Sarabhanandana Tāla : The beauty of 79


Asmita Padmanabhan

The light, soulful melodies of Carnatic music have entertained and touched hearts for years. But its complexities and intricacies never fail to leave us in awe either. This was the key takeaway from Sampada, a lecture-demonstration organised by Sruti Magazine on May 25th. The event featured a highly insightful session focused on the lesser-known tala cycle with 79 beats, the Sarabhanandana tāla.


Vid. Gayatri Kamakoti, renowned for her prowess in Pallavi singing, and the esteemed mridangist Vid. Delhi Sairam, collaborated for a lec-dem on the Sarabhanandana Tāla. Vid. Kamakoti began by elucidating the various aṅga-s of this tāla. She then presented a pallavi composed by her guru, Vid. Suguna Purushothaman, in the Rāga Kalyāṇī set to this tāla. 


Gayatri’s dedication and hard work were evident as she performed the pallavi flawlessly, incorporating the mandatory aspects of pallavi-singing such as anulōma, vilōma, and pratilōma. Vid. Delhi Sairam provided insights into the tāla from a mṛdaṅgist’s perspective. He further demonstrated this by playing a kōrvai and by accompanying Gayatri as she sang the niraval. The duo also shed light on Pallavi concerts and the preparation required for such performances.The session included a few light-hearted moments as Sairam and Gayatri reminisced about their friendship, sweet memories, and friendly banters. The need to archive such treasures  for future generations was emphasised.


The Pallavi : 

kāmākṣī pīṭha vihāriṇī kalyāṇī amba kāmākṣī || (aru̱di)

karuṇākarī kañjadala-lōcanī brōva samayamammā bhavānī ||


(split as 36+7+36)


The Tāla:

The origin of the tāla dates back to the Trinity era wherein Bobbili Kēśavayyā challenged Śyāmā Sāstri to sing a pallavi in the 128-beat (longest) cycle Simhanandana tāla. Śyāmā Sāstri being the musician he was, not only aced the challenge but also created a novel 79-beat cycle, the Sarabhanandana tāla and composed a pallavi in it. Unfortunately, the original pallavi composed by him is unavailable to us. Considering the origin of the tāla, it is fitting that Vid. Suguna Purushottaman’s composition in the tāla is a telugu pallavi on the Goddess of Kañci. 


The tāla structure includes the aṅga-s, guru, laghu, dhṛtam, anudhṛtam and virāma, arranged in a complex sequence totaling 79 beats per cycle. 


The structure is as follows:

Guru (8)

Laghu (4)

Dhṛtam (2)

Laghu (4) 

Laghu (4)

Dhṛtam (2)

Anudhṛtam (1)

Laghu virāma (5)

Dhṛtam (2)

Dhṛtam (2)

Dhṛtam (2)

—------------------------------------------ (36)

Anudhṛtam (1)

Laghu dhṛtam (6)

—------------------------------------------- (7)

Laghu dhṛtam virāma (7)

Laghu virāma (5)

Dhṛtam (2)

Anudhṛtam (1)

Dhṛtam (2)

Anudhṛtam (1)

Dhṛtam (2)

Laghu virāma (5)

Dhṛtam (2)

Dhṛta virāma (3)

Laghu dhṛtam (6)

—-------------------------------------------- (36)


With a total of 24 aṅga-s, this forms a 79-beat cycle in Caturaśra Jāti.

Some of these aṅga-s - dhṛta virāma (1+2), laghu virāma (4+1), laghu dhṛtam (4+2), laghu dhṛta virāma (4+2+1) are combinations of the basic aṅga-s and are hence known as Samyukta-aṅga-s.


Given that 79 is a prime number and cannot be easily split, Vid. Delhi Sairam suggested breaking it down into 79 mātra-s, which can be divided as 64+15 or other similar combinations, making it easier to play. 


In conclusion, Sampada provided a glimpse into the depths of Carnatic music's rhythmic sophistication. Through the enlightening presentation by Vid. Gayatri Kamakoti and Vid. Delhi Sairam, the audience gained a profound appreciation for the intricate art of Pallavi singing and the complex structure of Sarabhanandana Tāla. The event also underscored the importance of preserving the rich heritage of Carnatic music for future generations.


On a lighter note, here is a small quiz… How does this tāla relate to our new Modi 3.0 cabinet? What’s the connection?

The author is a part time college student and full-time Dikshitar fangirl, with a hundred musical musings...