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The technique of measuring time in musical compositions is called taal. 


Historical definitions

  1. The practical and cyclical division of time established in music- Sangeet Makarand

  2. The medium in which vocal music, instrumental music, and dance establish themselves - Sangeet Ratnakar

  3. The medium which measures the activities of vocal music, instrumental music, and dance - Sage Bharat Muni

  4. The counting and striking with hands, or closing and opening the fingers during a music performance - Sangeet Chintamani


The common theme in all perspectives is that taal is a tool of measurement.

The technique of measuring time in musical compositions is called taal. 

  • It derives from a pre-conceived and stable idea of time that flows cyclically 

  • Can be understood by grasping sashabda (with sound) and nishabda (without sound) aspects of music and time

  • Taal is a base with a specifically defined number of figures/maatras (Teentaal has to have 16 maatras, while Jhaptaal has to have 10 maatras). 

  • Instruments are not necessary to express taal, we can experience taal simply through sashabda / nishabda aspects (ex. Hasta-kriya / taali-khaali with hands)

  • “Blank Canvas” with set maatra boundaries

  • The compositions within a musical performance are based on a particular taal


Creation Process For Each Taal

  • First the number of maatras in a taal are decided

    • In accompaniment, the number of maatras usually corresponds to the type of composition of the main artist

    • Dhrupad/Dhamar employs taals with large number of maatras, taals for Khayal are usually shorter (at most 16 maatras)

    • The rasa (mood) created in vocal music can be related to the length of the Taal

      • Smaller taals more useful for shringar rasa

      • Longer taals more useful for shanta rasa

  • Once number of maatras are finalized, the taal is divided into khand (number of subsections)

  • Then, placement of taali/khaali for the taal is finalized

  • Bols are used to fill in the outline and characteristics of the taal appropriately

  • Taals for Dhrupad/Dhamar had a more mature and serious feel. In ancient times, Dhrupad/Dhamar usually employed taals with a very high number of maatras. 

  • Taals for Khayal also include those with  relatively smaller maatras (7, 12)



The utilization of various organized bols in order to express a particular taal through a musical instrument is called theka.


Theka is the first bandish of taal. In other words, it is a composition which can be played through an instrument such as the tabla or pakhawaaj in order to express a taal. 


  • Using a musical instrument, we can employ appropriately designed bols to fill each maatra, and multiple maatras make up one awartan, and like that one awartan of theka is produced

  • There are multiple variations of theka for each taal. 

    • A taal can be played in different ways (Jhoomra, Roopak, etc)

    • Tilwada, punjabi can be thought of as thekas. Tilwada is a theka of teentaal. The vibhaag employed during tilwada is the same as that of teentaal.

    • Theka is a particular identity designated to the context of the performance and to the personality of the tabla player

    • The theka for accompanying multiple singing compositions may differ, even in the same taal

      • Theka is designed based on the nature of the singing composition

      • During a singing, instrumental, or dance performance, taal can be announced directly but the theka is not

  • A taal doesn’t automatically give us the theka, whereas each theka is based on a particular taal.

  • Taals of equal maatras can have different thekas

  • The changes and variations within theka can’t distort the boundaries set by the taal

  • Dhrupad/Dhamaar employs theka with khula (open) bols

  • In Khayal, theka is employed, especially in vilambit laya, may make use of multiple bols within one maatra in order to decorate the laya and fill in the gap between maatras in vilambit laya. They may also play a lot of bols before the khaali or before the sum in order to show emphasis


In general, a taal is straightforward and is bound to the number of maatras within the designated laya. In the musical boundaries of the taal, theka can be played.


The utilization of various organized bols in order to express a particular taal through a musical instrument is called theka.

Some stalwarts argue that pure Vilambit Khayal itself does not show us the pattern of Taal, whereas Dhrupad/Dhamar directly follows Taal (some Dhrupad singers may even show the taal on their hand). Bandish of Dhrupad/Dhamar directly indicates the taal, whereas this is not the case for Khayal. One proof of this is that it is impossible to start with a tukda/gat at the beginning while accompanying Khayal sangeet. Additionally, the singer may need to indicate the speed to the tabla player through a TRKT at certain times when performing extremely ati-Vilambit Ektaal as the words of the singer may not directly indicate the taal or speed. Khayal sangeet can be considered theka sangeet. There are some skeptics to this idea, who argue that there are some examples of Khayal bandish that demonstrate the structure of taal. So, there are some counterexamples to this general observation.


The Interrelation Between Taal and Theka

Taal is definite. Even without bols played on an instrument, it can be expressed via hand gestures. Theka depends on the taal and is constructed with its characteristics in mind. In order for taal to be musically useful, theka is necessary. During accompaniment in various layas, it is important not to disturb the nature of the taal. Different types of thekas such as Vazandaar (weighty) theka, Bhareev (granulous) theka, or Danedaar (bols that still give the overall ambiance of the cycle) theka can be employed to express the relation between taal and the singing/instrument/dance composition that is being accompanied.

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