All About Talas in Carnatic Music

27 Nov 2020
Talas in Carnatic Music are the measure of time or the rhythm cycle, which sometimes literally means clapping hands to produce music. Talas, rhythmic beats or strikes, are considered the regulating factor in a composition of ragas and are, therefore, one of the fundamental elements of Indian music. Talam in Carnatic music forms the life cycle in a musical composition embracing the time meter. However, it may or may not imply repetition. Let’s understand more about the Carnatic tala system, i.e. talas in Carnatic music.

Classification of Talas in Carnatic Music

There have been three major classifications of the talasin Carnatic music:
  • 108 AngaTalas: The ancient Carnatic talas that include 103 desi and 5 margitalas
  • 72 Melakartha: The Carnatic talasystemthat fits the 72 Melakartha Raaga classification
  • Suladi Sapta Tala: A system of Carnatic talaswhich came to be known widely during 1484 to 1564 (the time of Purandara Dasa, a renowned Carnatic music composer)
The Suladi Sapta Tala is the most prevailing of all the three classification schemes of talas in Carnatic music and also serves as the foundation of several musical exercises known as Sapta Tala Alankars. Classical music students today are trained on comprehensive Suladi Sapta Tala exercises encompassing rhythmic as well as melodic structure.
Each Carnatic tala is made up of parts called angas.

What is Angas in the Carnatic Tala System?

Angas forms a tala structure. Though there are six angas, only the first three –Laghu, Dhrutham, and Anudhrutham –are used.
  • Laghu: A pattern with 3, 4, 5, 7, or 9 beats with a downward clap followed by counting fingers through to the thumb.
  • Dhrutam: A sequence of a downward clap with the down-facing palm and a downward clap with the palm facing up.
  • Anudhrutam:A downward clap with the down-facing palm.
There are 7 talas in Carnatic music:
Dhruva Tala Matya Tala Jampa Tala Ata Tala Triputa Tala Rupaka Tala Eka Tala
1-Laghu
1-Dhruta
2-Laghus
1-Laghu
1-Dhruta
1-Laghu
1-Laghu
1-Anu Dhruta
1-Dhruta
2-Laghus
2-Dhrutas
1-Laghu
2-Dhrutas
1-Dhruta
1-Laghu
1-Laghu

How Many Talas are There in Carnatic Music?

The Carnatic music system is made up of seven suladi talas, also called, Suladi Sapta Talas.
About Suladi Sapta Tala: The Suladi Sapta Tala has seven families of talas, in which there are a total of 5 jatis, hence forming five different tala types. Each of these Carnatic tala types is differentiated on the basis of beat lengths of the laghu. When laghu and talas combine to form variations,we get a total of 35 talas of Carnatic music. These talas (the 35 talas of Carnatic music) have a length varying from 3 till 29 aksharas.
Jatis: Each Carnatic tala references to at least one of the total five jatis –Thisra (3 aksharas), Chaturasra (4 aksharas), Khanda (5 aksharas), Misra (7 aksharas), and Sankeerna (9 aksharas).
The 35 Talas of Carnatic Music System can be further divided on the basis of five gathis (speed), also called nadais.
Gathis: A gathi, known as Nade in Kannada and Nadaka in Telugu, is the number of maatras an akshara contains. The number of matras can be 3, 4, 5, 7, or 9. With all the possible combinations of talas, jatis, and gathis, we get a total of 175 Talas in Carnatic music. This is why we need to take into consideration the three portions, which are the Tala, the Jati, and the Gati, while describing a talam in Carnatic Music.

Few Common Talas

When it comes to slow and medium tempos, the most common and most heard talas are Ek, Dhamaar, Jhoomra, and Chau Talas. In the faster tempos, we have Rupak and Jhap talas. The most popular tala is the Trital (or Teental), as it is pleasing at both faster and slower tempos.
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