The tala system is perhaps the most difficult and complicated branch of South Indian music. There is not comparison to it in the other musical systems of the world. The measures used by all the nations put together will form but a small fraction of the innumerable varieties of rhythm used in South Indian music. A Tamil writer Tunga munivar emphasizes the intricate nature of the tala system as If one can see the form of the southern breeze, the form of Siva, the form of scent, the form of Manmatha (Cupid), the form of the flute tone and the form of the Vedas, one can see the subtlety of the tala.
The development of tala mnemonics and the art of drumming have contributed to the high development of the tala system. It should be remembered, that when a mridangam player accompanies a musician (vocalist or instrumentalist) in India, he does not merely beat the sarva laghu, but provides a cross-rhythmical accompaniment based on the style, movement and rhythmical construction of the pieces rendered. This rhythmical harmony provided by the mridangam player contributes to the excellence of a concert of Indian music.
The ancient books on music refer to the classification of talas into margi and desi and enumerate the classical 108 talas. Latterly a system of 35 talas developed and PurandaraDasa gave orinubebce ti tgus sunoker system by composing alankaras, gitas and suladis in them. While the 108 talas make use of all the shadangas, the 35 talas use only the langhy, drutam and anudrutam. In addition to these, a system of talas known as the Nava sandhi talas has been in use in temple rituals from ancient times. There is also the Chapu tala with its varieties and the Desadi and Madhyadi talas.
Law of Homogeneity
Of the sapta talas, the Dhruva, Matya and Ata alone admit of a plurality of laghus. And within each one of the varieties of these talas, the laghy retains its homogeneous character. that is, if we take the Tisra jati Dhruva rala, all the three laghus figuring in the tala or of the tisra type, - not that one can be chaturasra and the other khanda and so on. In the same manner, Khanda jati Matya tala means, both the laghus therein are of the khanda variety; likewise Sankirna jati Ata tala means the two laghus therein are of the sankirna variety and so on. Thus in talas taking more than one laghu, no two varieties of the laghu can come in one and the same variety of the tala. In other words the laghu retains its homogeneous character within the tala.
The Scheme of 35 Talas
Briefly stated, the 35 talas result by the change of the laghu jati in the sapta talas. the student will do well to recall to his mind the sapta talas and their constituent angas. Now taking the Eka tala, if the chturasra laghu is respectively substituted by the tisra, khanda, misra and sankirna laghus, we get four new varieties of the Eka tala, the aksharakala value of the avarta varying in each case on account of the substitution of the laghus of different magnitudes. Thus the Eka tala on account of the five laghu jatis admits of five varieties. In the same way the other six talas also admit of five varieties each and we thus get in all, the 35 talas from the seven principal talas. There are the 35 Alankaras to illustrate the 35 talas.
It should be remembered that the five angas: Anudrutam, Drutam Guru, Plutam and Kakapadam do not admit of jati bhedas and hence their values remains constant throughout.
Arrangement of the 35 Talas
In this Table, under each tala, the various time measures are presented in the increasing order of magnitude ie., in the sequence of Tisra, Chturasra, Khanda, Misra and Sankirna.
It is also possible to think of an alternative arrangement for the 35 talas. The jatis under each tala may be presented in the traditional order of Chaturasra, Tisra, Misra, Khanda and Sankirna. In this arrangement, the serial numbers of the tala will differ from that of the previous arrangement. For instance the twelfth tala in the first arrangement will be Chaturasra jati Rupaka tala. In the second arrangement, the twelfth tala will be the Tisra jati Rupaka tala and so on.
A third possible arrangement is to group the talas of identical jatis and present them in the usual order. In this arrangement, the Dhurva, Maty, Rupaka, Jhampa, Triputa, Ata and Eka talas of Tisra jati and then the same order of talas in Misra jati and so on. This arrangement is followed in the tala sculpture relating to 35 talas in the Meenakshiamman temple, Madurai.
Analysis of the 35 Talas
Of the 35 talas, the tala with the maximum number of aksharakalas (29) for an avarta, is the Sankirna jati Dhruva tala and the tala with the maximum number of aksharakalas (3) for an avarta, is the Tisra jati Eka tala. It will be seen that there are a few talas whose avartas consist of the same number of aksharakalas. These talas however differ from one other on account of their varying constituent angas resulting in different modes of counting and the stresses falling at different places in the avarta. For example, the Chaturasra jati Matya tala, Misra jati Jhampa tala and Tisra jati Ata tala all consist of 10 aksharakalas each for an avarta; yet they differ from each other on account of their modes of reckoning and the beats falling on different points of the avarta.