While discussing the nuances in music, our conversation often centres around diction, enunciation, bhava (emotive expression), voice culture, the choice of compositions etc. that predominantly deal with the melody aspect of music, be it vocal or instrumental. But the majority of connoisseurs miss out on appreciating the Laya part, the rhythmic side of it, which equally holds great significance in the overall scheme of things and without which the melody by itself cannot hold water for a long time. Not sure whence this bias or ignorance towards Laya emanated from, as one could only probe up to a certain point beyond which it is anybody’s guess.
This concern is more pressing in the Carnatic milieu as compared to its Hindustani counterpart where well-meaning initiatives are being taken to organise standalone tabla and pakhawaj recitals or concerts hailing from various gharanas to bring about a general awareness about the importance of laya among connoisseurs. However, the reality is farther from the truth as the ‘laya quotient’ is found to be deficient across the board regardless of the domicile of the rasika (connoisseur). Even though most connoisseurs would not shy away from acknowledging this fact, yet the inquisitiveness to develop a deeper understanding of laya is generally absent. Quite intriguing, this observation is consistent even with people having decades of listening experience of Indian classical music.
Does the ignorance stem from a notion that percussionists are generally considered to be playing just a supporting role and are not the primary anchors who drive the concert? Or is it because a lot of math and calculation is involved? But, aren’t Indians generally good at Math? Or is that too a blanket generalisation?
In MADHURADHWANI-TalaSandhya — Concept by V Suresh an extraordinary “Tala Sandhya” is presented by V Suresh, a renowned Ghatom exponent and his Team “to celebrate a few talas of the countless ones that are grouped and enlisted in the South Indian Carnatic Music system” showcasing 5 different Thalas, its beauty, its intricacies and also shedding light as to how one could develop a curiosity and make a sincere attempt towards understanding various rhythmic patterns and its appreciation thereof.
For the uninitiated, tala is the number of beats in a cycle. For example, Chatushra Jati Triputa Thalam commonly known as Adi Thalam in Carnatic music in which probably the maximum number of compositions can be cited. Triputa Tala has eight beats per cycle, and within that, the measurement or the distance between each beat count is called jati which is four (chatushra jati) in this case. Jati could be a subset of the main prevailing Thala. Whereas laya is the speed or tempo in which a particular Thala is presented. The tempo could be chowka (extremely slow), vilamba, madhyama (medium speed), druta and ati-druta (Fast).
To simplify, a time calculator could be taken into perspective, where the total number of hours could be equated with tala, and the number of Minutes could be equated with jati and the speed at which the second hand rotates to complete a cycle could be equated with laya. Albeit, the comparison can’t be made literally because in music there are many rhythmic possibilities that can be played around with.
The presentation starts with a Sama Thalam technically called Chatushra Jati Eka Thalam which has four aksharas/beats per cycle by Suresh’s own unique brilliant composition which is set to five different gatis.
The second piece is a Mallari in Raga Gambheera Nattai presented by H Vishwas on Mandolin which is set to Pathi Tala, technically called Chatusra Jati Rupaka Thalam. Mallari is generally presented in temple functions by the Nadaswara vidwans as an invocation to the lord before the deity is taken out for the oorvala/procession. Rupaka Tala essentially has 6 beats per cycle and again the length/jati is chatushra jati. This is followed by an excellent tani-avartana (a standalone presentation of the percussion instruments elaborating on the tala and laya pattern) by Shekar on Thavil and Sunil Kumar on Khanjira
The third piece they choose to present is Thirupugazh, a 15th-century anthology of Tamizh religious songs dedicated to Lord Murugan, the son of Lord Shiva, written by the poet-saint Arunagirinaadhar. Quite commonly, they call it Thirupugazh Tala because of the uniqueness of the pattern which can not be cited in normal compositions that we listen to in Carnatic music. The technical name is Chhanda Tala which has 21 aksharas (two tisra chapu + one khanda chapu + one khanda ekam) per cycle. This is again followed by a Thani Avarthanam by Sivakumar on mridanga and Prasanna Hariharan on ghata.
The fourth piece is a standalone presentation by Suresh’s playing a Thani-Avarthanam in one of its kind Rudra Chapu Thalam that is 11 aksharas per cycle which gradually transitions to Adi Thalam in Rudra Gati. As clarified above, Adi Thalam is 8 counts per cycle and the Rudra Gati will be 11 beats per count.
Eventually, the ensemble concludes the concert with a Simhanandana Thalam that has an unbelievable 128 aksharas per cycle where a Ragam Tanam Pallavi (RTP) is rendered in three ragas Pantuvarali, Mohanam, & Hindolam. This is probably the toughest of all the Thalas to execute because of the sheer length of the Thala and the intricacies within the tala which cover the major five angas of a tala — druta, laghu, guru, pluta and kakapaada.
The Simhanandana Thala pattern is
8+8+4+12+4+8+2+2+8+8+4+12+4+12+8+4+4+16 = 128 countsK for kakapaada, P for pluta, G for guru, L for laghu, D for druta
To even put one cycle of the Simhanandana Thalam is an uphill task, but the team executes the entire RTP with absolute perfection stretching all reasonable limits of textbook conventions that any sincere rasika listening to this concert will be left in wonderment ruminating over the magic that just transpired. Akshay Padmanabhan on vocals has done a tremendous job by pulling off such a magnificent feat of presenting such complex RTP! This Thala Sandhya easily goes down as the best Laya based Carnatic concert of all time. A lot of credits must go to Madhuradhwani and Arkay Ramakrishnan for encouraging such novel concepts and budding talents.