Compiled by Mallika Jayanti
August 6, 2008
Talam in Sanskrit means 'clap.' Whilst you can get various meanings of 'talam' and definitions by doing a google on it, I will try to put across the simplest way to understand and remember the structure of talam. Please note that this is not exhaustive. To start with, one needs to be familiar with a few jargons related to talam.
Talam has six angas or parts. These are namely:
We will now take the first three aspects or angas and try to understand them.
1) Anudhrutam: It is represented by the symbol 'U.' It is a beat, and is physically counted as 1 unit/akshara.
2) Dhrutam: It is represented by the symbol 'O.' It is a beat and a wave of the hand. This is counted as 2 units/akshara.
3) Laghu: It is represented by the symbol 'l.' It is - one beat+ followed by counts of the fingers starting from the little finger.
The counts of fingers are units called 'aksharas.' Laghu can be of five types. These are Jathis.
Let us now understand the Jathi pattern.
1) Tisra Jathi: In this, Laghu has one beat of the palm facing downwards + 2 finger counts (in detain, the finger counts will be- little finger, ring finger). This equals three units or three aksharas.
2) Chatushra Jathi: In this, Laghu has one beat of the palm facing downwards + 3 finger counts (in detain, the finger counts will be- little finger, ring finger and middle finger). This equals four units or four aksharas.
3) Khanda Jathi: In this, Laghu has one beat of the palm facing downwards + 4 finger counts (in detain, the finger counts will be- little finger, ring finger, middle finger and again little finger). This equals five units or five aksharas.
4) Misra Jathi: In this, Laghu has one beat of the palm facing downwards + 6 finger counts (in detain, the finger counts will be- little finger, ring finger, middle finger again little finger, ring finger and middle finger). This equals seven units or seven aksharas.
5) Sankeerna Jathi: In this, Laghu has one beat of the palm facing downwards + 8 finger counts (in detain, the finger counts will be- little finger, ring finger, middle finger again little finger, ring finger middle finger, and again little finger and ring finger). This equals nine units or nine aksharas.
Let us now see how a talam is structured. For this, we will study the seven basic talams, called the "Suladi Sapta Talams."
In Carnatic music, there are seven basic talams that are often used. They are called "Suladi Sapta Talams." These are as follows:
One complete talam cycle is called an "Aavartanam." For eg. One aavartanam in Chatushra jathi Ata talam is 12 aksharams long. Likewise, one can calculate the number of aksharams in each aavartanam according to the talam and jathi. For instance, one aavaratanam in Misra jathi Jhampa talam will be 10 aksharams long.
There are few places where you will see that the word 'chaapu' is used in place of 'jathi.'
Most popular Talams that are used in Bharatanatyam are:
1) Adi Talam: It is nothing but Chatushra jathi Triputa Talam. It has 8 aksharams per aavartanam.
2) Rupaka Talam: Though there are six aksharas, only three are rendered externally. One anudhrutam and one dhrutam. In Bharatanatyam the sollus are: thaka ta kita, where thaka is one beat and ta kita are two beats giving us 3 aksharas for Rupaka talam.
3) Misrachapu Talam: Has 7 aksharas per avartanam. (Tisra jathi Triputa talam) In Bharatanatyam, the sollus are: tha ki ta tha ka dhi mi, found in most Shabdams.
4) Khandachapu Talam: Five aksharas per aavartanam.
Before we move to the other three parts or angas of a Talam, we need to understand the following:
1) 1 krshyai - Has 4 aksharams and is represented by waving the hand towards left.
2) 1 sarpini - Has 4 aksharams and is represented by waving the hand towards right.
3) 1 pathakam - Has 4 aksharams and is represented by raising the hand vertically.
4) Viramam - A single akshara part.
Now, let us understand the other three angas/parts of Talam.
1) 1 Guru - 1 beat and counting 7 fingers equaling to 8 aksharams
2) 1 Plutham - 1 guru + 1 krshyai + 1 sarpini equaling to 12 aksharams
3) 1 Kakapadam - 1 guru+ 1 krshyai + 1 sarpini + 1 pathakam equalling to 16 aksharams.
(The symbols for all the above 3 angas are in the table discussed below.)
We now know all the six parts/ angas of the Talams. These six angas are called the Shadangams of Talam. When we add the viramam to all the six angas, we get sixteen parts of Talam called Shodasangams.
Below is a tabular representation.*
One more important thing that affects the Talam is Nadai or gati. It means speed or pace at which a composition in rendered. It is the count which determines the duration of the aksharam, which is usually fixed but for a few exceptions. This count is called "maatraa." The default nadai is Chatusram. But the nadai can be one of 3, 4, 5, 7 or 9, and these are respectively called Tisra, Chatushra, Khanda, Misra and Sankeerna. This provides further variation to the talam. (tutorgig.com with a few changes).
For eg. If we need to know the number of maatraas in a chatushra gati tisra jathi eka talam, it will be: 4*1 beat + 4*1 little finger count + 4*1 ring finger count equals 12 maatraas.
Now take a look at the table below.*
Based in Newcastle, Australia, Mallika Jayanti is a Bharatanatyam performer / teacher and a writer. As a student of art, she does a lot of research on theology, mostly Hinduism and dance. Her mission is to promote quality talent and art.