Archive for December, 2014

Talas (or Rhythmic Cycles) in Carnatic Music -3

December 6, 2014

Chapu Tala

L V Nagarajan

Many of my readers may have gone through my earlier posts on this topic. I would request the new readers of this post to go through my earlier posts before starting on this. In the earlier two posts, I dealt with the more popular Talas, namely, Adi Tala (Chatusra Nadai) and the Rupaka Tala. Next most common Tala employed in Carnatic music is the Chapu Tala. This Tala has evolved from South Indian folk music and even the name has Tamil roots from the word Chaippu, meaning slanting or sloping. The two parts (angas) has increasing counts such 2+3, 3+4 or 4+5. Please refer the table below:

 Chapu Tala’s Poorvanga Uttaranga
Kanta Chapu 2 (Tha Ka) 3 (Tha Ki Ta)
Misra Chapu 3 (Tha Ki Ta) 4 (Tha Ka Di Mi)
Sangeerna Chapu 4 (Tha Ka Di Mi) 5 (Tha Ka Tha Ki Ta)

By default, Chapu Tala refers to Misra Chapu and its beats are kept as below:

Misra Chapu – Clap, 2, 3; Clap, 2,  3, 4 – Hence 7 Beats = 7 x 1. We may consider this as a Tisra Laghu + a chatusra Laghu  (i.e.) |3 + |4

Mostly, in practice, for ease of discrimination,

  • The Tha-Ki-Ta of Chapu Talas is counted as a Tisra- Veechu (up-turned palm).
  • And Tha-Ka-Di-Mi is counted as two claps.
  • Thus Misra Chapu is usually kept on the hands as below (T for Turn and C for Clap)
1 2 3 1 2 3 4
Tha Ki Ta Tha Ka Di Mi

Now in the second speed the rhythm will be:

1 2 3 1 2 3 4
ThaKa TaRi KiTa ThaKa DiMi Thaka DiMi

We can mix and match both the speeds in several cycles of this Tala to get a good feel of the rhythm, as below:

1 2 3 1 2 3 4
Tha Ki Ta ThaKa DiMi Thaka DiMi
ThaKa TaRi KiTa Tha Ka Di Mi

Misra Chapu – 2 cycles synchs well with Tisra Triputa – |3 , o, o ; = 7 x 2. You may try two cycles of Chapu Tala as below . Continue the same sollus with beats changed to Tisra Triputa as shown.

T T C C   T T C C
1 2 3 1 2 3 4   1 2 3 1 2 3 4
Tha Ki Ta Tha Ka Di Mi   Tha Ki Ta Tha Ka Di Mi
1   2   3   1     2   3   4  
C   2   3   C     T   C   T  

Because of the unsymmetrical nature of this tala, cross rhythms are somewhat difficult and neither do they sound well. Musicians do involve in cross rhythms in Chapu also, showing their command on the Tala. We may however try Tisra nadai in this Tala. To make it easier to comprehend let us first try tisra nadai in tisra-triputa. Start in slow speed and increase the speed of the Tala to double. Once you get used to the rhythm, you can shift the Tala to Chapu as shown below:

1 2 3 1 2 1 2
C 2 3 C T C T
ThaKiTa ThaKiTa ThaKiTa ThaKiTa ThaKiTa ThaKiTa ThaKiTa
1 2 3 1 2 3 4
T T –            C C

Tala vadya vidwans do involve in these kinds of rhythms very often and it is really a treat to hear them shift rhythm patterns among various nadais such as Tisra, Chatusra, Kanda etc

Misra Chapu – 4 cycles synchs well with Ata Tala  – |5 , |5, o, o ;  = 14 x 2 = 7 x 4

We can try a cross rhythm in Chapu Tala by doing a shift from Ata Tala as below:

C 2 3 4 5
ThaKa DiMi ThaKa ThaRi KiTa
C 2 3 4 5 C T C T
ThaKa DiMi ThaKa ThaRi KiTa ThaKa DiMi ThaRi KiTa


T    T –   C –     C –    T T  –
ThaKa DiMi ThaKa ThaRi KiTa
C     –  C  – T   T –    C –   C –   T T   – C    – C  –
ThaKa DiMi ThaKa ThaRi KiTa ThaKa DiMi ThaRi KiTa


ThaKa DiMi ThaKa ThaRi KiTa
ThaKa DiMi ThaKa ThaRi KiTa ThaKa DiMi ThaRi KiTa


The first group above gives the counts for Ata Tala (C – Clap, T – Turn) and the solkattu matching the ata tala. 2nd group gives 4 rounds of Chapu Tala to synch with the same solkattu. The solkattu can also be recited in second kalam (higher speed), to match just 2 rounds of Chapu talam as shown in the 3rd group above. You may try practicing these patterns to get a good command of chapu talam.

Now let us take up a solkattu along with matching swaras, say in raga Bhairavi, set to 8 cycles of Chapu tala, as blow:

T T –            C C T T C C
1 2 3 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 1 2 3 4
Tha Ka Di Mi Tha Ka Tha Ka Di Mi Tha Ka Tha Ki
n p d n m p – d n s r n d – m g
Ta Tha Ka Tha Ki Ta Tha Ja m Tha Ki Ta Tha Ja
r s r – n s r  – r G  ~ m p d – m P
m Tha Ki Ta Tha Ja m Tha Ki Ta Tha aa m Tha
~ d n s – n R ~ s n d – S ~ ~ n
Ki Ta Tha aa m Tha Ki Ta Tha aa m Tha Ki Ta
d p – P ~ ~ m g r – S ~ ~ r n d

Yes, it is the chitta swara of the famous Viriboni varnam set to Ata Tala, but modified here, set to samam and synching it with Misra Chapu Talam. I tried singing this and found the same very enjoyable. In one of the Carnatic Music Idol competition (2010), judges asked the competitors to sing the whole Bhiravi Ata Tala varnam in Misra Chapu. Many competitors were found equal to the challenge.

We may even sing the above solkattu in Bhairavi raga like jathis. I have heard mridangam tutors sing Vatapi (hamsadwani) as

“Thaam – ThaKiTaThaKa – ThaJam – ThaJam – ThaKaDiMi’

I will end this write-up with my usual submission that I am neither a musician nor a musicologist. I am writing this purely as a good listener of Carnatic Music. I hope to end this series of blogs on Talas in Carnatic music with my next blog on Thani Avarthanam, again only from the listener’s point of view. Hope my readers find these blogs useful.