Indian Classical Music and Sikh Kirtan


Goto Page
Displaying Page 32 of 100
Book Index Begin Back Next Last

Chapter 4: Rythm (Tal)

Rhythm (Tal)

What symmetry is to the plastic arts, rhythm is to music. (Schopenhauer)

A raga is totally dependent on tal (pronounced taal). Vocal music, instrumental music and dance rely on rhythm for its effect on the audience. Tal/tala [1] is the means of measurement of time in music or dance. Rhythm is the breaking up of time in small units. Time is cut into pieces at certain regular intervals. Literally tal means the palm of the hand; the time is measured by the clapping of hands (tali) or beats of drums or sticks. Tal is divided into two halves; Bhari (full) starting with sam, and khali (empty) starting with khali. So tal is an organisation of rhythms or different beats in certain groupings which are smaller units of matras. These rhythmic units repeat themselves in cycles. The drummer has to produce the spoken syllable indicating the position of the hand on the drum. The permutation related to tal are as follows:


The tempo of the rhythm or the duration of pace or speed is called laya. It is regular spacing of time.
Laya is three kinds: vilambit, madhya and drut.
Vilambit laya: Slow tempo of the rhythm is called vilambit lays. Each beat lasts for about one second. For example,
dadra has six matras. Instead of counting six matras (beats) one after the other like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 vilambit laya will
prolong it in the following manner.

Vilambit laya ---ISS --- ISS ---ISS ---ISS ---ISS ---ISS
Matra 1 2 3 4 5 6
+ (Tali) 0(Khali)
(S stands for prolongation of rhythm)

The following are some of the tals of vilambit lays: ektal, chartal, jhumra , tilwara.

Madhya laya: Medium tempo of the rhythm is called madhya laya. It can be compared to the ticking of about half second of the clock. Some of the tals of madhya lays are teental, jhaptal, dadra, kehrva.

Drut laya: is doubly quicker in tempo than the madhya laya. The tals of drut laya are the same as in madhya tal, the difference being that they are done quicker. Each beat lasts for about one-quarter second. Tarana and chota khayal use drut laya.


The unit of measuring tal is matra. The matra is determined in length by the pace of the overall rhythm. Each tal has a number of matras, as for example dadra has six matras. The number of matras does not change in vilambit, madhya or drut laya. Only the tempo or the time-sequence becomes slower in vilambit, average in madhya and faster in drut laya. A number of matras makes a tal, while the tempo determines the types of laya. The smallest units the akshara (letter) and its several types are as follows:

Anudruta = 1 akshara = 1/4 matra
Druta = 2 akshara = 1/2 matra
Laghu = 4 akshara = 1 matra
Guru = 8 akshara = 2 matra
Pluta = 12 akshara = 3 matra
Kakpad = 16 akshara = 4 matra

Avartan: One cycle of the matras of a tal is called avartan. For example, dadra has six matras; as soon as six
matras are completed, we have done one avartan (cycle) of dadra tal.

Theka: The playing of one avartan of a tal on the table (pair of drums ) is called theka. It includes the repetition of


Goto Page
Displaying Page 32 of 100
Book Index Begin Back Next Last

Printed from
© 2004 - 2017. Gateway to Sikhism All rights reserved.