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The Concept of Thalam

Thalam or Taal literally means a clap. It is the term used in Indian classical music and dance to define the rhythmic pattern followed by any composition. It is a known fact that to be a dancer or to even dance,one needs determination as well as energy. The foremost forms of dance are known to be Tandav and Lasya. Some say the word Thalam is a portmanteau of Tandav & Lasya. Thalam is the foundation for music and dance. Shruthi ( pitch of music) is believed to be the mother and Thalam ,the father as Thalam controls music. Hence if, both the pitch and rhythm is not synchronized properly, one will not obtain any pleasure visually or euphoniously. Dancing, Singing and Instruments together form Music. Sarangadeva quotes in his wellknown book “ Sangeetha Ratnakara”

Geetham Vaadhyam Thathaa Nritham Thrayam Sangeetha Muchyathe

Thalam is divided into ten parts. These are synonymised to Dasaprana (vital constituents)in the human body. The 5 main components or Mahapranas ; Prana, Apana, Samana,Udana and Vyana is equalised to Kala,Marga, Kriya, Anga and Graha in Thalam. The 5 minor components or the Upapranas; Nagan, Koorman, Krikaran, Devadattan and Dhananjayan are equalised to Jathi, Kala, Laya, Yati and Prasthara.

Below I am giving a small description of the Dasapranas of the human body.

  • Prana - vital energy; inherent vital force pervading every dimension of matter

  • Apana - sub-prana, which is located in the lower abdominal region, responsible for elimination and reproduction

  • Samana - one of the five sub-pranas; situated between the navel and diaphragm

  • Udana - one of the five sub-pranas; energy located in the extremities of the body arms,legs and head

  • Vyana - one of the sub-pranas; reserve of pranic energy pervading the whole body

The five Upa-Pranas regulate important functions in the human body

  • NAGA - Burping

  • KURMA - Blinking

  • DEVADATTA - Yawning

  • KRIKALA - Sneezing

  • DHANANJAYA - Opening and Closing of Heart Valves

Now I shall give the Components of Thalam i.e. the time measure of a composition. Before that there are certain terminologies which will be seen often in the post below.They are:

  • Avartana (cycle) of a Thalam

  • An Anga ( the part/section of a Thalam)

  • Matra (the external unit of an Anga)

  • Aksharakalas (the internal unit of a Matra)

(Shall illustrate this concept when explaining the various types of Thalam)


Components of Thalam

1) Kaalam - The duration of each Matra, Anga and Avartana of a composition is called Kala. A composition is executed in different speeds.

  • First speed is Vilamba Kaalam

  • Second Speed is Madhaya Kaalam

  • Third speed is Dhuritha Kaalam

2) Margam – Margam means path. It determines the number of Aksharakaalas or units in each Matra. A Matra usually consists of four Aksharakaslas, unless specified.

3) Kriya – The method how a Thalam is demonstrated. Eg Beating the hand or using fingers while putting a Thalam. The literal meaning of Kriya is gesture or action. They are of 2 types

  • Nishabda - meaning no sound. Eg. The wave of the Drutham and Fingers of Laghu

  • Sashabda - One which produces sound. Eg. The beat of the Drutam or Anu Drutham

4) Anga – A part or section of Thalam is called a Anga. They are of 6 types hence are called Shadangas. Shad in Sanskrit means 6. They are:-

5) Graha – The starting of the song in a Thalam is called Graha. It is not always necessary the song starts at the beginning of a Thalam. It can start in between the Thalam . Graha is divided into 2

a) Sama – When the song and Thalam begins together

b) Vishama– When song and Thalam does not start together.This itself is divided into two:-

i) Atheetha – When song begins before the Thalam starts

ii) Anagatha – When song begins after the Thalam starts

According to the modern system in Carnatic music, the terms Kalidam, Arayidam, Mukalidam comes under Anagatha. Let us assume that we have the Aksharakalas in a Matra as 4. It shall be denoted as Tha ka di mi.

Songs with Atheetha is rather rare. On the contrary, songs with Anagatha is found in plenty.

Till now, we dealt with the Mahapranas of Thalam. Next we shall talk about the Upapranas of Thalam.

6) Jathi – Division of Laghu (read above) is called Jathi. These are divided into 5. These are very commonly seen in South Indian classical dance forms. In fact, the Adavus are set to music according to these Jathis. They are called Panchajathis. Pancha means 5 in Sanskrit.

When these Jathis are set in the various Thalams(will be explained later in this post), the number of units in a Laghu changes accordingly.

7) Kala – The duration of each “Anga” is known as Kala. These are also known as Gathi. These Gathis are also divided into 5 like the jathis mentioned above; Thisram, Chaturasram, Khandam, Mishram and Sankeernam. The difference between Jathi and Gathi is that the former deals with only the Laghu part of Anga whereas Gathi influences every part of Anga.

I shall explain this with an example. The shortest Thalam which has Dhrutham & Laghu is Roopaka Thalam (Division of Thalams shall be explained in due course).

Now I shall explain Gathi. Taking Thisra Jathi Roopaka Thalam. In the above table we saw that Aksharakala of Thisra Jathi Roopaka Thalam is 5. Here each beat, wave and finger count will be having a duration.

Similarily, for every Thalam, Jathi and Gathi are set accordingly.

8) Laya – Speed of steps while dancing is known as Laya. They are:-

a) Choukam- 1st speed i.e when 1 step is placed for one Thalam.

b) Madhyam- Double speed of Choukam i.e when 2 steps are placed for one Thalam

c) Dhrutham- Double speed of Madhyam i.e when 4 steps are placed for one Thalam

9) Yathi – These are the rhythmic patterns used for music and dance. Angas are used in different patterns in a Thalam. These are of 6 types

i) Samayathi – Just as the name suggests which means straight, where the Anga is consistent and hence has same Matras for the entire Thalam.For eg:

I4 I4 I4 or U3 U3 U3

ii)Vishamayathi – Here there is no specific pattern for the Thalam. It can be inconsistent.


iii)Mridangayathi – Here the Angas are set in an ascending order and then descending order. The name is such because the Yathi comes like the shape of the Indian Percusion instrument Mridangam.

iv) Vedamadhayam Or Damaruyathi – This is opposite to the Mridangayathi. The Angas are set in decending order and then ascending ordering. It is named such as the Yathi is formed like a Damaru( the instrument in Lord Shiva’s Hand)

8 I U I 8

v) Gopuchchayathi – Here the Angas are set in descending order. Gopuchcha means cow’s tail. Hence like a cow’s tail, the rhythmic pattern tapers down.

8 I O U

vi) Srothovahayathi – This is the opposite of Gopuchchayathi. Here the Angas are sent in ascending order. Srothovaham means river. So just like the mouth of the river is small and gradually widens, the rhythmic pattern widens.

U O I 8

10) Prastharam - The word Prastharam means permutation. Hence the method the different Angas are assorted and then set is known as Prastharam.


SAPTHA THALAMS - The Seven Thalams

Puranadaradasa, known as the Father of Carnatic Music was instrumental in setting the Sapta-Thalams(also known as Suladhi Saptha Thalams) of Carnatic Music which we still follow to date.

They are:-

Dhruvam, Matyam, Roopakam, Jhampa, Triputa, Ata & Eka

The Aadi Thalam highlighted in yellow is the most common Thalam. A music student’s first lesson i.e the Sapthaswaras are set to Aadi Thalam. Most of the music compositions one learns like the Geetham, Varnam, Keerthanams & Thillanas are all set to Aadi Thalam. Hence Chathurasra Jathi Triputa Thalam is more commonly known as Aadi Thalam.


Chappu Thalam is executed by only putting the beat and Angas like Laghu & Dhrutham are absent. These are of 3 types:-

1. Misrachappu – This as the name suggests has 7 Aksharakala i.e 3+4. It should be noted the beats are similar to Thisra Jathi Triputa Thalam which 3+2+2. Hence the latter can be substituted by Misrachapu as it is easier .

2. Khandachappu - This has 5 Aksharakalas i.e 2+3

3. Thisrachappu - This has 3 Aksharakalas i.e 1+2.This can also called Roopaka Chappu as Roopaka Thalam can be represented with 2 beats and one wave and the wave can be substituted by a beat itself.

It should be that when one just mentions Chappu Thalam, then it Misrachappu Thalam as it is the most common Chappu Thalam.


Thalavattam and Avarthanam are two very oft-repeated terms by musicians and dancers. The terms can often be confused with one another.

The length between the first Anga and last Anga of a Thalam is called Thalavattam. The number of time a Thalam is executed in a music composition is known as Avarthanam. The word “Vattam” means circle and Avarthanam means repetition.

Most of the items in Mohiniyattam are choreographed in Aadi ,Roopaka and Misra Chappu Thalam.

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