Swaralahari July 2013


In the main article of July’s newsletter we provide an introduction to “Carnatic Music Tala system”. We thank Ms. Shreeya Raman for contributing to Raga of the Month column.  In our Kids Corner, Alekhya Ankaraju researched and authored an article – Distinguishing Aspects of Composers – Mudras in Carnatic Music. Finally, please review the remainders for upcoming events.

Carnatic Music Tala System

The soundness of a system, primarily mathematical in character, consists of its internal coherency, logical rigidity and numeric accuracy. Carnatic Tala system satisfies all these conditions and is not only perfect but also beautifully elastic. Mainly, it is prevalent in Southern part of India. These are the main elements of Carnatic Tala:


  • It signifies the action of hand to maintain the Tala and to express various Angas and Matras of a Tala. It is mainly two types: Sashabda means with sound and Nishabda means without sound. There are seven types are Kriyas popular in Carnatic Tala System: –
  • Druvakam is a beat by the palm.
  • Visarjitam is raising up the right hand with palm facing downwards,
  • Vikshiptam is counting of fingers starting from the smallest to index finger,
  • Sarpini is moving the hand towards left side for 4 Aksharas,
  • Patitam is lowering the hand for 4 Aksharas.
  • Krishya is moving the hand towards right side for 4 Aksharas,
  • Patakam is raising up the hand for 4 Aksharas,

It signifies various parts that form the basic structure of a Tala. There are six types of Angas mentioned in the ancient text as Shadanga:

  • Anudruta consisting of one Matra is expressed through Druvakam. Its symbol is U. In Sapta Tala, it is used only in Jampa Talam.
  • Druta consisting of two Matras is expressed through Druvakam and Visarjitam. Its symbol is O. In Sapta Tala, it is used in all the Talas except Ekatalam.
  • Laghu is expressed through Druvakam and Vikshiptam for rest of the Matras. Its symbol is I3, I4, I5, I7, I9 (a vertical line with numbers of Matras in subscript). In Sapta Tala, It is used in all the Talas. The Matras of Laghu is variable and depend on its Jaati: 

         (i) Tisra Jaati Laghu has three Matras, i.e. one Druvakam and two Vikshiptam.
         (ii) Chaturasra Jaati Laghu has four Matras, i.e. one Druvakam and three Vikshiptam.
         (iii) Khanda Jaati Laghu has five Matras, i.e. one Druvakam and four Vikshiptam.
         (iv) Misra Jaati Laghu has seven Matras, i.e. one Druvakam and six Vikshiptam.
         (v) Sankeerna Jaati Laghu has nine Matras, i.e. one Druvakam and eight Vikshiptam.

To finger counts for Laghu, one starts with the small finger and ends with thumb. For Misra and Sankeerna Jaati Laghu, one comes back to the little finger after exhausting the fingers while counting up to six.

  • Guru consisting of eight Matras is expressed through Druvakam, Vikshiptam and Patitam. Its symbol is S.
  • Plutam consisting of twelve Matras is expressed through Druvakam, Vikshiptam, Sarpini and Patita. Its symbol is S (a vertical line on Guru).
  • Kakpadam consisting of sixteen Matras is expressed through Sarpini, Krishaya, Patakam and Patitam. Its symbol is +.


It denotes the starting point of a song. It is known as Eduppu in Tamil. There are two types of Graha – Sama and Vishama.

  • Sama, when the music starts with the Tala,
  • Vishama again has two varieties:

(i) Anagata, when the music starts after the Tala.
(ii) Ateeta, when the music starts before the Tala.


It is a very important factor that determines the value of Laghu. There are five types of Jaatis:

  • Tisra consists of three (3) Matras,
  • Chaturasra consists of four (4) Matras,
  • Khanda consists of five (5) Matras,
  • Misra consists of seven (7) Matras,
  • Sankeerna consists of nine (9) Matras.


It refers to a specific but fixed time-interval between any two Matras of a Tala. Whereas Jaati refers to the value of a Laghu, Gati refers to the value of each Matra. Whereas Jaati affects only Laghu, Gati affects each Matra of a Tala. Gati determines the gait of the Tala. It is referred as Nadai in Tamil scriptures. There are five types of Gatis:

  • Tisra consists of three (3) Aksharas,
  • Chaturasra consists of four (4) Aksharas,
  • Khanda consists of five (5) Aksharas,
  • Misra consists of seven (7) Aksharas,
  • Sankeerna consists of nine (9) Aksharas.

The common names for the types of Jaati and Gati only indicates the values of a unit as 4, 3, 7, 5 and 9.


Laya is often confused with Tala. Laya refers to the innate rhythm in anything. Irrespective of whether it is demonstrated or not, it is always present. Laya can be explained as the primeval method of movements. Expression of Laya in a prearranged method through fixed time cycles is known as Tala. Thus, it serves as the structured rhythmic meter to measure musical time-intervals. It can be referred to as the physical pace of any musical movement. The common flawed belief is that rhythm or Laya is confined to percussion instruments and the rhythmic patterns produced therein. But Laya is not limited to just that. It is present not only in melodic compositions, which usually have a rhythmic metre in an obvious manner but also in the creative aspects, sometimes evidently like in Neraval or Kalpanaswara and delicately at others like in Raga Alapana and Tanam. Laya signifies the speed or tempo of the music and dance. It determines the time interval between the two Matras. It denotes the gaits of a Tala and is classified into three categories:

  • Vilambita is slow or basic speed.
  • Madhya is medium speed. It is double of Vilambita Laya.
  • Druta is fast speed. It is double of Madhya Laya.



1. http://www.shadjamadhyam.com/carnatic_taal_system
2. A Study in East Indian Rhythm, Sargeant and Lahiri, Musical Quarterly.1931; XVII: 427-438
3. Ancient Traditions—Future Possibilities: Rhythmic Training Through the Traditions of Africa, Bali and India, Author: Matthew Montfort, Mill Valley: Panoramic Press, 1985
4. Humble, M (2002): The Development of Rhythmic Organization in Indian Classical Music, MA dissertation, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Raga of the month : Simhendramadhyamam

Melakarta Raga 57

ārohaṇa :
S R2 G2 M2 P D1 N3 S

avarohaṇa :
S N3 D1 P M2 G2 R2 S

The swaras used in this raga are – Shadjam, Chathushruthi rishabham, Sadharana gandharam, Prathi madhyamam, Panchamam, Shudha dhaivatham and Kakali Nishadam

Mayamalavagowla has a close resemblence with Simhendramadhyamam, since Simhendramadhyamam is a Graha Bhedham derivative of Mayamalavagowla.

Some of the popular film songs composed in Simhendramadhyamam are “Ellam Inba Mayam” (Tamil) and “Thalattum Poongatru” (Tamil).

Some notable compositions in this raga :

1. Ashaindhadum Mayil Ondru – Oothukaadu Venkata Kavi
2. Rama Rama Guna Seema – Swathi Thirunal
3. Pannagendra Sayana – Sri Thyagaraja
4. Ninne Nammithi nayya – Mysore Vasudevacharya

Kid’s corner: Distinguishing Aspects of Composers – Mudras in Carnatic Music

Music is a melody to our ears, and one always yearns for more. However, what everyone hears is only the tip of the iceberg. Countless thousands of works, pieces, and musical poetry end up being bundled up and grouped under the category- Carnatic Music. It would take a long time (and is still taking a long time) to recover every single piece out there, and unfortunately, many have been lost, misplaced, crushed (yes- crushed, when songs were written on leaves or copper plates), and even incomplete. One of time’s greatest mysteries is finding out which piece belongs to which composer. There are just as many different composers over the ages as works themselves. Therefore, in order to keep everything straight, composers have a very distinct method.

Composers use mudras, a type of personal signature, label, or phrase. Although not every composer uses mudras, those few composers who do use mudras end up being very easy to identify. There are 12 uniquely different types of mudras. Vaageyakara mudra- svanama, itharanama, Raga, Tala, Aacharya, Raja, Prabandha, Naayaka, Sthala or Kshetra, Vamsa, Biruda, Lakshana Grantha, and Ithara mudras.  The main ones to note are the vaageyakara mudras, the raga mudras, the tala mudras, and the raja mudras and Sthala/kshetra mudras.

The vaggeyakara mudra, or the name mudra, is a very straight-forward self-explanatory mudra.  Of the two specific types, the svanama mudra is easier to understand. In the svanama mudra, a composer inserts his own name into the piece. Thyagaraja has put his name in his many famous krithis. In Bantu Reeti Koluvu, the last line of the charanam ends up Raajillu Naiyya Thyagarajanutha. In Purandardasa’s Venkatachala Nilayam, the last line writes, Bhakta Poshaka Shri Purandaravittala. The second type of name mudra- itharanama mudra- is where the composer takes someone else’s name and inserts it into his piece. Muthuswamy Deekshitar uses the phrase guruguha, which is apparent in himadrisute pahimam as well as his other pieces. Personal names have ended up being one of the clearest, most useful types of mudras out there.

The raga mudra is woven into the piece as a part of the meaning. Muthuswamy Dikshitar is the most famous example for incorporating a raga mudra into his pieces. His famous krithi, Maha Ganapathim Manasaa Smaraami, is set to Naata ragam. While the guruguha phrase mentioned above is still present, the second to last line in the anupallavi reads mahaa kaavya naatakaadi priyam. Also, in separate sections of ragamalikas, it is customary to insert the name of the raga as well as the name of the tala. This ends up being very helpful to the listeners in the audience. Although not every ragamalika is structured like this, it brings forth the next point. Tala mudras can also be sewn into the music. Adi Talam and Roopaka Talam are commonly used. TheAshtottara Shata Ragatalamalika- written by Ramaswamy Dikshitar (also nicknamed Ragamalika Chakravarthi or King) – contains a mind-boggling 108 ragas and 108 talas for each line. Each line features the name of the raga as well as the name of the tala.  However, only 61 ragas and talas have been passed down due to the “original text being unavailable”- going back to the whole lost, misplaced, crushed, and incomplete business. Raga mudras and tala mudras have been useful in distinguishing between composers.

Another type of mudra is the raja mudra- or king mudra. In the raja mudra, the composer writes the name of his patron or king, “in whose honor” the krithi came into existence.In the Mathe Malayadhwaja varnam chitta swaram, there is a line praising the king. There is also the sthala or kshetra mudra- a city or town name. A composer might take the name of his hometown (his puri) or some specific place and insert that into his piece. The Thiruvaiyaru Kshetra Krithis by Thyagaraja is a prime example. These krithis mention the Thiruvaiyaru place. Raja mudras and sthala or kshetra mudras are helpful in identification.

Now one might argue that despite these mudras, people can still get mixed up. One might wonder what would happen if two composers used the same phrase for a mudra?  It has actually happened. “Confusion can occur when the same mudra is used by different composers, but then the musicologists will have to figure out the identity of kritis based on the language, structure, style etc used by composers.”  Some CDs have become mixed-up as well, listing incorrect composers. Veena Seshanna and Pallavi Sesha Iyer share the phrase “sesha.”  Even Thyagaraja’s name has been used interestingly. Some composers have ended their krithis using the Thyagaraja mudra. Despite all, these “cases of mistaken identities” help train the eyes to look for the miniscule details. Although identities have been mistaken, they only serve to prove the point that mudras do indeed help by narrowing the search down and matching up each krithi with its composer.

Mudras are a more than a hint to distinguishing one composer’s krithi from the next. They are a hard-earned lesson preaching that one must look beneath the surface for the individuality of each composer. These mudras teach everyone to look for the beauty and unique style in krithis and to recognize them as a composer’s beauty and unique style. So despite there being much cause for confusion in mudras, they do indeed radiate a greater message. Even though the 12 different types of mudras don’t directly tell each person who wrote what, they leave a clue- a footprint of sorts- for everyone to follow. Perhaps music lovers everywhere should take up the challenge of identifying krithis and composers- a glimpse of musicology- and avail the small head start by starting with mudras.

Alekhya Ankaraju , 2013 CMAI Youth Committee member

2. Madhav, Ashok. “Mistaken Identity of Carnatic Music Compositions” .
3. Origin of Carnatic Music and the Great Composers-Thyagaraja, Purandaradasa, Swati Thirunal. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2013.
4. “Ragamalika Compositions in Carnatic Music
5. “The Hindu: Entertainment Chennai/Music: Distinguishing Aspects of Allied Ragas Discussed.”
6. Indian Heritage – December Madras (Chennai) Music Season – Answer to Quizzie 3


Upcoming Events

  • Aug 9th 2013 – Concert by Sri Sankaran Namboothiri, Sycamore School, 1750 West 64th Street, Indianapolis, IN 46260
  • August 31st 2013 – Tyagaraja Aradhana, Hindu Temple of Central Indiana, 3350 N. German Church Road, Indianapolis, IN 46235
  • Upcoming fall events (concert and Navrathri day)


To contribute to Newsletter and provide feedback please email us at cmai.indy(at)gmail(dot)com

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* The main article in this newsletter is authored by Executive committee members of CMAI ; kid’s corner article by Alekhya Ankaraju; Song demonstration by Ms. Shreeya Raman. Executive members of CMAI authored all other content (Soma Dhavala, Sarada Kocherlakota, Sarves Peri, Goutham Sacheendran and Balaji Veeramani).

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