Thaalam is a term used to denote the cyclic measure of time, it is formed of a group of beats. Thaalam is the basis for every type of Tamil music and indeed music as a whole. Thaalam is responsible for regulating the rhythm and giving it stability.


According to Saiva Philosophy the term Thaalam comes from two distinct words:


Thaandavam – An energetic cosmic dance performed by Sivan during the creation of the universe.


Layam – Tempo or speed which applies to all types of music and is in uniform duration.


It is said that during the Thaandavam dance Sivan danced and leaped from place to place in perfect rhythm and harmony. The terms are derived from Tamil, “Thaandu” literally means to leap and “Layam” means to be in harmony.




Alternatively it is also said that Thaalan comes out of the union of Sivan and Parvathi as the terms second part, the "lam" may also represent "Lasyam", a subtle dance performed by Parvathi


Thaalam exists in various forms each with different intricate patterns. Saptha Thaalam, Chaapu Thaalam and 108 Thaalam are some examples.


The Saptha (7) Thaalam differ in their Thaalam duration and formation by the variations of their Angkams. Only 3 Angkams (Laghu, Dhrutham and Anudhrutham) are used.


The Chaapu Thaalam are some the oldest time measures used in Tamil music. They arise from folk traditions and form an intricate part of Saivam devotional songs (Pann Isai). It is a complicated time measure and is counted, with the exception of Chathushra Chaapu, with two unequal beats.


Mishra Chaapu and Kanda Chaapu are very common in music. Many Krithis have been composed in these Thaalams. Some Krithis also exist in Thishra Chaapu. Sangeerana Chaapu, however, is only found in Thiruppugal and Pallavis.


Some examples are listed below and are detailed in the classification section.


     1)     Suladi Saptha Thaalam

     2)     35 Thaalam Chakram

     3)     175 Thaalam Chakram

     4)     Chaapu Thaalam

     5)     108 Thaalam

     6)     Desadhi and Madhyadhi Thaalam

     7)     Navasanathi Thaalam

     8)     Aparoopa Thaalam

     9)     72 Melakartha Thaalam


In a Thaalam there are a total of ten various components or dynamic forces. These are collectively termed as the Thaala Dhasa Pranas (Dasa means ten and Prana means vital air or character in Sanskrit). These ten components are listed below and are detailed in the components section. 

1)     Kaalam

2)     Maargam

3)     Kriyai

4)     Angkam

5)     Graham

6)     Jaathi

7)     Kalai

8)     Layam

9)     Jathi

10)   Prastharam

Further to the above, various notations are also used to depict different aspect and nature of the syllables (Sotkal). These notations are listed below and are detailed in the notations section. 

1)     Punctuations

2)     Underlines