Shri Chitravina Narasimhan explains the tala dasha pranas. This section starts with an introduction to the first two pranas namely, kalam and margam.
Here is a summary:
Tala Dasha Pranas describe the various important facets of tala. Tala fundamentally refers to the mode of keeping rhythm for a musical compositions in Carnatic Music with hand gestures.
The Dasha Pranas are:
Kaalam – This was created initially to give an idea of the duration for each of the tala angas in absolute time. It is only of academic interest now and time durations are no longer absolute but only relative.
Margam – This gives an idea of the rhythmical construction of a musical composition and helps to put tala correctly with the correct number of swaras or syllables per Akshara of tala. Please note that his does not indicate the tempo. The tempo is relative. One may sing 4 notes per Akshara faster than another person but they may be rendering the same margam.
Kriye – This refers to the manner of action in which a tala anga is rendered. Eg. beating of palm, waving of hands or finger counting etc.
Angam – This indicates the constituent parts of a tala. The most commonly used are the 6 angas or shadangas including anudhrutam, dhrutam, laghu, guru, plutam and kakapadam. There are also 16 angas called shodasangas which were used in other older talas.
Jaathi – The five varieties of tala constitute the jaathis. The Jaathi essentially refers to the number of counts in the laghu. A laghu is a beat followed by finger counts. A laghu can be chaturashra, tishra, mishra, khanda or sankeernam. When this permutation is applied to the 7 sapta talas one may derive totally 35 different talas based on jaathi variation called the suladi sapta talas.
Graham – The commencement of the tala in music is known as graham or the take-off point. The music can start on the beat (samam), after the beat (anagatam) or before the beat. (ateetam). The term vishama graha refers to the start of the music either after of before the beat.
Kalai – Refers to the number of Aksharas within each kriye of the tala. If there is one akshara for each kriye it is eka kalai or 1 kalai. If there are 2 aksharas in each kriye of the tala it is dvikalai or 2 kalai. If there are 4 Aksharas in each kriye of the tala it is catuskalaior 4 kalais.
Laya – The flow of tala in conjunction with song, without fluctuating is laya or kalapramanam. It is important to maintain the kalapramanam or tempo constant when rendering a musical composition. There are 3 kinds: 1) Vilamba (slow) 2) Madhya Laya – medium and 3) druta laya – fast.
Yati – The arrangement of angas of various durations give rise to various rhythmic patterns called yatis. The yatis are classified as 1) Sama Yati 2) Gopuccha Yati 3) Srotovaha Yati 4) Damaru Yati and 5) Mridanaga Yati and 6) Visama Yati
Prasthara – This is only used for academic interest and is not used much now. The term prasthara refers to permutation. Prastara of a tala refers to the process of splitting up the angas of a tala into its possible constituent angas and presenting them in all possible varieties in a tablular form.
The time taken by a sharp needle to pierce through one petal, when 100 such petals are stacked together is called a Kshana. The various time units in relation to each other are shown below. This table was intended to give absolute time durations during ancient times when precise time measurements were not available. For practical purposes, it can be used today to obtain an idea of relative duration of tala angas.
The following table indicates the time duration equivalents.
8 Kshanas – 1 Lava
8 Lavas – 1 Kashta
8 Kashtas – 1 Nimisha
8 Nimishas -1 Tudi
1 Tudi is the duration of 1 Anudhrutam.
2 Anudhrutams – 1 Dhrutam
2 Dhrutams – 1 Laghu
3 Laghus – 1 Plutam
4 Laghus – 1 Kakapadam
Important note about Aksharas and Matras
The term matra is used incorrectly by many as denoting the subunits within an Akshara. The term ‘matra’ was initially used to indicate the duration of 4 laghvaksharas or duration of 1 laghu. Instead of using the term ‘matras’ for the subdivisions in an Akshara it would be better to say subunits or ‘ul’ Aksharam. Eg, In Chaturashra Jati Adi tala, there are 8 x 4 = 32 subunits or ‘Ul Aksharams’.
The Shanmargams are:
Atichitram – One note per unit – (Used in geethams)
Ardha Chitram or Chitratamam – Two notes per unit ( Kritis in Deshadi and Madyadi Talas)
Chitrataram – 4 notes per unit (Eg Vilambakala krithis)
Chitram – 8 notes per unit
Vartikam – 16 notes per unit
Dakshinam – 32 notes per unit