Laya And Taal

Laya (speed)

In music, the time which elapses or passes, is known as Laya. For example: the 60 equal sounds of the seconds’ hand on the clock that makes a minute, or 60 minutes that make an hour, etc. Even if the clock malfunctions, there is no change in the speed of the seconds that pass. Therefore, any change in our pace of walking results in a change of speed of the time it takes to cover a distance. This change is known as “Laya”.

There are three types of Laya: Vilambit, Madhya, and Drut.

Vilambit (slow speed): When one sings, performs, or dances in very slow speed; then the time elapsing will be called Vilambit.

Madhya (medium speed): When one sings, performs, or dances at a speed that is neither too slow nor too fast, then the time elapsing is known as Madhya.

Drut (fast speed): When the speed of singing, performing, and dancing increase rapidly, then the elapsing time is known as Drut.

Taal (rhythmic time cycle)

The unit used to measure the speed of time is known as Taal. Just how we use time to divide days into hours, hours into minutes, and minutes into seconds; we get great ease in knowing the duration of any task. Similarly, the melody of the raga or the syllables of the dance is measured using Taal. Taal is further divided into vibhag (parts), and vibhag is further divided into matra (beats). 

Just as how time clearly creates a divide between day and night, similarly “Taal” creates clear distinctions that enable rules and regulations to be adhered by the performer.

There are many types of Taal, such as Teen Taal, Jhaptaal, Dhamar Taal, etc. These cycles can be distinguished on the basis of the manner in which the beats have been divided. For example: Teen Taal is a 16 beat time cycle with 4 divisions, where each division has 4 beats each. Sometimes, two cycles have the same number of beats. However, they are distinguished on the basis of how the total number of beats have been divided. (Dhamar v/s Aadha Chartaal, Jhaptaal v/s Sooltaal, etc.) These changes result in major changes in the formation and speed of Taal as well.

There are few exceptions where the total beats and division format of two time cycles are the same, however the syllables of these cycles create distinctions. Example: Ektaal v/s Chautaal.

Taal Ke Das Praan (The Ten Lifelines of Taal)

| Kaalomargkriyaangini Grihojaatikalalaya |

|| Yatiprastaar Itiyuktaha Taalepraana Dashkramaat ||

The ten lifelines of Taal are as follows: Kaal, Maarg, Kriya Ang, Griha, Jaati, Kala, Laya, Yati, and Prastaar.

1. Kaal: Kaal is understood as a restrictive time in any rhythmic time cycle. The elapsing of time in one cycle (aavartan) is known as Kaal. Kaal has been divided into further categories for simplification purposes, such as vibhag, matra, sthayi, antra etc.

2. Maarg: The gait of “kaal” from the first beat to the last is known as Maarg. This can be understood as the route of “Taal”, meaning how much time does each beat have. The distance between “Taali” (clap) and “Khali” (taking hand away from the other) is also known as Maarg. According to ancient scriptures, there are four types of Maarg: Dhruv, Chatur, Dakshin, and Vritika. 

3. Kriya: The action of showing “Maarg” (Taali + Khaali) of the rhythmic time cycle is known as Kriya. There are two types of Kriya: Sashabd and Nishabd. Sashabd Kriya is when both hands come together and create a clapping sound. Nishabd Kriya is when one hand is placed away from the other hand creating no sound (indicating “Khaali”). 

4. Ang: In the Carnatic style of singing, Ang has great importance. The divisions of “Taal” are known as Ang. Different time cycles have different forms of divisions. In Carnatic music, there are 6 types of “ang” - Anudrut, Drut, Laghu, Guru, Plut, and Kak. This has also been used by Pt. Vishnu Digambar. 

5. Griha: The beat with which music starts, is known as Griha. Griha in common language means home. There are four types of griha - Sam, Visham, Ateet, and Anaghat. Sam griha is when music starts from the first beat of the time cycle. In Northern India, the first beat of any time cycle is known as Sam. Visham griha is when the music starts from any other matra but the first. Ateet (past) griha is understood as music starting from almost half a point after the first beat, whereas Anaghat (to arrive) is understood as music starting from almost half a point before the first beat.

6. Jati: Jati has deep rooted interrelations with Taal. It has significant importance in any time cycle. It is used in both styles of music. There are five types of Jaati: Tishra, Chatushra, Khand, Mishra, and Sankeen. Jaati in Northern India is understood as a certain number of syllables in one beat. Tishra Jati is understood as three syllables in one beat. Likewise, Chatusra Jati is four syllables in one beat. Khand Jaati is five syllables in one beat. Mishra Jaati is seven syllables in one beat, and Sankeen Jaati is nine syllables in one beat.

7. Yati: The literal meaning of the word “Yati” is to put a halt to something - the tendency to pause in the midst of a musical activity. The time between two beats is known as Laya. However, there are some rules by which the process is said to be complete. In a way, these rules regarding pauses in any musical activity are called "Yati".

8. Laya: As discussed earlier, the speed of elapsing time is known as Laya. There are three types of Laya - Vilambit, Madhya, and Drut. These three speeds form the base of other sub-types of Laya, such as Aad, Kuaad, Beaad (0.5, 0.25, 0.75, etc.). According to some scriptures, Laya has been identified as two types: Sam, and Visham. Sam is when the speed is equal. The time frame between two beats is the same throughout (1, 2, 4). Visham laya is identified as “aad”, “kuaad”, “beaad”.

9. Kala: The style of playing the Tabla or Pakhawaj is known as Kala. These include placing hands on the instrument, how to sit while playing the instrument, what syllables to produce while playing the instrument, showcasing “layakri”, etc. Different gharanas of Tabla emerged from Kala. 

10. Prastaar: The meaning of “Prastaar” is to elaborate/elongate. Therefore, to present any bandish in addition to a Kayda, Rela, Chalan, etc. is the process of elaborating the “Taal”. In music, the different styles of singing one line, indicating several meanings, from a Thumri is also known as Prastaar; or the presentation of a Kayda and introducing variations to it is also understood as Prastaar. 

The goal of music is to give relief to the soul, to encourage it with joy. The aim of the rhythm is to double this very feeling. If music is understood as the soul, then “Taal” is the home of this soul.

Kathak is the most mesmerizing dance form woven around the concept of storytelling. 

Click here to know more about the different concepts related to charming dance mudras, and footwork such as Abhinaya Ke Prakar & Rasa and Bhava.


Q. What is Taal?
Ans. Taal is the basic unit for measuring music and rhythm. Just as how ‘time’ is instrumental to divide days into hours, minutes, and seconds, the concept of 'Taal' divides music into segments that consist of beats.
Q. What is Laya?
Ans. When we hear a clock tick, it passes in equal gaps across time. The interval between every ticking sound is equal. Similarly, in music and dance, the time that passes across equal intervals is known as Laya. A change in speed results in change of Laya.
Q. What is the importance of Taal in music?
Ans. Taal is that fundamental aspect that gives life to music and dance of all genres. Without the concept of Taal, one can not create any musical piece and choreographies. The absence of Taal in music and dance is equivalent to the absence of consciousness in a human.
Q. What is the importance of Laya in music and dance?
Ans. Laya is essential for creating, as well as adding variations to musical pieces and dance. Everything in this universe has Laya, right from the clock ticking to wind blowing in its own time and rhythm. In music creation, Laya can also be measured by “beats per minute” (BPM).
Q. What are the different types of Laya?
Ans. In Indian Classical Music and Dance, there are three main types of Laya - Vilambit Laya, Madhya Laya, and Drut Laya. Vilambit Laya is the slowest speed in any Taal. In Kathak, pieces like Chalan, Thaat, Uthaan, Aamad are performed in this Laya. Madhya Laya is the medium speed of any Taal. In Kathak, pieces like Toda, Tukda, Paran, etc. are performed in this Laya. Drut Laya is the fastest speed in any Taal. In Kathak, pieces like Ladi, Gat Nikaas, Gat Bhaav, Tarana, etc. are performed in this Laya.
Q. What are the different types of Taal in music and dance?
Ans. In Indian classical music and dance, there are two main types of Taal - Prachalit (widely known and used) and Aprachalit (not used so often). Amongst Prachalit Taals, we have Teen Taal, a rhythmic cycle of 16 beats. It is the first and foremost Taal every singer and dancer starts their training with. There is also Jhaptaal (cycle of 10 beats), Dhamaar (cycle of 14 beats), Chautaal (cycle of 12 beats), etc. Prachalit Taals are used extensively in music and dance. Aprachalit Taals aren’t used so much in the field of singing. However, in Kathak, we get to learn about them as and when the training advances. Examples of Aprachalit Taal include Ashtamangal (cycle of 22 beats), Rudra Taal (cycle of 11 beats), Shikhar (cycle of 17 beats), etc.

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