Monday, April 13, 2009

A Cultural Study with Special Reference to Ekachuzhati Rhythms

Dr. Manoj Kuroor

[Published in Tapasam: A Quarterly Journal for Kerala Studies, Vol. I/Issue 3/January 2006]

In spite of being a small geographical area, Kerala is enriched by hundreds of traditional art forms. It may be the result of the convergence and conflicts of various religions, castes and races that have immigrated to this land through several centuries for various historical reasons. This hybridity of cultures had its reflection in the literature and artistic devices used in these art forms. The lack of historical evidence is a real hazard that compels us to refrain from making objective statements about the formulation of most of these art forms.

Classification of Rhythms

In a conventional manner, these art forms are divided into two genres i.e. Classical and folk. Kathakali, Koodiyattam and Krishnanattam belong to the classical genre1 while Theyyam, Padayani, Mudiyettu, Poorakkali, Kanyarkali, Kummattikkali, Margamkali, Dufmuttu, Sanghakkali etc. are grouped as folk.2 In a cultural perspective, it is important to note that these art forms are marked by the presence of numerous varieties of rhythms (talas). In other words, rhythm is the dominant factor among the artistic devices used in each and every traditional art form. A cultural study of these rhythms will strongly denounce the conventional classification of rhythms into classical/folk. Unless the adjective ‘folk’ helps to announce the existence and identity of some of these art forms by differentiating them from the classical tradition, even the classical art forms themselves were derived from the same folk tradition through the methods of stylization or standardization, the classification will allow the classical art forms to remain ‘pure’ and elite.
As far as the presence of rhythm is concerned, the same rhythm is used in various art forms and rhythms belonging to different systems of rhythm are practised in one art form despite the conventional division into classical/folk. A scholar and practitioner of these rhythms, the famous Arjunanritham artist, late Kurichi P. S. Kumaran said in a private conversation: “There are no classical rhythms; all rhythms are folk.”3 This statement offers the possibility of comparison with the observation made by Edward W. Said on Western classical music: “. . . I accept the existence of a relatively distinct entity called ‘Western classical music,’ although at a later occasion perhaps I’d like to show that it is far from coherent or monolithic and that when it is talked about as if it meant only one thing it is being constructed with non-western, non classical musics and cultures very much in mind.”4
Every art form flourishes in the cultural continuum of its own region while the regional culture is being nourished by the presence of these art forms. Though sometimes the cultural factors inherent in these arts are not so visible on the surface, it is possible to elucidate them by analyzing the techniques or devices - like rhythms, tunes, gestures and footsteps - used in them. In the works of Kunjan Nambiar, the 18th century poet and exponent of the art form Thullal, who had traveled and lived in many parts of Kerala, we can see the rhythms belonging to different regional cultures.5 He used the rhythms that consist of various systems of rhythm and defined some of them, even though he employed the criterion of classical music.
The ancient books on Indian music had divided the rhythms - generally music - into two categories. They regarded the rhythms belonging to a pan-Indian tradition as Marga Talas and rhythms practised in different regions as Desi Talas.6 But Marga is divine and only used by Devas, the deities and Gandharvas, the semi Gods.7 Still all the rhythms that were in practice, whether classical or folk, belonged to ‘human’ art forms demarcated as Desi! So many Desi systems of rhythms such as 120 talas, 101 talas, 108 talas, and Suladi system of 35 talas are some examples.8 Even the classical music and classical dance use these systems of rhythms.
Carnatic music, the most dominant form of South Indian classical music, has been practising Suladi system since the 16th century. This system consists of seven main talas. Dhruvam, Matyam, Roopakam, Champa, Triputa, Ata and Eka. Each of them has five divisions (Jaties): Thryasram, Chaturasram, Khandam, Misram and Sankirnam. Then the total number of talas is 7x5=35.9 All other ancient rhythms are replaced by these rhythms for the eminent scholar-writers like Purandaradasa, Thyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri had written several compositions in these talas. The wide acceptance of these compositions and rhythms in the modern age and the tendency among the traditional scholars to measure all other rhythms by using the criterion of this system put aside other rhythms practiced in several regional art forms as well as the rhythms belonging to ancient systems.
The domination of a single system is not only a technical fallacy but also a question of cultural power. It gives a universal definition to rhythm and determines the other rhythms as synonyms or parodies of the dominant rhythm by means of some peripheral similarities between them. For example, some rhythms, even if they belong to different systems, have the same number of matras or same duration. Chathurasra jathi dhruva tala of Suladi system and Marma Tala of Ekachuzhati system have the same duration of 14 matras. A traditional scholar of classical music may identify the Marma tala as Chathurasrajathi Dhruva Tala irrespective of the differences between them.
The rhythms of every art form must be analyzed by placing them in their cultural context and the conventional approaches that could lead to a cultural domination of any aesthetic ideas or ideologies must be resisted for Kerala has been a land of diversity- the diversity of social groups as well as rhythm structures. The presence of rhythms belonging to various systems such as 5 rhythms described in Natyasastra (e.g. Chachatputam and Shatpitaputrakam used in Arjunanritham and Garudanthukkam), 120 rhythms (Vishamam used in Thekkan Chendamelam and Mallatala practised in Koodiyattam), 108 rhythms (Karika used in Sastampattu and Thullal), 35 rhythms of Suladi system (Triputa used in Kathakali, Thullal, Koodiyattam and Krishnanattam), and Ekachuzhati rhythms (used in Mudiyettu, Padayani, Theyyam and Sastampattu) is evident in the art forms of Kerala. In addition to them several rhythms that belong to none of these systems (e.g. Ganapathy, Lakshmi, Kundanachi, Mutakkutalam), various unnamed rhythms (e.g. the rhythm for etuthukalasam of Vishnumurti in Theyyam) and a large amount of orally rendered rhythms (used in Poorakkali) are being performed in them.10 When a rhythm belonging to a particular system is absorbed by an art form, it transforms its structure, so that it could be appropriate for the aesthetic or cultural need of that art form. To enter into the complicated realm of these rhythms, it will be helpful to understand the relatively simple structure of Ekachuzhati rhythms.
Ekachuzhati system consists of seven main rhythms i.e. Ekam, Roopam, Champata, Karika, Panchari, Marmam and Kumbham.11Balyutbhavam Sitankan Thullal of Kunchan Nambiar refers to the first two of them, Ekam and Roopam.12 Harineeswayamvaram Thullal of the same poet has given the examples of Karika, Kumbham and Marmam.13
The practice of Ekachuzhati rhythms is limited neither to the performances of Arjunanritham nor Thullal. They are being used in various artistic contexts by the artists who are often unaware of this system, even though the names and structures of rhythms are almost same. But the fact that these rhythms used in different art forms have an order in position and they are unified in a simple method, unknown to the contemporary cultural scenario, will be helpful to an eager student to raise some questions in relation with rhythm and culture.
Sangitachudamani defines rhythm (tala) as “tala signifies measurement of time through the matras produced by (sounding and unsounding) actions.”14 There are various methods to perform rhythm viz. actions by hand like slapping and fingering, oral rendering and tonal variations made either on a percussion instrument or on a symbol. These devices are important for defining a particular rhythm. The same rhythm may be performed through these different devices, though, in a subtle way of analysis, the differences may compel us to consider each form of them as unique entities. Here I am trying to define these rhythms by using two basic actions: sounded and unsounded. Matra is a term indicating the time taken for each action. In Ekachuzhati System, the time taken for a sounded action is similar to that of an unsounded action. In a way Ekachuzhati rhythm system is a threshold to the perplexed realm of various rhythms as well as their formulations and combinations.

Definitions and applications

Ekachuzhati Rhythms

(Digit-Number of beats. ‘1’ indicates first beat, ‘2’ indicates second beat- so that. X-Gap)

1 Eka Tala 1x

2 Roopa Tala 12x

3. Champata Tala 123x

4. Karika Tala 1234x

5. Panchari Tala 12345x

6. Marma Tala 1x12x123x1234x

7. Kumbha Tala 123451/2x1231\2x1x1x12x

Eka Tala

Eka Tala is a simple rhythm of one beat (sounded action) and one gap (unsounded action). When the rhythm repeats, the gap is taking place between two beats. This rhythm is used almost in every art form of Kerala such as Arjunanritham, Garudanthukkam, Thayampaka, Theeyattu, Theyyam, Thitampunritham, Koodiyattam, Krishnanattam and Kathakali. This rhythm has some similarities with the Eka Tala of 108 rhythm system.

Roopa Tala

Roopa Tala has a form of two beats followed by a gap. This rhythm is used in Garudanthukkam, Arjunanritham and Theyyam. In contemporary Carnatic Music, this rhythm is practised instead of Chaturasrajathi Rupaka Tala, which has a form of one Drutham and one Lakhu.

Champata Tala

Champata is a pattern of three beats succeeded by one gap. This is a popular rhythm for it is used in several art forms like Kathakali, Krishnanattam, Koodiyattam, Chendamelam, Thullal, Theyyam, Theeyattu, Padayani, Sastampattu, Maranpattu, Garudanthukkam, Arjunanritham, Mudiyettu and Mudiyeduppu. There are so many different patterns used even in a single art form, though the name is same. For example, in Kathakali, in addition to the form mentioned above, some other patterns are used.

First tempo: 1 x x x 1 x 1 x 1 x x x 1 2 3 4 5 x x x 1 x 1 x 1 2 x 1 2 x 1 2 (32 matras.)

Second tempo: 1xxx1x12345xxx12x12x12 (underline indicates the variation of speed i.e.twice that of the other parts.) (16 matras)

Third tempo: 1234567x ( 8 matras)

Fourth tempo: 123x ( 4 matras)

In Chendamelam, this rhythm has four tempos with 64, 32, 16 and 8 matras respectively. This rhythm is used in Mudiyeduppu in a Vaithari (oral rendering) form as under:

Ta x ka x ta x ka x kitatakitarikitata x
Ta x ka x ta x ka x kitatakitarikitata x
Ta x ka x ta x ka x kitatakitarikitata x
Ta x ka x ta x ka x kitatakitarikitata x
Ta x ka x ta x ka x ta x ka x ta x ka x
Ta x ka x ta x ka x ta x dhim x kitatakitarikitata x (underline indicatesthe variation of speed i.e. twice that of the other parts.)

In this manner, Champata has different forms in different contexts of performance.

Karika Tala

Karika Tala is a pattern of four beats and one gap and is used in Sastampattu, Thullal, Padayani and Arjunanritham. Kunchan Nambiar gives the definition of this rhythm in Harineeswayamvaram Thullal in terms of classical music and in that manner the rhythmic pattern is Lakhu, Lakhu, Lakhu and Guru.15 If it is compared to the existing form, we can translate Lakhu as one beat and Guru as a unit of one beat and one gap. There is a rhythm with the same name in 108 rhythm system but it is different in matras as well as in structure.

Panchari Tala

Panchari Tala is in the form of five beats followed by one gap. This rhythm is practised in Chendamelam, Kathakali, Krishnanattam, Thullal, Mudiyettu, Mudiyeduppu, Theeyattu, Arjunanritham, Thitampunritham and Theyyam. This rhythm is very popular in Kerala for Panchari Melam, a collective performance by more than a hundred artists on various musical instruments, prominently on Chenda, a percussion instrument with a tumultuous sound. Panchari Tala performed in it with five tempos by progressively accelerating from the first tempo of 96 matras to the fifth tempo of 6 matras. The second, third and fourth tempos have 48, 24 and 12 matras respectively. Panchari Melam represents the standardization that could have happened to a simple rhythm. The rhythm pattern of five tempos performed in Panchari Melam is given below:16

First tempo: 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x x x
1 x 1 x 1 x x x 1 x 1 x 1 x x x
1 x 1 x 1 x x x 1 x 1 x 1 x x x
1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x x x
1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x x x
1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x x x
1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x x x
1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x x x
1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x x x
1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x x x
1 x x x 1 x x x 1 x x x 1 x x 1
x x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x x x

Second tempo: 1 x 1 x 1 x x x 1 x x x 1 x x x
1 x x x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x x x
1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x x x
1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x x x
1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x x 1
x x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x x x

Third tempo: 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x x x
1 x 1 x 1 x x x 1 x 1 x 1 x x 1
x x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x x x

Fourth tempo: 1 x 1 x 1 x x x 1 x x x
1 x x x 1 x 1 x 1 x x x

Fifth tempo: 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x x x

The bold digits indicate the open beats and normal digits represent stifled beats on a Valanthala, a percussion instrument used to keep the rhythm patterns and tempo.

Marma Tala

Marma Tala is a combination of Ekam, Roopam, Champata and Karika, the first four rhythms of this system. The pattern of this rhythm is one beat, one gap; two beats, one gap; three beats, one gap; and four beats, one gap. The exclusive structure of this rhythm gives us a new idea about the combination of rhythms; hence the Ekachuzhati rhythms themselves are rhythms as well as the units of creating new rhythms. This rhythm is used in Arjunanritham, Padayani, Thullal, Sastampattu and Theyyam.

Kumbha Tala

Kumbha Tala, the last one of Ekachuzhati system, is different from the above mentioned rhythms in form and order: therefore it gives some notions about the formulation of rhythm system which becomes more complicated in their structure. This rhythm is used in Thullal, Padayani, Arjunanritham, Garudanthukkam and Sastampattu. The orally rendered form of this rhythm, which is used in Sastampattu, is given below:

Thi thi thi thi thithei x thi thi thithei x thei x thei x thi thei

This rhythm offers a way to enter a field of orally rendered (Vaithari) rhythms which are huge in number.

Some other rhythms

Champa Tala

Despite of a common name Champa, this rhythm is used with various patterns in various art forms. This rhythm is used in Chendamelam, Kathakali and Thullal in the form of four beats, one gap; two beats, one gap and one beat, one gap (1234x12x1x). The pattern of this rhythm in Padayani is different: one beat, one gap; two beats, one gap and four beats, one gap (1x12x1234)17. Yakshaganam, an art form performed in the far northern parts of Kerala employed this rhythm in the form of five beats, one gap and three beats, one gap (12345x123x). Each of these forms has the similarity in the number of Matras i.e. ten.

Atantha Tala

Atantha Tala is used in many art forms of Kerala, like Thullal, Kathakali, Jeevithanritham, Chendamelam, Sastampattu, Theyyam, Thitampunritham, Padayani and Koodiyattam. One form of rhythm is four beats, one gap; four beats, one gap; one beat, one gap and one beat, one gap (1234x1234x1x1x). Different rhythms which share the common name Atantha like Valyatantha and Chattatantha are practised in Padayani.18

Lakshmi Tala

Lakshmi is a Vaithari rhythm which is practised in Padayani, Thullal, Arjunanritham, Ayyappantheeyattu, Koodiyattam, Sastampattu and Garudanthukkam. The form of this rhythm is shown below:

Thi thi thei x thiki tha thei x thi thei thikithei thitheyitha thikitha thei x x x

Kundanachi Tala

Kunchan Nambiar has given a definition to Kundanachi Tala but it is rarely used in contemporary performances. It has a Vaithari form as under:

Tha dhim x dhim x tha dhim x dhim x dhim x Tha dhim x dhim x tha dhim x dha x tha x

This rhythm is used for Jeevithanritham and Chendamelam especially in southern parts of Kerala.

Ganapathy Tala

Many rhythms are used in various art forms under the common name Ganapathy. This is used in the beginning of a performance as a ritual for an unbroken conclusion since Ganapathy is considered in Hindu mythology as the deity of impediment. The form of this rhythm in Sastampattu is given below:

Thei x x x thei x x x thei x x x ki ta ta ki tha x ku thi x ku tha ka thim x tham x
Dhi x dhi x dhim x ga ne x ka dan x tham x ki ta tha ki tha kkam thi mmi thei x

Combined rhythms

As mentioned earlier, Ekachuzhati rhythms can be used as units to create new rhythms. There are some rhythms performed in different art forms which may perhaps identified as the combination of Ekachuzhati rhythms. Roopamchampata, a combination of Roopa Tala and Champata Tala (12x123x) is used in Sastampattu and in the Chendamelam of southern Kerala. Marmampanchari, a blend of Marma Tala and Panchari Tala is practised in Jeevithanritham (in the form 1x12x123x12345x1234) and in Chendamelam of southern Kerala (in the pattern 1x12x123x1234x12345x). The combination of Ekachuzhati rhythms with some other rhythms like Champa-Panchari of Jeevithanritham (1234x12345x12x1x) or Panchari-Champa of southern Chendamelam (12345x1234x12x1x) and Panchari-Atantha of Southern Chendamelam (12345x1234x1234x1x1x) are present in the vast area of the systems of rhythms.
The study of these rhythms arises some questions about the conventional classifications as well as the interconnections between various rhythms. The awareness of the association of the rhythms with the regions of their performance urges one to rethink about the conventional methodologies of aesthetics.


1.See, for example, A. K. Nambiar, “NatanKalakalkku Oramukham”, Keralathile Natankalakal (Kottayam: National Book Stall, 1989):23.
2. See Folk Arts Directory, ed. Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi (Trichur: Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi, 1986): 113, 135,200,170, 42, 61, 196, 240, 224.
3. An Interview with Kurichi P. S. Kumaran on 19. 06. 1995, Manoj Kuroor (Unpublished audio Cassette).
4. Edward W. Said, “Introduction”, Musical Elaborations (London: Vintage, 1992): xiv.
5. See Kunchan Nambiarute Thullalkathakal, ed. P. K. Sivasankara Pillai (Trichur: Kerala Sahithya Academi, 1976).
6. Sarngadeva, Samgitaratnakara Vol.I, ed. S. Subrahmanya Sastri (Madras: The Adyar Library and Research Centre, 1992):17.
7. M. R. Gautam, Evolution of Raga and Tala in Indian Music (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 1993): 35-37,221-22.
8. Arun Kumar Sen, Indian Concept of Rhythm (New Delhi: Kanishka Publishers, 1994): 59-60, 115-19, 141-64.
9. A. K. Raveendranadh, Dakshinendian Sangeetham (Thiruvananthapuram: D. C. P., Govt. of Kerala, 2004): 56.
10. The rhythms mentioned in this essay were collected from these artists:
Kurchi P. S. Kumaran: Arjunanritham
Neelamperoor P. Ramakrishnan: Garudanthukkam percussion
Kuravilangad M. N. Bhaskaran Nair: Sastampattu
Katammanitta Vasudevan Pillai: Padayani
Kuroor Vasudevan Nampoothiry: Kathakali Percussion
Kannan Peruvannan: Theyyam
Kanathoor K. V. Kannan Vaidyar: Theyyam
Cheruvathoor Rajan Panikkar: Theyyam percussion
Balussery P. Janaki Amma: Maranpattu
Harippad K. Vishnu Nampoothiry: Jeevithanritham
Harippad S. Sivadasan: Jeevithanritham percussion
Kaviyoor Sadasivan: Thekkan Chendamelam
Kandalloor Unnikrishnan: Thekkan Chendamelam
Bakel Sreerama Aggithaya: Thidampunritham
Keezhillam Gopalakrishna Marar: Mudiyettu
Vazhappally Krishna Pillai: Mudiyeduppu
Kanjangad Jayan: Poorakkali
Kasaragod Gopalakrishna Bhatt: Yakshaganam.
11. The primary notions of these rhythms are given by Kurichi P.S. Kumaran, an Arjunanritham artist. Interviews and performances of some other artists helped me to get a lucid idea about these rhythms.
12. Kunchan Nambiar, “Balyutbhavam”, Arupathu Thullalkkadhakal, ed. P. K. Narayana pillai, Cheppattu Achyutha Warrier (Kollam: Sreeramavilasam Press, 1958): 105.
13. Kunchan Nambiar, “Harineeswayamvaram”, Arupathu Thullalkkadhakal: 76-78.
14. M. R. Gautam, Evolution of Raga and Tala in Indian Music: 228
15. Kunchan Nambiar, “Harineeswayamvaram”, Arupathu Thullalkkadhakal: 77.
16. See P. S. Warrier, “Pancharimelam”, Keraleeyamelakala (Thiruvananthapuram: D. C. P., Govt of Kerala, 1992): 45-99.
A. S. N. Nambisan, “Pancharimelam”, Thalangal Thalavadyangal (Thrissur: Kerala Sahitya Academi, 2000): 155-56.
17. Katammanitta Vasudevan Pillai, Padeniyute Jeevathalam (Thiruvananthapuram: State Institute of Languages, 1997): 105.
18. Katammanitta Vasudevan Pillai, Padeniyute Jeevathalam: 107-13.


D.K.M. Kartha said...

In the bibliography in your rhythm article, the name of the following book is not mentioned: Maatraa Lakshanam. The publisher is Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts, 1988. The ISBN number is: 81-208-0585-2. It is the first in the Series called Kalaamoola Saastra Series. The General editor is Kapila Vatsyayan. You may be able to buy it from the Karnatic Music Book Center, 14 Shripuram First Street, Royappettah, Chennai 600 014 or from Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi.

This book takes the discussion of rhythm -- both poetic and musical -- back to the Samaveda times and many of the terms we still use are defined in this book. I am not a scholar capable of judging this book's value or even its complex discussion, but it seems it might add new dimensions to your discussion. As you are both a poet and an analyst of rhythm, this book might interest you very much. All the best!

D.K.M. Kartha

Anonymous said...


ESHWAR said...

sir please add more vaitharies.