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October 2007

Taala Vendargal : Thiru Gnanasambandar and Sri Shyama Sastry
by Dr.K.R.SeethaLakshmi
Professor, Department of Music, Queen Mary's College, Chennai - 600004, INDIA


A comparison presented on the styles and usage of tala structures in the compositions of the doyens among the trinities of Dravidian Music (Thiru Gnanasambandar) and South Indian Classical Music (Sri Shyama Sastry).


"Music is the highest art and to those who understand, it is the highest worship" - SWAMY VIVEKANANDA.

Music is the invaluable art that is the gem that adorns the crown of Indian culture.The saint singers of South India spread the cult of bhakti (devotion to god) that flourished from the time immemorial through Naadopasana.

The immortal divine soul-stirring compositions of the saints influenced not only the eminent, enlightened personalities but also the lay man, beast and even plants. The strict adherence to 'Sampradaya' (tradition) through generations, paved way for fostering our art with all sanctity retaining their innate values.

Their immense faith is even more ascertained through their songs which proclaim that those who sing these hymns with music and utmost reverence will be liberated from bondage in this birth and beyond. Gnanasambandar in his 'Thiruvalamchuzhi thiruppadigam' quotes thus -

"Gnanasambandan vaai navittriya tamil malai aadaritthu,

Isai katru vallar solla kettu ugandavar thamai,

Vadhiyaavini marumaikkum immaikkum varutham vandadayaave"

On similar lines, we find that Sri Shyama Sastri in his very first krithi in Saveri Raga "Janani nathajana paripaalini pahimaam Bhavani...." declares that Bhavani is the universal mother and the omniscient supreme energy who will liberate us from all sins ("sakala jana paritaapa paapa haarini").

Sri Adi Sankara Bhagavathpada in his "Bhavani Bhujangam" also emphasises that chanting thrice, the very name of "BHAVANI" will free one from sorrows, passion and fear and thus leading him to liberation. Such is the power of devotional music !

"Sruthir maatha Laya pitha" - The duel basic factors that adorns any musical composition are Sruthi (pitch / melody) and Layam (rhythm).

Layam literally means the tempo. There are three tempos in Sanskrit tradition Viz., Vilamba - Madhyama - Duritha layas. On the contrary, in the Tamil tradition the tempos are classified according to their degrees such as Mudhal - Varam - Kudai and Thiral nadais. Thevaram is in the Varam Nadai, since it glorifies the god it is termed as "The-varam".

Now let us take a detailed look at the lives our principle subjects of this topic.

Thiru Gnana Sambandar the child prodigy of the "Thevara Moovar", belongs to the 7th century A.D. He was better known as "TAALA VENDHAN" (the unparalleled King of Rhythm). Having been fed with the divine milk of Goddess Parvathi, he was bestowed with poetical excellence (Kavitthuvam). His poetry abound in literary and musical values, is an inseparable aspect of all the "Padigams" of this divine child "Aaludaiya pillai".

In the place called Thirukolakka, the Supreme Mother blessed him with "Golden Cymbals" (Thiru Taalam), which testifies for his mastery over the metrical "Saahithyam" (Thevara Hymns). Chekkizhaar, the author of "Periya Puranam" quotes that Gnana Samabandar composed multi faceted rhythmic aspects in his hymns - "Senthamizh maalai Vigarpa ..... Panninar Gnanasambandar".

The time measures that are still prevailing at present, are all found in Gnana Sambandar's Thevaram. It is an evident fact that the Thevara Padigams are metrical and the time measures were introduced according to the Kattalai.

Shyama Sastry is one among the musical trinities of Carnatic Music and an ardent devotee of Kanchi Kamakshi, is adept in the art of music and mastered all the intricacies of music and taala prastaaras. His guru Sangeetha Swamy, presented him the invaluable "Lakshana Grantha" - the ultimate treasure trove for musicology.

The intricate time measures such as those present in 'Viloma Chapu' - a variety of Chapu tala, adorn his compositions along with the mellifluous flow of words and melody full of the Bhaava and Raaga. His krithis in Vilamba-Madhya-Durita layas portrayed his mastery over the Rhythm. It gives the Rasikas a special delight and liking towards his compositions which are enriched by the presence of multiple rhythmic structures. Some of his Kritis bear testimony of the above.

In Kritimani Maalai Volume IV Page - 6, the Saint Thyagaraja has commended that the compositions of Sri Shyama Sastri are to be rendered only with due practice encompassing Raaga, Taala, Laya and Gamaka. "Raaga-Taala-Laya-Gamakangal porunda nandraaga payindre Shyama Sastriyin paadalgalai paadavendum". Though the compositions of Sri Shyama Sastri are few in number, the melody and rhythmic aspects are found in abundance in his compositions.

Gnana Sambandar has contributed a lot to the realm of time measures in Tamil Music. The popular taalas of Thevaram are Roopaka, Triputa, Mattya, Jhampa, Chaapu, Ata and Anga tala. The taala is determined with the help of Kattalai. The first composition of Gnana Sambandar "Thodudaiya Seviyan" is set to be in Roopaka taala of the first Kattalai. Below are a few of his compositions that speaks for itself the variety of taala structures he has adopted for his hymns.

1. Thodudaiya Seviyan - Roopaka

2.Neeru Servador - Chatusra Jathi Triputa

3.Chirai Aarum - Thisra Jathi Triputa

4.Maadhar madappidiyum - Rupakam(Yaazhmuri Pann)

5. Manninaervizhi Maadharaar - Misra Chapu

6. Marundavai Mandiram - Anga Talam

7.Vaanavargal Thaanavargal - Kanda Chapu

The "Thirutaala Jathi" of Gnanasambandar, was poured out of ecstasy with Chandam - a metrical aspect of Kattalai and other rhetorical beauties that adorns them. In this particular Padigam(Hymns) the numbers - Ondre, Irande, Moondre, Yezhae also confirms the prosodic beauty of his compositions. It signifies that the Padigam is set in the pattern of "Pari Padal" where the intricate time measures are aplenty. The rhythmic structures thaka-takita- thaka dimi etc are concurrently established in a single phrase and it would be visualized in the Paripadal song No. 30 "Thenul Theral Nee".

The Thirutaala Jathi studded with the rhythmic aspects were highlighted by the divine composer Sri Sundaramurthy Swamigal in the padigam No. 642 "Naalum Innisaiyal" . Sambandar himself records that his compositions are with Chandam by the following:

a)Chandaiyal Tamil... - Namasivaya Padigam

b)Chandamar Chentamil - Song No. 305

c)Seerinmali Chentamil - Song No. 333

d)Kalikovaial Chandame - Song No. 126

The Thirutaala Jathi Padigam connotes that the tala structure can be fractionally divided according to the formation of the song. The first line of the composition is taken

e)Bandaththal ..... - 5 takita thaam

f) Vandeppal..... - 6 taka taa taa

g) Payindru Nindra - 7 takita taa taa

h) Umber Appaale - 8 takita taka takita

i)Servar Yenorkaan - 9 takita taka dimi taa

j)Payil gana munivargaluum - 10 taka dimi taka thaam taka

"Bandaththal" can also be rendered in Tisra-Chatusra-Kanta-Misra-Sankirna Nada.

The layas structure of the above padigam portrays that there is an apparent and actual rhythm that glorifies.

Turning our attentions back on the works of Sri Shyama Sastri and identifying those aspects of rhythm that we find similar to that of Gnana Sambandar, we notice that he has composed Krithis which are set in Tisra Nadai and with Chatusra Gathi Saahithyam that reveals his imagination. Viz., "Sankari Sankuru" in Saveri Raaga.

Sankari (4) Samkuru (4) Chandra Mu (4) khi (4) Akilan (4) deswari (4)

Here the taala is set in Tisra and Saahitya in Chatusra.

The Composition "Himaadri Suthe" in Kalyani set in Tisra gathi also seems to be adopted from the style of the divine child. Compare thevaram "Niraamaya" and "Himaadri suthe".

The krithi "Karuna Judu" in Sri Raagam is a unique composition of Sri Shyama Sastri which is rendered both in Adi/Misra Chapu by different schools. It is also sung in Chatusra/ Misra gathi elsewhere. The excellence in Layam found in the above example proves to us adequately on Sri Shyama Sastri's dual rhythmic compositions that compares well with Thirugnana Sambandar's Thevaram.

We infer from the above discussions that Sri Shyama Sastri followed the foot steps of Thiru Gnana Sambandar and his krithis are revelations of his regard for the laya aspects of a composition that falls in line with "Thirutaala Jathi".

The taala exponent Thiru Gnana Sambandar paved way for the emergence of the different taala systems in Tamil music which was later advocated by the taala veteran of Thiruvaaroor, Sri Shyama Sastri.


"Pancha Marabu Arivanaar", V P K Sundaram -Kazhaga Publications 1991.
"Thiruththondar Puranam", Sekkizhaar - Gangai Puthaga Nilayam 2000.
"Thiru Gnana Sambandar Swamigal Thevaram" - (Talamurai) Thirupananthal Matam 1996.
"Great Composers I & II" - The Indian Music Publishing House Madras 1978.
"Kirtana Sagaram I, II, III, IV, V" - The Indian Music Publishing House Madras 1996.
Shyama Sastri's Composition T K Govinda Rao Gnana Mandir Publication 1997.

Dr.K.R.Seethalakshmi is a Professor, Singer and an eminent Musicologist for over 26 years, specializing in the works of Sri Muthuswamy Dikshithar's "Kamalamba Navavarnam" and the Traditions of Tamil Music. She is currently holding the position of a Reader in the Department of Music, Queen Mary's College for Women, Chennai. Next inline for the Head of the Department, she holds a Doctorate in Music on "Tamil Ilakkiyathil Keerthanayin Valarchi" and is bestowed with a lot of accolades, articles and seminars to her credit and has been instrumental in making her department into one that can offer Research programs. She is a very active and cheerful personality and well-known for her mellifluous voice, crystal clear presentations and student-oriented training. She performs and speaks at a variety of conferences all over India on the subjects of different forms of Music, Theory, History and on Composers of all ages. She has also hosted a few programs at her College in collaboration with the "Ramalingar Pani Mandram" of Sri.N.Mahalingam, an advocate in fostering traditional Tamil Music.

When not otherwise busy, she loves spending time with family and friends and on travel to pilgrimages.

You can contact her for any references, questions or comments at