka ta - ki - ta

All aspects of rhythm are guarded by a constantly repeated cycle of beats. Talas are just not just the recurrent time cycles, but have their individual structure and influence on the composition. Just as a raga brings out the bhavam(rasam/emotion) in the song, so does the talam have a role in revealing the mood/tempo of the composition. A composition like “Telisi Rama chintanatho” would spring up the pace and tempo setting in a lively environment;while on the other end,” Maayamma nine” in ahiri would leave a melancholic effect on the audience.Not the Ragam alone, but the talam also has a significant role in bringing out the complete mood of a song.

The word “Talam” is said to have been derived from Thandavam-Divine dance of Lord Shiva and Lasyam – dance of Goddess Parvathi.

Carnatic Music's contribution to the World of music is the concept of “Talam”.

As just said above, each Talam has a defined structure.Let us take the simplest of the Carnatic Talas and understand its structure.
Adi Tala, technically called “Chatushra jaathi triputa tala”.
The way this Talam is constructed is as follows:
1 beat of the palm on the thigh followed by counting three fingers starting with the least small finger, proceeding towards the middle finger.
-The above two steps gave us 4 rhythmic spaces (beats) in total.
The second part of the structure is as follows:
1 beat of the palm and turning it over,
then again a beat on the palm and turning it over
-The last two steps gave us 4 more rhythmic spaces.

If we count the total number of rhythmic spaces, we get 8 of them. In other words, we say Adi tala has 8 units or 8 aksharakaalams.

The first part of the talam which consists of a beat and the counts is called “Lagu”(represented by the symbol “1”).The number of units in the lagu defines the “jathi” or the “family” to which the Talam belongs. Depending on the number of units in the lagu, the Talas can be grouped into different families/jaathis as follows:
Tisra : 3 units
Chatusra : 4 units
Khanda : 5 units
Misra : 7 units
Sankeerna : 9 units
In our example of Adi tala, we see 4 units in the lagu.So it belongs to chatusra jaathi.

The second part of the structure mostly contains drutham(represented by the symbol “0”).
1 drutham = one beat of the palm on the thigh followed by turning the palm over for a second beat. In some cases, there may be half of drutham, i.e., just the beat of the palm without turning it and is called Anudrtham.
In our example of Adi tala, the above is done twice.So we have two druthams.

The lagu and the dhrutham/s together define the Tala lakshanam , in other words called the Angams of the Talam.

Likewise we discussed different jaathis,we have different structures of Talams, just like the one structure we just followed above(Adi talam = chatusra jaathi triputa talam).
Basic seven talams are defined in carnatic music which are being taught in the preliminary “Alankarams” chapter in the Music classes.

They are: 1. Dhruva talam 2. Matya Talam 3. Rupaka Talam 4. Jampa Talam 5. Triputa Talam 6. Atta Talam 7. Eka Talam

Any of the above Talam structure can be set to any jaathi.Thus the 7 structures and 5 jaathis together give rise to 35 combinations.
To sescribe in detail,take for instance Adi tala(triputa talam ):This has the angam 1 lagu + 2 dhruthams.
For diff jaathis, its structure will be as follows:
Tisra jaathi triputa tala : 1 (3 ) 0 0
Chatusra : 1 (4 ) 0 0
Khanda : 1 (5 ) 0 0
Misra : 1 (7 ) 0 0
Sankeerna : 1 (9 ) 0 0
Where, the number in the brackets represents the jaathi.

The Talams discussed so far are called the “Desi talams”.There is another set of complex Talams called “Marga Talams”.These are not in vogue today because of their complex structure. Tirupugazh, if sung to the original set rhythm can stand as a good example for Marga Taalams.There are 108 such Talams.

Special thanks to Ms. Revathi S.


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