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A Deeper insight on Theermanams

This is an article by Shri Ajay and Smt Aarthy Ananthanarayanan

Theermanas are aesthetically made artistic patterns. The theermanam at the base has pure mathematics and it is made interesting by either notes by a vocalist and by rhythmic syllables by percussion artistes. The combination of Tha Dhi Gi Na Thom with verses and jathis played three times after the Mohara is called Theermanam. Mohara is a sort of crescendo played by a percussion artiste at the end of a solo piece called “Thani Avarthanam” it is usually preceeded by pharan and then succeeded by a theermanam. Theermanam is played three times after which generally a vocalist starts off the song from where he left.

In other words A universal pattern in Rhythm settings is that, Whenever the pallavi or charanam ends and the pallavi starts again, there will be a brief twist in the rhythm during the last bar.. Its called ‘Theermanam’ in classical or ‘Fill-ins’ in Western music. Mora is also called Theermanam and Muktayi. It is a rhythmic cadence in which 3 identical phrases are presented which create tensions against the underlying meter. Phrases are often played with gaps inbetween.

For example, the ubiquitous
4 (2) 4 (2) 4
which neatly cuts across the 8 beats of Adi thalam. By simple doubling we can play 8(4)8(4)8, twice as fast so that it takes up the same number of beats (or at the same speed taking up 16 beats).
An equivalent phrase in Rupakam (3 beat cycle) is:
6 (3) 6 (3) 6 .
It also refers to a longer composition used at the end of a Tani Avarttanam (percussion solo) used to set up the final korvai. In this dissertation this type of Mora is referred to as a Periyar (or long) Mora.

Theermanams should normally be kept short where the concert duration has been long and the pakavadyam artist has had the opportunity to display his talent. But a long theermanam is particularly useful in those situations where the concert was not very exciting. It acts as a decorative mask for the concert.

However, what ever the phrasing, it is the numerical structure of the mohara which is the main key. There is a formula which allows composition of mohara for any tala with any number of aksharas as described beautifully by Mannarkoil J.Balaji in the Rasikas forum:

Decide on the theermanam first meaning the number of aksharas you want the theermanam to be. 4 aksharas or 4 beat count or arai avartana of aditala has to be decided. For example adi tala has all split exacly by 2 and hence how much ever we try to explain the formula wont and cannot be easily understood. Anyway i shall explain adi tala also and go to other talas like Khanda Triputa and Misra Jampa for examples.

Generally Moharas are for about four avartas. First avarta explains the Mohara. Second avarta is just the repetition of the first one. (for dunces like me to understand). Third avarta is just reducing and leads into fourth avartha with the theermanam or the ending portion. This is what I meant earlier by deciding on the theermanam first.

If you take a 4 akshara theermanam the mohara has to be split in the following way.
2 + 2+ 2+ 2
second avarta also the same
third avarta 2 +2+2+ 1
2 + 1
2+ 4
This is how a mohara is split in any tala.

Now coming to the real thing as how to apply this formula for other talas. Take the above in representative syllables like a b a c
a is the first portion
b is the second portion
c is the last portion containing the short theermanam within the single avarta. But the c is slightly different in treatment as compared with b. B is filled up with rolling strokes whereas the c is the filling up with Thagajonu thom or thalangu thom though both of them take the same mathematical metre. that is why it is mentioned as a b a and c to differentiate between b and c whereas the mathematics is the same but the playing or the representation is different. B is normally filled where as c is normally short theermanam for that single avarta which reduces towards the end into half its portion leading to the main teermanam of 4 aksharas etc.
even for adi tala if u want to have 5 akshara theermanam, the 5 akshara will hv to be divided between b and c and accordingly the counts for a needs to be reduced to 3. Then the structure of the mohara will be
First Avarta and second Avarta : 1 1/2 + 2 1/2 + 1 1/2 + 2 1/2
Third Avarta : 1/2 + 2 1/2 + 1 1/2 + 1 1/4
1 1/2 + 1 1/4
1 1/2 + 5
The total will be 32 leading for four avartas.

Taking Khanda Jaati Triputa Taala :
9 aksharas per avarta with 36 aksharas in total is generally split like this with 4 akshara theermanam.
2 1/2 + 2 + 2 1/2 + 2 ===> first two avartas
2 1/2 + 2 + 2 1/2 + 1
2 1/2 + 1
2 1/2 + 4
will give u 36 in total.

There is also another method to do this mohra. decide the theermanam and reduce it from the total akshara per avarta for the tala and then divide the remainder equally which gives you both the “a” s mentioned above and divide the theermanam also equally which gives “”b” and “c” mentioned above. if it is 4 akshara teermanam then for Misra Jhampa Taalam it has to be
10 – 4 = 6
6/2 = 3
4/2 = 2
so the mohara pattern would be as follows
3 + 2 + 3 + 2 (first two avartas) ===> 20
3 + 2 + 3 + 1 ====> 9
3 + 1 ====> 4
3 + 4 ====> 7
Total = 40

The representation for all these mathematics every one easily knows .. atleast as far as mridangists cn easily decipher and for laymen this is how it is developed for all the talas. For complicated talas with unequal number of aksharas there will always be some bits added with first portion of “a” and the second portion of a will be without that added bit.

To summarise Arudis are end pieces generally played at the end of the talams (it could be for two beats or four beats – viz the Drithams in Aadi talam or even more beats as the situation demands).
Repitition of an Arudhi three times to signify the end of a paragraph in a song or the end of the song itself is known as Theermanam. (In an aadi talam – this could be either for six beats or for twelve beats or even more at times as described above).

[Shri. Ananthanarayanan comes from the renowned family of Violinists and vocalists. He has pursued carnatic lessons for years under the guidance of Smt.Vasantha Kannan (a desciple of Lal Gudi Jayaram). He has also had the opportunity to interact with the legends Shri. Ganesh and Shri. Kumaresh. Taking them as his role models today he teaches several students in the Tri state area. An ardent believer of carnatic music he has given many concerts around the world.

Smt. Aarthy Ananthanarayanan also comes from a renowned family of carnatic musicians and dancers like Smt. Kalyani Raja , Smt. Lakshmi Iyer and Smt.Vani Ganapathy. She started learning Music at the age of five under Smt. Lakshmi Iyer and went on to advance her training with Smt. Kalyani Raja of Coimbatore. She was blessed with the knowledge of Music in the family itself. A well known teacher of PA she not only teaches Carnatic Music but has also written white papers for various magazines like SOHAM, Sruti etc.. Being the Chief editor of SOHAM magazine she constantly interacts with the legends of Music and Dance through her interviews with them]

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