Theory

The Thala system of Carnatic Music

The rhythmic aspect of Carnatic music is undoubtedly the most developed and sophisticated rhythmic system in the world. The study of rhythmic intricacies requires a thorough understanding of Thala scheme.

Classification of Thala

In the earlier period, Thalas were classified as Marga and Desi. Old music texts mention systems like the  Marga and 120 Desi thalas and 108 Thalas, and Navasandhi (Nine) Thalas. These systems are however out of use and are known by some in theory and very few ever practice them

The Suladi Sapta thala scheme is the system practiced today. It is a logical and practical system of thala much less complex than the above systems

Understanding the Terminology

  1. Avarthanam = cycle
  2. Aksharam = count
  3. Matras = counts within a aksharam

The Sapta Thala Scheme

1. Dhruva thala: Comprises a laghu, a drutam and two more laghus. It is represented by the symbol (Angas) – l O l l
2. Mathya thala: Consists of a laghu, a drutam and another laghu. Symbol (Angas) – l O l
3. Roopaka thala: Consists of a drutam by a laghu. Symbol (Angas) – O l
4. Jhampa thala: Comprises a laghu and an anu drutam and a drutam. Symbol (Angas) – l U O
5. Triputa thala: Consists of a laghu and two drutams – Symbol (Angas) l O O
6. Ata thala: Consists of two laghus and two drutams – Symbol (Angas) l l O O
7. Eka thala: Consists of just a laghu. Symbol (Angas) – l

The 35 Thalas Explained

The 35 thalas are brought about by using the 7 principal thalas multiplied by the 5 jathis The only angas ( part )  that changes in the  principal  thala is the Laghu angas while the anu drutam and drutam has fixed counts  . The laghu has five Jatis (Chaturasra, Tisra, Misra, Kandam and Sankeerna). By applying the 5 jathis to the 7 thalas, we get a total of 35 varieties when a thala is mentioned, the jathi must be advised in order to know the correct number of aksharams the thala will have.
The Jathi refers to number of aksharams (counts) in the laghu aspect of the thala there are five types: Chaturasra, Tisra, Misra, Khanda and Sankeerna.
The important thing to remember here is that the common names for the types of Jati and Gati are only indicators of the values 4, 3, 7, 5 and 9. Whereas Jati refers to the external finger-counting, Gati or nadai refers to the number of counts within an aksharam in the thala-cycle. Jati gives a structure to the thala and Gati or nadai determines the sub counts within a count of the thala.

It should be remembered that the five angas: Anu drutam, Drutam: Guru, Plutam and Kakapadam do not use of jathi bedhas and hence their values remain constant throughout.

The table of the thirty-five thalas

This arrangement is followed in the Thala sculpture relating to 35 thalas in the Meenakshi Amman temple Madurai.

The Sapta Thalas No. Their variation and technical names Signature Total aksharam kala for an Avarthanam
1.Dhruva 1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

Tisra-  Mani

Chaturasra- Srikara

Kanda- Pramana

Misra- Purna

Sankeerna -Bhuvana

|³  0  |³    |³

|⁴    0   |⁴     |⁴

|⁵    0   |⁵     |⁵

|⁷    0   |⁷     |⁷

|⁹    0   |⁹     |⁹

3+2+3+3=11

4+2+4+4=14

5+2+5+5=17

7+2+7+7=23

9+2+9+9=29

2.Matya 6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

Tisra-  Sara

Chaturasra- Sama

Kanda- Udaya

Misra-  Udirna

Sankeerna – Rava

|³  0  |³

|⁴  0  |⁴

|⁵   0  |⁵

| ⁷ 0  |⁷

| ⁹  0  | ⁹

3+2+3=8

4+2+4=10

5+2+5=12

7+2+7=16

9+2+9=20

3. Rupaka 11.

12.

13.

14.

15.

Tisra-     Chakra

Chaturasra-    Patti

Kanda- Raja

Misra-  Kula

Sankeerna – Bindu

0          |³

0          |⁴

0     |⁵

0          |⁷

0    |⁹

2+3=5

2+4=6

2+5=7

2+7=9

2+9=11

4. Jhampa 16.

17.

18.

19.

20.

Tisra-      Kadamba

Chaturasra-    Madhura

Kanda-  Chana

Misra-  Sura

Sankeerna – Kara

|3    U  

0|4    U   0

|5    U   0

|7    U   0

|9    U   0

3+1+2=6

4+1+2=7

5+1+2=8

7+1+2=10

9+1+2=12

5. Tiruputa 21.

22.

23.

24.

25.

Tisra-     Sankha

Chaturasra-    Adi

Kanda- Dushkara

Misra-  Lila

Sankeerna – Bhoga

|3    0  

0|4    0   0

|5    0   0

|7    0   0

|9    0   0

3+2+2=7

4+2+2=8

5+2+2=9

7+2+2=11

9+2+2=13

6. Ata 26.

27.

28.

29.

30.

Tisra-   Gupta

Chaturasra- Lekha

Kanda- Vidala

Misra- Loya

Sankeerna- Dhira

|3      |3   0  

0|4      |4   0   0

|5      |5   0   0

|7      |7   0   0

|9    |9   0     0

3+3+2+2=10

4+4+2+2=12

5+5+2+2=14

7+7+2+2=18

9+9+2+2=22

7. Eka 31.

32.

33.

34.

35.

Tisra-   Sudha

Chaturasra- Mana

Kanda- Rata

Misra-  Raga

Sankeerna- Vasu

|3

|4

|5

|7

|9

3

4

5

7

9

The 35 Thalas Analysed

Total aksharam la for an avarthanam Thala Its jathi Signature
29 Dhruva Sankeerna |9 0 |9   |9
23 Dhruva Misra |7 0 |7  |7
22 Ata Sankeerna |9 |9  0  0
20 Matya Sankeerna |9  0  |9
18 Ata Misra |7  |7  0  0
17 Dhruva Kanda |5  0  |5    |5
16 Matya Misra |7  0  |7
14 DhruvaAta ChaturasraKanda |4  0  |4  |4|5  |5  0  0
13 Triputa Sankeerna |9 0  0
12 MatyaJhampa

Ata

KandaSankeerna

Chaturasra

|5  0  |5|9  U  0

|4 |4 0 0

11 DhruvaRupaka

Triputa

TisraSankeerna

Misra

|3 0 |3 |30 |9

|7 0 0

10 MatyaJhampa

Ata

ChaturasraMisra

Tisra

|4 0 |4|7  U  0

|3 |3 0 0

9 RupakaTriputa

Eka

MisraKanda

Sankeerna

0 |7|5  0  0

|9

8 MatyaJhampa

Triputa

TisraKanda

Chaturasra

|3  0  |3|5  U  0

|4  0  0

7 RupakaJhampa

Triputa

Eka

KandaChaturasra

Tisra

Misra

0 |5|4  U 0

|5  0  0

|7

6 RupakaJhampa ChaturasraTisra 0 |4|3  U  0
5 RupakaEka TisraKanda 0     |3|5
Eka Chaturasra |4
3 Eka Tisra |3

Analysis of the 35 thalas

The 35 thalas are analysed and presented according to the magnitude of their avarthanam in table VI. It will be seen from this table that the thala with the maximum number of aksharam kalas (29) for an avarthanam, in the Sankeerna jathi dhruva thala and the thala with the maximum number of aksharam kalas (29) for an avarthanam   , is the Sankeerna jathi Dhruva thala and the thala with the maximum number of aksharam kalas (3) for an avarthanam, is the Tisra jathi Eka thala. It will be seen that there are a few thalas whose avarthanam consist of the same number of akshara kalas. These thalas however differ from one other on account of their varying constituent angas resulting in different modes of counting and the stresses falling at different places in the avarthanam. For example the Chaturasra jathi Matya thala, Misra jathi Jhampa thala and Tisra jathi Ata thala all consist of 10 akshara kalas each for an avarthanam ; yet they differ from each other on account of their modes of reckoning and the beats falling on different points of the avarthanam.

Chanda Thala

This is a special scheme of thalas used in a special variety of compositions called Thirupugazh. The uniqueness of this thala lies in the fact that it varies according to the stress and rhyme-patterns (called Chanda), these highly complex rhythmic compositions were Composed by a great sage named, Arunagirinathar.

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