Thaalam can be defined as a tool for measuring the tempo and also to some extent the structure of the song. Thaalam helps us in maintaining the rhythm or the beats of a song constant. It also reflects the mood of that song.

Thaalam is a combination of "SasapthaKriyai" and "NisapthaKriyai". Kriyai is a method for counting the aksharas. The sasapthakriyai part in a thaalam produces sounds while the second type will be soundless. Thaalam is defined under two categories. One is based on "Shadangaas" and the other is based on "Shodashaangaas".


In this type, the thaala will be based on "Six Angaas". The six angaas are as follows :

1) Laghu
2) Dhrutham
3) Anudhrutham
4) Guru
5) Plutham
6) Kakapaadham

Prior to the description of the above six, some basic things are given which will make the understanding of the angaas better.

Thattu - the downward beat with the palm facing down
Veechchu - the wave (sometimes the downward beat with the palm facing up)
Finger Counts - counts start with the little finger and the no. of counts depends on the type of the thaalam.
Aksharam - Each beat of a thaalam is termed as "One Aksharam".

The six angaas are defined below.

Laghu - A Laghu is one thattu followed by a specified number of counts. The total aksharam of a laghu depends on the type of Thaalam.
Dhrutham - It is one thattu followed by one veechu. The total akshara kaalam is 2 for this.
Anudhrutham - It consists of just one thattu. In terms of Aksharam, this has only one.
Guru - It consists of a thattu and for the remaining aksharas(depends on the type of Thaalam) hand (closed one) will be rotated in a circular motion. The default aksharam for this is 8.
Plutham - It consists of one thattu, one krishyai and one sarpini. The default aksharam for this is 12.
Kakapaadham - It consists of one thattu, One padhagam, one krishyai and one sarpini. The default aksharam for this is 16.


Similar to the shadangaa type of description, there is also another one called shodashaangaa description. Here one more angam called "Viramam" is included. Here to measure thaalam, two types of scales are used viz. aksharaas and tablets. Four aksharaas constitute one tablet. Because of the addition of viramam, here we have sixteen angaas.

The sixteen angaas with their respective aksharaas and tablets are given below. It is given in the order Name, Aksharakaalam and Tablet.

Anudrutham - 1 - 1/4
Dhrutham - 2 - 1/2
Dhruthaviramam - 3 - 3/4
Laghu - 4 - 1
Laghuviramam - 5 - 1.25
Laghudhrutham - 6 - 1.5
laghudhruthaviramam - 7 - 1.75
Guru - 8 - 2
Guruviramam - 9 - 2.25
Gurudhrutham - 10 - 2.5
Gurudhruthaviramam - 11 - 2.75
Plutham - 12 - 3
Pluthaviramam - 13 - 3.25
Pluthadhrutham - 14 - 3.5
Pluthadhruthaviramam - 15 - 3.75
Kakapaadham - 16 - 4

Gathi and Jaathi are two very important terminologies. There are five Gathis and Five Jaathis.

The Five Gathis(or Nadai) are :

1) Chathurashra Gathi which is four letters(or swaras) per aksharam or beat.
2) Thisra Gathi - 3 swaras per beat or aksharam
3) kanta Gathi - 5 swaras per aksharam.
4) Mishra Gathi - 7 swaras per aksharam.
5) Sankeerna Gathi - 9 swaras per aksharam.

The five Jaathis are :

1) Chathurashra Jaathi - 4 beats or aksharams.
2} Thisra Jaathi - 3 aksharams.
3) Kanta Jaathi - 5 aksharams.
4) Mishra Jaathi - 7 aksharams.
5) Sankeerna Jaathi - 9 akshrams.

Variations in Laghu :

The laghu is a combination of Thattu and Finger counts. Depends on the Jaathi of the Laghu, the total akshram of the laghu varies. This Jaathi laghu will have three aksharams - one thattu and two finger couts(1+2). Similarly chaturashra laghu will have 4(1+3), kanta laghu - 5(1+4), Mishra laghu - 7(1+6) and Sankeerna laghu - 9(1+8) akshrams or beats respectively.


1) Soolathi saptha thaalam.
2) Desadhi and Madhyadhi thaalam.
3) Chappu Thaalam.
4) Navasandhi Thaalam.
5) Simhanandhanam and Sarapanandhana Thaalams.
6) Aparoopa Thaalam.


The details of this thaalam is given below. It is given in the order Name of the Thaalam, Angaas of that thaalam, notations for that thaalam and the DEFAULT aksharakaalam of that thaalam. The aksharakaalam of the indicated thaalams can be changed by changing the Jaathi of that Laghu.

1) Dhruvam - laghu,dhrutham,laghu,laghu - 1011 - 14
2) Matyam - laghu,dhrutham,laghu - 101 - 10
3) Roopakam - dhrutham,laghu - 01 - 6
4) Jhampa - laghu,anudhrutham,dhrutham - 1U0 - 10
5) Thriputa - laghu,dhrutham,dhrutham - 100 - 7
6) Ata - laghu,laghu,dhrutham,dhrutham - 1100 - 14
7) Ekam - laghu - 1 - 4

Here Laghu comes in all the seven Thaalams. So by changing the Jaathi of the Laghu, the total aksharakaalam can be changed. The default aksharakaalams indicated above coressponds to chathurashra dhruvam(14), chathurashra matyam(10), chathurashra roopakam(6), Mishra jhampa(10), Thisra thriputa(7), chathurashra ata(14), and chathurashra Ekam(4).

The total no. of soolathi saptha thaalam comes to 175. This seven thaalams can have variations in five jaathis as well as in five gathis. So 7*5*5 = 175.

Note : The Jaathi betham is applicable to Laghu only. But this Gathi bedham is applicable to all Angaas of the thaalam including laghu.


These Thaalams will have eight aksharas per aavarthanam(cycle). In the case of desadhi thaalam, the song will start from 3/4th of the veechu and in the case of madhyadhi thaalam, the song will start from the 1/2th of the veechu.


The chappu thaalam will have either two thattu or a veechchu and a thattu.
1) Mishra chappu (3+4) - 3 swaras for first thattu and 4 swaras for second thattu.
2) Kanta chappu (2+3)
3) Thisra chappu (1+2)
4) Sankeerna chappu (3+6)
5) Viloma chappu (4+3)


These are the thaalams that were played during the Bramhostava period. These will be played in Brahma, Indhran, Agni, yaman, Niruruthi, Varunan, Vayu, Kuberan, and Eesanan sannidhis. They are nine in number.


These are the thaalams played in high level music competitions.


Speed variation : The conventional thaalams will have a only single speed per aavarthanam. But in this type of thaalam all the three speeds constitute a cylce(or aavarthanam). Thrikaala thisra Ekam is an example for this.
Nadai(or Gathi) variation : In conventional thaalams, the same nadai will be used throught the cycle. But in this type of thaalam, it will not be so. The thaalam will have more than one nadai within a cycle. Pancha Nadai thaalam which has all the five nadais in it is an example for this type of thaalam.


One can derive relation between the chappu and soolathi thaalams based on the no. of aksharaas per aavarthanam. Mishra chappu and thisra thriputa thaalams have seven beats per cylce. kanta chappu can be considered as half mishra jhampa . Similarly one can arrive at many relations.

Some other terminologies(or aspects) of Thaalam with respect to songs:

1) Graham or Eduppu : Starting point of a song. This is divided into two categories. One is Samagraham and the other is Vishamagraham. This vishamagraham is divided into Atheetha Graham and Anaaghatha graham.
Samagraham : Both song and thaalam start at the same time.
Atheethagraham : Song starts before the start of the thaalam.
Anaaghathagraham : Song starts after the start of the thaalam.

2) Layam : This determines the speed (or tempo) of the song. There are three types.
a) Vilambitha layam(Chowka kaalam) - slow tempo
b) Madhya layam(Madhyama kaalam) - Medium tempo
c) Dhrutha layam(Dhuritha kaalam) - fast tempo
The medium tempo is double the slow tempo and the fast tempo is four times that of the slow tempo.

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