Tracking the TALAS

Tiruchi Sankaran.Photo: S. Thanthoni

Tiruchi Sankaran.Photo: S. Thanthoni  

Tala , says Abhinava, is a well-defined interval of time and is manifested through the formation various sound effects that would deliver equipoise (saamya) alone.

Professor Tiruchi Sankaran gave an informative lecture on the concepts behind chatushram and trayshram as tala elements by tracing their history. He also commented on modern perspectives regarding these two.

At the outset, he mentioned how these two have, over the years, come to be addressed as chatusram and tisram, rather colloquially. Here are excerpts from that lec-dem:

Prof. Sankaran said chatusram and tisram could be said to be universal metres and exhaustive mention of these are made in Bharata’s Natya Sastra. Beginning with the syllabic concept, he said that percepts of syllabic structures formed the basis of tala structures. Tala in Gandharva Sastra (he drew quotations from Abhinava Bharati and Datillam ) followed Yathakshara mode. Again quoting from Abhinava Gupta, Sankaran mentioned how the terminations occured with a chaturashram and thus, accounted for the preponderance and importance of chaturashram. He also spoke of chachathkuta marga talas and explained the various kinds pertaining to these, demonstrating them both orally and using hand beats and finger counts.

Ancients had relied on word formulae to give us metres and concepts of beats. There were two broad categories -- the yugma (even) and ayugma (odd or uneven). In these, Guru served as the basic unit and hence, Guru Maathra. The unit of measurement(s) was reckoned as the Maathra and not as Aksharas. In this connection, Sankaran said the idea of Guru, Drutham and Kakapadham have become obsolete. Talking of aksharas which is in vogue today and has almost replaced Maathra, Sankaran said this may have come about for denoting the time interval to utter say a “ka cha da tha pa ra” (Tamil alphabet). “Maathra has come to denote the time-pulse divisions, which is rather disturbing.”

Introduction of jathi was a landmark in the history of talas. The Sooladhi Saptha Tala system involves the lagu jathi variations. He mentioned how Marga talas were different from Desi tala concepts (Sharnga Deva period) and underlined the fact that Marga talas were inextricably merged with theatrical ritual music.

To establish the fact that “3 and 4” are universal metres in the context of world music, he played clippings from Mozart’s Sonata in 4/4 metre and other western classical items and samples from African music.

Playing an African bell pattern, he made the audiece recognise the downbeat points and finally said that this could be imagined either as chathusram or tisram depending on your orientation.

Then, Sankaran drew attention to a 1958 AIR recording titled “When the Mridangam Played Jazz” where there was an interesting encounter between Palani Subramania Pillai (Sankaran’s guru) and Joe Morello, jazz drummer. “To my knowledge, this was the first ever fusion attempt between a class mridangam player and a jazz musician,” Sankaran remarked.Taking up sarva laghu, Sankaran said, “A continuum is established using this method of playing and sollus happen on an even keel.” These patterns can be played in all kalams and are perhaps the mainstay of mridangam playing itself. “Can mridangam playing exist without sarva laghu?” he wondered. There could be rhythm and counter- rhythm, and Madurai Mani Iyer and Semmangudi were known expositors of the sarva laghu.

Dr. Pappu Venugopal Rao, Secretary, The Music Academy, said most of the concepts that were handled by Sankaran were prosodic in nature and owed their origin to Chandam. Thus Chandam and Layam go together. By way of enhancement he said this: The word akshara, etymologically means that which cannot be destroyed, is the coming together of “Aa,” the first alphabet and “Ksha” the last in this line. Rao was sceptical about the difference between a Lakshana and Lakshiya Korvai (that was cited by Sankaran) and this issue remained unresolved till the end. Sankaran observed that aesthetics cannot be ignored for the sake of arithmetic.

Prof. Sankaran said exhaustive mention of these metres are made in Bharata’s Natya Sastra.

Recommended for you