Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Introduction to Thaalam / Taal / Tāla | Rhytmic Pattern or Beats in Bharatanatyam

Bharatanatyam Foot Work (Thalam / Talas / Taal)
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I cannot stress the importance of "Thaalam"  or "Tala" (ताल ) in dance. The entire dance is set to a particular Taal and has to be followed with utmost precision. Even missing one beat in the Taal can be catastrophic! :-D And I'm being over melodramatic. Well.. not catastrophic. But messing up the Beats (Taal) will definitely mess up your performance and make people notice your mistakes.

"Taalam" (तालं ) is a Sanskrit word that means "to clap". A Bharatanatyam dance is usually set to Carnatic Music and Carnatic Music is set to rhythmic pattern of beats known as Taalam. An understanding of the Talam System of Carnatic Music will ensure a wholesome learning of this art form. (Not all Bbharatanatyam dancers learn Carnatic Music. It isn't a prerequisite. But it is noticed that those who learn both Carnatic Music and Bharatanatyam together have a better understanding of the system of Talam, Ragam, Emotions etc. So if you get the chance to learn both, do learn them!)

Rhythm in Carnatic music changes for each composition. Songs are set to a specific Thaalam or beat. (Some songs may have multiple rhythms). Each and every Thaalam has a structure, that is governed by the rules pertaining to it. In Carnatic Music, each pulse (every hit) is called "Aksharam" (अक्षर ) that are placed at equal intervals (although each interval is capable of being divided into faster or slower Swaras). Each Thaalam comes in cycles of a number of beats, called an "Aavartanam" (आवर्तन ). So the total number of "Aksharams" (hits) make up one "Aavartanam" of a Thaalam.


A Thaalam is usually put (performed) by the singer with the right hand hitting on his/her right thigh. For a dancer, learning the number of beats in a thaalam will help in understanding the technicalities of the song better.
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For example, if we take the most common Thaalam – Chatusra Jaathi Triputa Talam (Aadhi Thaalam), we can describe the process of the Thaala thus : 
  1. first beat the palm of the hand
  2. then tap the fingers pinky
  3. ring finger
  4. middle finger
  5. Then beat palm
  6. turn the hand over and tap or wave the back of the hand
  7. palm
  8. back
This is one cycle.
This cycle will repeat throughout the song. Although often the number of Swaras (syllables) per beat will change during a song, the actual beat changes within a song VERY rarely, and even then, it is a fixed change, not a slowing down or speeding up of the beat itself.

In Carnatic music, there are seven basic talams that are often used. They are called "Suladi Sapta Thaalams." (सुलधी सप्त  ताल ) These are as follows:

1. Dhruva Talam
2. Matya Talam
3. Rupaka Talam
4. Jhampa Talam
5. Thriputa Talam ( Chathurushra Thriputa Talam is also called as Adhi Talam)
6. Ata Talam
7. Eka Talam

Each of these Talams can be categorized into 5 different types depending on their Jathis. Jathis are variety in which the counts can vary from being 3-9 and are of the following types:
1. Thisra Jathi which has 3 beats Ta Ki Ta
2. Chathurushra Jathi which has 4 beats Ta Ka Dhi Mi
3. Khanda Jathi which has 5 beats Ta Ka Ta Ki Ta
4. Misra Jathi which has 7 beats and Ta Ki Ta Ta Ka Dhi Mi
5. Sankeerna Jathi which has 9 beats. Ta Ka Dhi Mi Ta Ka Ta Ki Ta

I will talk in detail about each aspect in the coming posts. :-)

(Disclaimer: I complied as much information on Thaalams as possible. Please note however, that it is always better to learn this from an experienced Guru)

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