Tracing relations: taal and Compostion

By Dr. Supriya shah


Tala in relation to Compostion


The music department at Delhi University celebrated its golden jubilee early in March this year. On this occasion the department invited erstwhile colleagues and organized a three- day U.G.C. National Seminar on “Tala in Indian Music & Dance: Its Significance in relation to Compositional Forms” at Sir Shankar Lal Concert Hall, in north campus of Delhi University.

The Inaugural Session on March 8, 2010 was dedicated to Prof. R.L. Roy, the first Dean of the Faculty of Music and Fine Arts who took over the office on January 1, 1960 and started with a Vandana by the students of the Faculty. This was followed by the Welcome Address by Prof. Anjali Mittal, Dean, Faculty of Music & Fine Arts, University of Delhi. Chief Guest, Prof. Deepak Pental, Vice Chancellor, University of Delhi then gave the Inaugural Address. Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, an eminent Scholar and Chairperson of India International Centre, Asia Projects, New Delhi gave the Presidial Address.

The Guests of Honour were Prof. S.K. Saxena, eminent Aesthetician, Pt. Birju Maharaj, the internationally renowned Kathak maestro and Dr. Mukund Lath, a distinguished Musicologist. Prof. Saxena shared his insightful views and brought the attention of the audience to the use of syllables and words to enhance a particular feeling not only in the percussion nomenclature but also drew interesting comparisons from English and Hindi literature.

Dr. Mukund Lath said in his Keynote Address that while one does not come across the word ‘Theka’ in any of the Medieval texts on music, one does come across therein, several discussions on various aspects of rhythm especially in connection with the mathematical permutations and combinations of deriving talas from any one tala, Chhandas and Akshars, and keeping tala through the various movements of the hands. He further added that the tradition of keeping tala on Avanaddh Vadyas is not very old. Initially, the Ghan Vadyas were used for keeping rhythm. He quoted Abhinavgupta when talking of the importance of keeping tala by hands and said that there can not be any tala without Kriya which was of two types- Sashabd (Taali) and Nishabd (Khaali). There were various ways of showing tala through hands, e.g. Avaap, Vikshep and so on. After Gandharva, the importance of the kriyas declined but the use of Ghan instruments as tala vadyas continued. As far as the use of Mridang is concerned, it was used in the Poorvarang of Natya and played with Geetak , but not otherwise with vocal or instrumental music. He narrates a Mythological story about how the Mridang was created by the Ganas of Shiva to celebrate the disruption of the Yajna of Daksha.

According to Dr. Lath, it was only in the 14th Century text Sangit Sarodhar authored by Sudha Kalash that Mridanga bols (syllables) have been given in context of Tala. However, this does not imply that the Tradition of “Theka” can be considered to have started from here. This is because even with the Dhrupads, the Mridanga player was not supposed to keep a theka. Dr. Lath opined that the system of Theka came into being in the 18th century and got popularized thereafter.

The first session of the Seminar was dedicated to Prof. V.V. Sadagopan who started the Carnatic music section in the department and was Chaired by Vidushi Dr. Leela Omcherry. It commenced at 2:00 p.m. on the same day with a paper presentation by Prof. Madhu Bala Saxena from the Faculty of Music & Fine Arts, Delhi University. Dr. S.A.K. Durga, well known Musiciologist from Chennai gave a Lecture on various elements of Tala in the Carnatic tradition and gave vocal demonstrations for a better understanding by the audience. Dr. Durga defined tala as “reckoning rhythm in a cyclic mode.”  As against this, Laya could be defined as the “calibration of Tempo.”  She continued her lecture giving the various classifications of Laya into Vilambit(large calibrations), madhya (Medium calibration) and Drut( small calibrations) and the 9- fold sub- classification and also made a mention of the Sashabd and the Nishabd kriyas.

According to Dr. Durga, the discussion of Tala could be found in texts like the Dattilam, Sangeet Makarand, Sangeet Samayasara (both mentioning 101 talas)and Chaturdandiprakashika that have chapters on this subject and also other texts like Tala Lakshanam, Tala Samudra and so on that are wholly devoted to the concept of Tala.  In the Tamil tradition the system of tala goes back to a few thousand years. While there are 120 Desi talas in Sangita Ratnakar, there are 108 Talas in Panch Marabu which dates back to 4th century a.d. and some of the Talas mentioned in the latter are used even today. 124 Talas are mentioned in the Telugu text Tala Chintamani. Tamil works like Bharata Sastiram mentions 9 talas, Pingala Ningandu  also mentions 9; Tala Samudra talks of 20 talas, Navasandhi 9 talas and Tiruppugazh mentions Chhanda Talas. In the performing tradition, the varieties of talas are as follows:

Suladi Saptha
Jhompata tala-Adi tala
Desadi – Madhyadi talas
Chapu Talas
Talas with different Gatis
Chhanda Talas

Dr. Durga stressed that Carnatic music is tala oriented and validated her statement by saying that from the first day onwards the student is taught with talas and has to sing in different speeds like anuloma, pratilome, dwigunam and so on which helps in Pallavi singing.. The concept of Dwigunatva has to be practiced with the composition as a whole also. Dr. Durga made this clear by singing examples. After this Dr. Durga gave vocal demonstrations of the different varieties of the Yeduppa wherein, according to her, lies the beauty of the tala. She clearly demonstrated how the Sam Yeduppa(on the beat), kal yeduppa( one beat later), 1/2 and 3/4ths Yeduppas could be sung. Continuing her lecture –demonstration, Dr. Durga said that there cannot be any melody without tempo as tempo is inevitable in any melodic progression. She emphasized on the importance of tempo in melody by drawing an example from nagaswaram concert in which before the alapana is started by the nagaswaram player, the thavil player sets the  chatusra(4-4) rhythm.
Talking further on the different types of talas, Dr. Durga said that the Suladi Sapta talas came into being in the time of Purandara dasa. The Desadi talas are used in Javalis and in these the composition starts from the 3/4th of the visarjitam just like in the 3/4th yeduppa. In padams the tisram triputa is used which has a tempo of its own. If one were to change the tempo, it would become a Kriti. Dr. Durga concluded her Lecture demonstration with a discussion of Chapu talas and their varieties like the Khand Chapu, Mishra Chapu, Viloma chapu and so on.

The first day of the three day national seminar  was brought to a close with a Saxophone Recital by renowned Vidwan Kadri Gopalnath who was accompanied on the violin by Vidwan V.S.K. Annadurai, Vidwan N. Padmanabhan on the Mridangam and Shri Rashid Zaffar Khan on Tabla. He enthralled the audience by lively presentations in ragas like Hansadhawani and Abheri which is the Carnatic counterpart of the Hindustani Bhimpalasi. The subtle difference between a complete Shastrokta Raga and a lesser demanding one could be discerned by more serious listeners.

The second session of the seminar dedicated to Pt. C.S. Pant, one of the founder members, started at 11:00 a.m. on March 9 2010. The session was chaired by Vidushi Prof. Krishna Bisht. The speakers were renowned vocalist Pt. Vidya Dhar Vyas from Mumbai and the great Mridangam Wizard Vidwan Karaikudi R. Mani from Chennai.

Prof. Krishna Bisht aptly described the importance of tala in music by saying, “what is law and order to society, that is tala to music.” She said that Tala helps in preventing us from straying in a musical performance.  On the significance of the Sam Prof. Bisht was of the opinion that such is the charm of the sam that it elicits a spontaneous nod from the audience. She added that the sam is not just the beginning but also the end of a performance. One gets bound to a cycle with the help of the sam.  She went on to discuss the importance of Composition or bandish( which is a bound form) in preserving the talas. It is common knowledge that most talas that are popularly played today have been kept alive because there are a number of compositions set to those talas.

She also highlighted the importance of maintaining the laya of every tala and said that each tala sounds appropriate only if it is played in that particular tempo that is assigned to it. She gave examples of Jhaptala and Rupak which sound most appropriate when played in Madhya laya, Ektala which is versatile in the sense that it sounds good in every tempo and so on.

Pt. Vidya Dhar Vyas started his Lecture Demonstration by addressing a very pertinent question of the decline in the importance of maintaining the variety in the treatment of every tala in the classical presentations of today. He said that most vocal compositions that are sung on the concert platform today are set to vilambit Ektala. He expressed his concern over this trend and said that this is happening in spite of the fact that there are different alas associated with different gharanas as mark of their specialty. He said that the inherent laya- layakari and specific improvisations of each tala help in bringing out the individuality and uniqueness of each gharana. It is therefore extremely important that there should not be a standardization and generalization of improvisatory movements and the different elements of the various talas.

Pt. Vyas validated his argument by singing compositions in different ragas and set to different talas. In doing so, he demonstrated the difference in the accents that were kept in mind while composing the bandishes in accordance with the divisions of the talas and also gave examples of how the improvisation changed in every composition and tala. The compositions that he sang were in the following raga-s and tala-s:

1. Raga Alhaiya Bilawa l- Tilwada tala
2. Raga Chayanat - Jhumra Tala
3. Raga Bihagada - Vilambit teental
4. A Sadra in raga Alhaiya Bilawal - Jhaptal
5. Raga Tilak Kamod - Adhha Tala
6. Raga Megh - Ada Chautal
7. A riyaz ki bandish in Raga Darbari Kanhara - Jhaptal
8. A tarana in Raga Miyan Malhar - teental

While concluding his lec-dem with the tarana Pt. Vyas said that the Tarana is not just about singing in fast speed but more importantly about displaying layakari at that speed as well. Pt. Vyas amply demonstrated the intrinsic union between sur, laya and tala.

The second esteemed speaker in this session was Vidwan Karaikudi R. Mani who was accompanied on the Ghatam by the renowned R. Suresh. Vidwan Karaikudi emphasized on the fact that there can be no compromise on the tala. He also advised that while at the time of practice one must try every possible speed starting with the slowest speed, in a performance it should be in a geometric progression only and not in the arithmetic progression which would not be aesthetically appealing. He then gave demonstrations of various jatis of laya like the Chatusram, the tisram , the kandam , the sankirnam and so on and also showed the geometric progressions of each of these on the Mridangam. He was also accompanied by Shri R.Suresh on the Ghatam who also displayed the various layakaris with dexterity. Shri Suresh also mentioned that one of the most striking features of Vidwan Karaikudi’s mastery over this complex art and sincerity towards the audience was that he always stressed on playing a new composition in every concert no matter where they were performing. Thus in his entire career as a musician Karaikudi ji has stressed on never repeating a composition on stage and also not taking the audience for granted which is indeed, a very inspiring message for all the performers.

The third session was dedicated to Pt. V.K. Aggarwal. The chairperson was Pt. Tejpal Singh, a well known vocalist. The session featured Shri Jayant Kastuar, a Kathak dancer of repute and Secretary, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi. He hails from the famous Jaipur gharana of Kathak dancers and is a worthy disciple of the legendary dancer Pt. Durga Lal. He was accompanied on Tabla by Pt. Subhash Nirwan, by Salim on Sitar and Vinay Mishra on the Harmonium. He demonstrated the importance of composition in different layas and enthralled the audience with his performance.

The session ended with a lecture demonstration by Pt. Suresh Talwalkar, one of the greatest Tabla exponents of today. He talked about the different aspects of various talas and layas and transported the audience to the philosophical heights of the Indian tala shastra. He concluded his presentation by demonstrating the four grihas of tala -- sam, visham, atita and anagata in accompaniment of a vocalcomposition in Raga Yaman. The vocal accompaniment was provided by Dr. Ojesh Pratap Singh of the Faculty of Music and Fine Arts and on the harmonium was Shri Vinay Mishra. Pt. Talwalkar also dislayed three tala-s (Teentaal, the Ektala and Matta tala) simultaneously much to the awe and delight of the audience and thereby also proving himself as a true “Tala -Yogi”- a title conferred on him by Shankaracharya.

The second day of the Seminar concluded with a Dhrupad Recital by the famous Gundecha Brothers who sang the Nom tom alap and a dhrupad in Raga Bhupali They were accompanied by Pt. Dalchand Sharma, a renowned Pakhawaj player from Delhi. This concert was dedicated to the memory of Prof. Mrs. Sumati Mutatkar, who was herself an accomplished Dhrupad singer and a scholar of great eminence as well as being the former Head and Dean of the Faculty of Music and Fine Arts.

The third and final day of the national Seminar was dedicated to Prof. VKRV Rao and began with a Mangal Dhwani on the Shehnai by Shri Sanjeev Shankar, a promising and highly talented young Musician from Delhi and a disciple of Sitar maestro Pt. Ravi Shankar. Shri Sanjeev Shankar began his recital with Raga Brindavani Sarang in which he played a short alap, followed by bada and chhota Khyals and concluded his recital with a Hori Kafi. He was accompanied on the Shehnai by his brother Shri Ashwani Shankar and on the Tabla by Shri Gulshan Sharma from the Faculty of Music and Fine Arts and also Shri Anand Shankar who played the Dukkad as well.

This was followed by a felicitation of the former Faculty and Staff by the Chief Guest, Vice Chancellor, D.U., Prof. Deepak Pental.

The Seminar came to an end with a Sitar recital by the renowned Us. Shahid Parvez from Pune who was accompanied on the Tabla by Pt. Subhash Nirwan from the Faculty of Music and Fine Arts, University of Delhi. Ustad Shahid Parvez started his recital with raga Madhuvanti and concluded it with Raga Mishra Piloo.
Prof. Najma Praveen Ahmad, former Dean, Faculty of Music and Fine Arts, D.U. then delivered the Vote of Thanks.Ms. Sadhana Srivastava in her clear charming manner compeered both, Inaugural and the final sessions of the seminar and made the events ever more memorable. The other sessions were hosted by Prof. Suneera Kasliwal, Prof. Deepti Omcherry Bhalla and Dr. Manikandan.

Academic Conventions

Omenad Symposium 2007

International Conference Jan 2009

'Africa Meets Asia' -- International Conference

"Music in Perspective of Globalization" Delhi March 2009

Other Concerts :

Sangeetotsav at Bhopal

4th Brahaspati Sangeet Samaroh at Chandigarh


Ilyas Khan. Sitar

Devotion. Sitar

Meditative Morn. Santoor

Artistes of Indore

Ustad Abid Hussain Khan

Niranjan Haldar

Chitrangana Reshwal

Arun Morone

Ulhas Rajhans

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