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Tala System

This is an article by Shri Ajay and Smt Aarthy Ananthnarayanan

Tala is the term used in Indian classical music for the rhythmic pattern of any composition.

Carnatic music uses a comprehensive system for the specification of talas, called the sapta tala system. In Carnatic music each pulse count is called an aksharam or a kriyā, the interval between each being equal, though capable of division into faster matras or svaras, the fundamental unit of time. The tala is defined by the number and arrangement of aksharams inside an avartanam.

According to this system, there are seven families of talas, each of which has five members, one each of five types or varieties (jati or chapu), thus allowing thirty-five possible talas.

The Sapta Talams are as follows:

1. Dhruva Talam
2. Matya Talam
3. Rupaka Talam
4. Jhampa Talam
5. Thriputa Talam ( Chathurushra Thriputa Talam is also called as Adhi Talam)
6. Ata Talam
7. Eka Talam

Each of these Talams can be categorized into 5 different types of Talams depending on their Jathis. Jathis meaning variety in which the Laghu counts can vary from being 3-9 and are of the following types:

1. Thisra Jathi which has 3 beats Ta Ki Ta

2. Chathurushra Jathi which has 4 beats Ta Ka Dhi Mi

3. Khanda Jathi which has 5 beats Ta Ka Ta Ki Ta

4. Misra Jathi which has 7 beats and Ta Ki Ta Ta Ka Dhi Mi

5. Sankeerna Jathi which has 9 beats. Ta Ka Dhi Mi Ta Ka Ta Ki Ta

There are three sub-patterns of beats into which all talas are divided; laghu, dhrutam

and anudhrutam.

In other words the structure of every Talam will be a combination of Laghu, Dhrutham and or Anudhrutham. The only exception to it being the Eka Talam which would have only the Laghu counts in it. Similarly the Jhupma Talam is the Talam which has apart from the Laghu and Dhrutham the beat of Anudhrutham as well.

  • A dhrutam is a pattern of 2 beats. This is notated ‘O’.
  • An anudhrutam is a single beat, notated ‘U’.
  • A laghu is a pattern with a variable number of beats, 3, 4, 5, 7 or 9, depending upon the type of the tala. It is notated ‘1’

The seven families with their default lengths are:

Talams Avartanam Default Length of Lagu Toal Akhsaras according to Sapta Alankaras
Dhruva I-O-I-I 4 14
mathya I-O-I 4 10
Rupaka O-I 4 6
Jhampa I-U-O 7 10
Triputa I-O-O 3 7
Ata I-I-O-O 5 14
Eka I 4 4

Every Tala-type has 5 Jati variations. The result lines up to 5*7=35 different Talas.

Jatis Dhruva Matya Rupaka Jhampa Triputa Ata Eka
Tishra I3-O2-I3-I3 I3-O2-I3 O2-I3 I3-U1-O2 I3-O2-O2 I3-I3-O2-O2 I3
Chatushra I4-O2-I4-I4 I4-O2-I4 O2-I4 I4-U1-O2 I4-O2-O2 I4-I4-O2-O2 I4
Kanda I5-O2-I5-I5 I5-O2-I5 O2-I5 I5-U1-O2 I5-O2-O2 I5-I5-O2-O2 I5
Mishra I7-O2-I7-I7 I7-O2-I7 O2-I7 I7-U1-O2 I7-O2-O2 I7-I7-O2-O2 I7
Sankeerna I9-O2-I9-I9 I9-O2-I9 O2-I9 I9-U1-O2 I9-O2-O2 I9-I9-O2-O2 I9

For instance one avartanam of Khanda-jati Rupaka tala comprises a 2-beat dhrutam followed by a 5-beat laghu. An avartanam is thus 7 aksharams long. With all possible combinations of tala types and laghu lengths, there are 5 x 7 = 35 talas having lengths ranging from 3 (Tisra-jati Eka) to 29 (sankeerna-jati Dhruva) aksharams. Chatusra-gati Khanda-jaati Rupaka tala has 7 aksharam, each of which is 4 matras long; each avartanam of the tala is 4 x 7 = 28 matras long. For Misra-gati Khanda-jati Rupaka tala, it would be 7 x 7 = 49 matra.

The Talas are played mainly in 3 different tempo:

1st speed or Vilambitha Laya,

2nd speed or Madhya Laya (double time)

3rd speed or Duritha Laya (triple time).

The subcounts are called Gati. Gati of a tālam specifies sub-divisions of a beat in a composition. It is also referred as Nadai.

There are 5 varieties:

Tisra Gati

Chaturasra Gati

Khanda Gati

Misra Gati and Sankeerna Gati

The combination of all possibilities line up to:

35 Talas x 5 Gatis x 3 speeds = 535 variations

The most common tala is Chahurusra-nadai Chatusra-jaati Triputa tala, also called Adi tala . From the above tables, this tala has eight aksharams, each being 4 svarams long. Many kirtis and around half of the varnams are set to this tala.

In addition to the taalams just described, there are three more common taalams – Aadi, Khanda Chaapu and Misra Chaapu. Adi Talam as said earlier is another name of Chathurshra Thriputam. Khanda Chaapu ia a five beat talam also referred to as the Half Jhumpa and is represented by the formula 0 U 0. Not to forget that it is often used as an alternative to Misra Jhumpa . Misra Chaapu is similar to Tisra Triputa and is sometimes used as an alternative.

Marga Talams:

Apart from the desi talas, there are other set of talas called “Marga Talas”. These talas, in addition to the angams in the desi talas – laghu, drtham and anudrtham have other angams called Guru, Plutham, Kakapadam. The 108 talas and other groups of talas come under this group.

1 Guru – 1 beat and counting 7 fingers
1 Plutham – 1 beat, 1 krshyai & 1 sarpini
1 Kakapadam – 1 beat, 1 krshyai, 1 sarpini & 1 pathakam

1 krshyai – waving the hand towards left, it has 4 aksharams
1 sarpini – waving the hand towards right, it has 4 aksharams
1 pathakam – raising the hand vertically, has 4 aksharams

To Summarise Sruti, Ragam and Talam constitute the life line of any carnatic music composition.

[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]


  1. v.sripriya

    i have been searching for sapta talas but i did not get last i found it on u so much for keeping good articles on internet!

  2. Meenakshi

    Would be great if you showed examples alongside….I am not able to undersrand the relationship betwn nadai and vilamba kala,madhyama kaala. Could you pick a popular krithi and explain? Awaiting eagerly for clarification…..

  3. calvin hodgdon (cairo)

    Thanks for this vital info about tala
    etc. But, at first reading – it’s all Greek
    to me.
    Well, I had to cancel my trip to India for
    too many problems with the visa.
    I did not know that Americans need
    a vist to vist India. I went before and
    no visa was required.
    And, a few other problems made me give
    up and return to Cairo.
    I’ll just have to go another time.
    I really enjoy using your demonstrations
    for the dance movements and trying
    hard to master all. Possible??
    Back to practice.

  4. moushumi

    it proved to be very informative for me. thanks . please keep updating about adavus and hast mudras also. thanks once again.

  5. Anindita

    This is very informative. But, I think in the table it is wrongly mentioned that Triputa tala is having 3 Default Length of Lagu and 7 Toal Akhsaras according to Sapta Alankaras. Instead, it should be 4 and 8 respectively. Let me know if I am correct.

  6. Anjali

    @Anandita, actually 3 and 7 is correct. Because every talam is assigned to a jati by default and it applies visa-versa. So here It is tisra triputa.

  7. Akanksha

    Good article but would have been really gr8 if it would have been acompained with more examples and videos to demonstrate the same.

  8. Hina

    Dear Anjaliji,
    I’m very much impressed with this article. Got knowledge in Jatis and Talam.
    Thank you very much.
    Regards Hina

  9. Vaidehi Nene

    Can we prepare Alarippu in different Taala’s? like Adi tal or any other from Sapta Taal system??


    I am Menon living in Mumbai and is 73 years.
    I love music,sing film/drama songs on Karoke.Many time,I miss the thalam.Therefore I started learning Thalam,Ragam and sruti.
    Your explanation of 35 thalas are very much informative and I appreciate.
    Have you published panch jati Thalas in all speed.If so,please guide me how to find.
    Once again thanks.
    [email protected]

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