Sapta Tala : A unique rhythmic cycle in Carnatic Music

    Sapta Tala 

    Tala means cyclic rhythms of beats basically use in measuring the song or the 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 Swaras, the fundamental unit of time. The Tala is defined by the number and arrangement of Aksharams inside an Avartanam. According to some authors, it is derived from ‘ta’ (referring to Shiva’s Tandava aspect) and ‘la’ (referring to Parvati’s Lasya). The union of these two produces the Tala. Simply it can be define as the cycle of rhythmic meter having particular Matras to regularize the rotation of the song or dance in equal interval of time period. Tala is the Frame or the canvas having pre-defined Matras to synchronize musical tunes in perfect rhythm. Tala is simply the rotation of time in equal interval. Like a minute having 60 seconds beat repeated in each rotation, an hour of 60 minutes or day of 24 hours. These all refers the perfect measurement of time with equal intervals of certain beats or counts to make life easier. In music, Tala is essential part to make the shape of the song or dance or any other piece of musical work.  Tala is like the container where musical compositions are kept according to its size and length.

    According to this South Indian Tala system, there are seven families of Talas in South Indian Music, each of which has five members referring to the Jaati Bheda , 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 Talas depending on their Jaatis. Jaatis meaning variety in which the Laghu counts can vary from being 3-4-5-7-or 9 Matrass (beats) and are of the following types:

1. Thisra Jaathi which has 3 beats -                           Ta Ki Ta

2. Chathurushra Jaati which has 4 beats -                 Ta Ka Dhi Mi

3. Khanda Jaathi which has 5 beats -                         Ta Ka Ta Ki Ta

4. Mishra Jaathi which has 7 beats-                           Ta Ki Ta Ta Ka Dhi Mi

5. Sankeerna Jaathi 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, Drutam and Anudrutam.

In other words the structure of every Talam will be a combination of Laghu, Drutham and or Anudrutham. 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 Drutham the beat of Anudrutham as well.


A Drutam is a pattern of 2 beats. This is notated ‘O’.

An Anudrutam 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 ‘ǀ’


In Indian Classical Music, Laya is used in 2 different but related senses Rhythm and Tempo. Laya is the Indian origin word originally used in Sanskrit literature to rendering the verse of Samveda or Upanishada. Western terminology use on behalf of Laya is somehow related to similar to the Indian definition but sometimes it create confusion with those terms of rhythm or tempo. Actually the western name of Laya should be only Tempo. The musical use of Tempo is closely related to the Indian Laya. Laya in Indian music means the systematic interval of time per beat. It can be define as the movement of beat per second.  Indian music is composed and performed in a metrical framework, a structure of beats that is a Tala. The Tala forms the metrical structure that repeats, in a cyclical harmony, from the start to end of any particular song or dance segment, making it conceptually analogous to meters in Western music. Here Laya, or the Tempo is counted as the speed of the beats or the distance of two beats counted in per second meter frame. The interval of time is equal in all beat or there might be the systematic time format to structure a rhythmic cycle called Tala. Systematic variation in Laya is called Layakari like Thaa(uniform timing or 1=1 one count per beat, first speed in South Music ), Dugun(Double timing, 1=2, two counts per beat, second Speed in Carnatic Muisc ), Teegun( Tripal 1=3, three counts per beat), Chougun( Fourth or 1=4, four counts per beat, Third speed in Carnatric Muisc), Aad (One and a half per beat 1=3/2). These Layakari are only possible with uniform timing without any changes in basic tempo meter.

Tala is a rhythmic cycle. To simplify things, first understand these terms in a non-musical setting.


Listen to the footsteps of a person running, or the dripping sound of a leaking tap, or the ticking of a clock. You will realize that there is a strong sense of regular repeated pattern. This is rhythm. The key factors are regular and repeated. If there is no regularity, or if the sounds are not repeated, you will not get a sense of rhythm. Thus, rhythm is either present or absent.


In the above examples, each footsteps or drip sound or tick is a beat of the rhythm. If the beat is regular and evenly paced, you will get sense of rhythm.


Now focus on the time gap between two consecutive beats. If the gap is smaller, the beats will be closer to each other. They will sound faster, and you get a sense of greater speed just from the sound. This is the tempo. The key factor is the time gap between consecutive beats of a rhythm.

If you decrease the time gap, you increase the tempo, and if you increase the time gap, you decrease the tempo.

Rhythmic Cycle

If all beats of a rhythm sound the same, there is no ‘cyclic’ effect. However, if there is a different sound or pattern that repeats after a fixed number of beats, you will be able to feel a cyclic effect. This is the rhythmic cycle.


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