Laya Terms in Carnatic Music

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Learn the terminologies used in Laya in Carnatic Music such as Aksharas, Gatis, Kalais, Jatis and many other terms.

Avarta – a cycle of tala.

Akshara – Fundamental units that make up a tala. A tala can be expressed in terms of the number of Aksharas. Normally Adi tala would be considered to have 8 Aksharas. When no other details are specified, we assume that the Adi tala is in Chaturashra gati and rendered with 4 subunits in each Akshara.


Note that Aksharas are just measuring units for tala. An Akshara can carry any number of subunits within it , upon which depends the classification of the gati of the tala. A good analogy is just as one litre is a measuring unit for volume , an Akshara is a measuring unit for Tala. One litre could be a measurement for any liquid, water, milk or juice. Similarly the Akshara could contain a variety of subunits that represent a Tishra gati, Chaturashra gati, Khanda gati, Mishra gati or Sankeerna gati.


Subunits – The units contained within an akshara. These are erroneously referred to as ‘matras’ by some, but we will avoid that connotation in the interest of adhering to the original definition in musical treatises . The term ‘matra’ actually refers to duration of 4 Aksharas. It is not too relevant here, but we will adhere to the convention of referring to the subunits of Aksharas as ‘subunits’ and not ‘matras’.


Gati or Nadai – Pulse or gait of the tala. Gati is the Sanskrit term while ‘Nadai’ is the Tamil term and refer to the same entity.

The number of subunits within an Akshara determine the Gati or Nadai.


Number of Subunits ----------> Type of Gati or Nadai

4 or multiples of 4 ---------> Chaturashram
3 or multiples of 3 ---------> Tishram
7 or multiples of 7 ---------> Mishram
5 or multiples of 5 ---------> Khandam
9 or multiples of 9 ---------> Sankeernam


Kalai – The number of branches in a beat of a tala. Typically we might say a 2-kalai Adi Tala contains 16 Aksharas with 2 kalais in each beat.



JAti - Another attribute of a tala which determines the number of counts in the laghu of the tala. These can be one of 5 varieties,

• chaturashra jAti (4 counts)
• tishra jAti (3 counts)
• mishra jAti (7 counts)
• khanda jAti (5 counts)
• sankeerna jAti (9 counts)
jAti can also refer to a count which is any one of the numbers 3, 4,5, 7 or 9.


Jati – A rhythmic pattern represented by a ‘sol’. ( Rhythmic syllable)
A pattern of 3 could be represented by a Jati , ‘Ta ki ta’ .
A pattern of 5 could be expressed as Jati , ‘Ta ka ta ki ta’.



Yati – The progression of rhythmic patterns can be one of following:

• Sama or Pipilikam (Ants) – Constant progression like ants following one behind another.
• Gopuchham (cow’s tail) – Gradually tapering.
• Srotovaham (flow of river) – Gradually increasing.
• Mridanga ( following contours of a mridangam shape) – This is actually a Srotovaham + Gopucham -> small to big to small
• Veda Madhyamam or Damaru (following contours of a ‘damaru’ shape) – This is actually a Gopuchham + Srotovaham. -> big to small to big.
• Vishama – Random


kArvai – Silent space represented by a comma or dot in notation. Although silent, kArvais form the beauty of many rhythmic constructions and demand lot of practice to execute with precision and beauty.


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