Tala & Dance: Jaathis, Gathis, and Cross Rhythms
I’m back after a brief hiatus… the last few weeks have been very fulfilling (i.e., super busy) but I miss writing for not-workorschool, so here we go.
If you haven’t already read it, go check out the introduction to tala. It provides, well, an introduction to the topic, because we’ll pick up from that point.
In the context of tala, we usually come across four types: trisra, chatursra, khanda, misra, and sankeerna. I’ve seen some variation of the following list in various guides:
Thrisra — Beat of 3 — Thakita
Chaturasra — Beat of 4 — Thakadhimi
Khanda — Beat of 5 — Thaka Thakita
Misra — Beat of 7 — Thakadhimi Thakita
Sankeerna — Beat of 9 — Thakadhimi Thakathakita
What I want to provide here is the different contexts in which these four types can be seen, and how to differentiate between them.
But first, a brief overview of the Sapta Tala System. There are seven tala templates, based on the pattern and order of tala angas (limbs). The angas in use are laghuvu (I), dhrutham (O), and anudhrutham (U).
Dhruva - IOII
Mathya - IOI
Rupaka* - OI
Jhumpa - IUO
Triputa - IOO
Ata - IIOO
Eka - I
*Rupaka talam in common usage is applied slightly differently. We won’t go into that here.
The number of beats is fixed for the dritham (2 beats), and anudritham (1 beat), but it is variable for the laghuvu. And this is where we get…
The Jaathi for a talam is the length of the laghuvu within that talam. Let’s take Eka talam as an example, since it’s the easiest. It consists only of a laghuvu. So, if we want to determine the number of beats,
Trisra jaathi eka talam has three beats.
Chatursra jaathi eka talam has four beats.
Khanda jaathi eka talam has five beats.
Misra jaathi eka talam has seven beats AND (you guessed it!)
Sankeerna jaathi eka talam has nine beats.
Let’s pick another one - Rupaka. It begins with a dritham (2 beats), followed by laghuvu. So the total number of beats is 2+jaathi length. Consequently,
Trisra jaathi rupaka talam has five beats.
chatursra jaathi rupaka talam has six beats.
Khanda jaathi rupaka talam has seven beats.
Misra jaathi rupaka talam has nine beats
Sankeerna jaathi rupaka talam has eleven beats.
Last example - one where there are multiple laghuvus. Let’s go with ata. It has two laghuvus and two drithams (2+2 = 4 beats). That means
Trisra jaathi ata talam has ten beats.
chatursra jaathi ata talam has twelve beats.
Khanda jaathi ata talam has fourteen beats.
Misra jaathi ata talam has eighteen beats
Sankeerna jaathi ata talam has twenty-two beats.
An important observation - the length of the tala is not necessarily divisible into the jaathi number. For instance, sankeerna jaathi ata talam has 22 beats, which definitely does not divided into 9. It has twenty-two beats because the length of IIOO = 9+9+2+2 = 18+4 = 22.
Since there are 7 tala templates, and 5 jaathis for each template, we arrive upon 35 talas. However, for each tala, template, there is a “typical” or “default” jaathi.
Dhruva - IOII - Chaturasra jaathi, for a total of 4+2+4+4= 14 beats
Mathya - IOI - Chaturasra jaathi, for a total of 4+2+4 = 10 beats
Rupaka* - OI - Chaturasra jaathi, for a total of 2+4 = 6 beats
Jhumpa - IUO - Misra jaathi, for a total of 7+1+2 = 10 beats
Triputa - IOO - Thrisra jaathi, for a total of 3+2+2= 7 beats
Ata - IIOO - Khanda jaathi, for a total of 5+5+2+2 = 14 beats
Eka - I - Chaturasra jaathi, for a total of 4 beats
Still with me? Okay good, off to…
When I was part of the Richmond Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Camerata Strings group (once upon a time, many moons ago), our conductor would have us sit, holding our instruments and bows, and count with him. He would be conducting the 4/4 beat (translation: beat of 4, like Eka talam). He would yell WHOLE NOTES, and we would count, in unison, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4. Then he would yell HALF NOTES, and we would count 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 &… until he would yell QUARTER NOTES, to which we would count 1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a 1 e & a 2 e & a…. Somewhere in there, he would yell TRIPLETS! So… 1 trip let 2 trip let 3 trip let …
You get the idea.
No matter how we were breaking up the beat into smaller beat, the 1, 2, 3, 4 count had to exactly match his hand movements. In our language, the count matched the kriya. The other pneumonics between the count were for the aksharalu.
The number of sections the main beat is divided into is the gathi. I covered this in my original piece, but let me cover it again.
The jaathi of the tala determines the total number of beats in the tala. So, if the tala is Adi, then the total number of beats is 8, because Adi tala is chatursra jaathi triputa tala (IOO = 4+2+2 = 8).
The gathi is how many sections we divide each of the eight beats. Here, too, we use the same five varieties:
Thrisra — 3 sub beats — Thakita
Chaturasra — 4 sub beats — Thakadhimi
Khanda — 5 sub beats — Thaka Thakita
Misra — 7 sub beats — Thakadhimi Thakita
Sankeerna — 9 sub beats — Thakadhimi Thakathakita
So, if the gathi is chaturasra gathi (which is often the default), each of the 8 beats is divided into 4 aksharaalu. 8 x 4 = 32, so one whole cycle has 32 akshaaralu because it is in chaturasra gathi.
We commonly see chaturasra gathi and trisra gathi in usage. I can think of one example of a dance jathi that incorporated khanda gathi (Do you know which one? Let me know!). Some jathis and songs maintain the same gathi for their entire duration. Others switch gathis for sections, adding some pizzazz. Whether the gathi stays the same or changes, the overall talam must maintain its tempo, its steady heartbeat. The gathi does not speed up or slow down how the talam is executed.
So, lets say you have your taalam picked, based on your preferred jaathi, and you have opted to maintain the same gathi. Then, we can explore
I actually did not know how to label this particular phenomenon for the longest time. My go-to was syncopation, which does encompass it, but is not precise enough. So, my gratitude to Dr. Anupama Kylash for giving me (and everyone else in her fabulous course on Tala) the perfect term.
Those of you familiar with Mastergaru’s repertoire must be know his Hindolam Thillana. If you’re not, here it is.
In the anupallavi, each of the 5 varieties are shown. (In common parlance, we say jaathulu, but I don’t want to muddy the waters, since these are not the jaathis discussed earlier.)
The composition is in Adi talam (chaturasra jaathi triputa). The default gathi for the song is chaturasram (each beat is divided into four). In the choreography, we have sequences where each of the types are featured (thrisram, misram, khandam, and sankeernam). The dancer performs each of those slow and fast, followed by a theermanam.
I know I memorized the count for each (anyone else go 5-8, 4-7, 4-7, 3-5 in their head?). What is happening from a tala perspective is, the song is in chaturasra gathi adi talam. The trisram, khandam, misram, and sankeernam variations are also in chaturasra gathi adi talam. However, since they do not evenly divide into four, the emphasized beats for each of these is syncopated against the standard chaturasra gathi. I’ll notate each of these so you can see why these are cross-rhythms.
First, thrisram (beat of three / thakita)
tha , ki , / ta , dhi, / ki , ta , / thom , ki , |
ta , nam , / ki , ta , | tha , ki , / ta , tha ki ||
ta dhi ki ta / thom ki ta nam / ki ta tha ki / ta dhi ki ta |
thom ki ta nam / ki ta , that | tharikita thom that tharikita / thom that tharikita thom ||
Second - misram (beat of seven / thakita thakadhimi)
tha , ki , / ta , tha , / ka , dhi , / mi , tha , |
ki , ta , / tha , ka , | jhe , nu , / tha , ki , ||
ta , tha , / ka , dhi , / mi , tha , / ki , ta , |
tha , ka , / jhe , nu , | tha ki ta tha / ka dhimi tha ||
kita thaka / jhenu tha ki / ta thaka dhi / mi tha kita |
thaka jhenu / thakita tha | ka dhimi tha / kita thaka ||
jhenu tha ki / ta thaka dhi / mi ; tha / , di , gi |
na tha tha , / dhi , gi na | tha tha , di / , gi na tha ||
Third, Khandam (Beat of five, thaka thakita)
tha , ka , / tha , ki , / ta , dhi , / mi , tha , |
ki , ta , / jhe , nu , | tha , ki , / ta , kita ||
thaka thari / kita thom , / thaka thaki / ta dhimi tha |
ki ta jhe nu /tha ki ta kita | thaka thari kita thom ||
thaka thaki / ta dhimi tha / ki ta jhe nu / tha ki ta that |
tha tha tharikita thom / tha ; , | tha tha tharikita thom / tha ; , / tha tha tharikita thom ||
Lastly, sankeernam (beat of nine, thakadhimi thaka thakita)
tha , ka , / dhi , mi , / tha , ka , / tha , ki , |
ta, tha , / ka , jhe , | nu , tha , / ka , tha , ||
ki , ta, / tha , ka , / dhi , mi , / tha , ka , |
tha , ki , / ta, tha ka | dhi mi tha ka / tha ki ta tha ||
ka jhe nu tha / ka tha ki ta / tha ka dhi mi / tha ka tha ki |
ta tha ka jhe / nu tha ka tha | ki ta tha ka / dhi mi tha ka ||
tha ki ta , / tha , dhi , / gi , na , / thom tha , |
dhi , gi , / na , thom tha / , dhi , gi / , na , thom ||
In all these cases, the sequence is at odds with rhythm (that was a pun) up until the end of the theermanam, when it realigns with chaturasra gathi. These are all examples of cross rhythms.
I hope that serves as a helpful study of jaathis, gathis, and cross rhythms.
PC: Bertel King. That was captured in the middle of me dancing for a (different) thillana during the Sri Sai Dance Academy 2015 summer camp!