Glossary of terms


Aavarthanam is one complete cycle of a Thaalam (group of beats). For example, one Aavarthanam of Aathi and Chathushra Jaathi Rupaka Thaalam has a total of 8 and 6 Adcharam (beats) respectively.

Adcharam (or Aksharam)

Adcharam is a beat and denotes the subdivisions of a Thaalam to the specific group of Maathirai. For example, in Chathushra Nadai Chathushra Jaathi Thiruputa (Athi) Thaalam there are 8 Adcharam in total each comprising of 4 Maathirai, totalling 32 Maathirai.


Angkam means "limb" or "Parts" and represents the divisions of Thaalam into Kriyas (hand gestures, i.e. clap, finger counts, or turns of the palm) and Adcharam. Please refer to components page for details.


Issai in literal terms is music. More to follow on this topic.


Jaathi is used to calculate the number of Adcharam in a Thaalam. "Laghu" part of the Thaalam is dependent on the Jaathi and the number of beats vary according to it. Please refer to components page for details.


Jathi, literally syllables, is the fundamental unit of rhyme in the percussion musical system. It is formed of specific syllables such as 'Tha', 'Thi', 'Thom' and 'Num'. Please refer to components page for details.


Kaalam literally means time which is the fundamental aspect of the Thaalam. Please refer to components page for details.


Layam is the unified dynamic force in a particular rhythm, i.e. the tempo or speed, and can be expanded to anything that is unified and concentrated to establish equilibrium. Please refer to components page for details.


Maargam is a term used for the application of Thaalam. Please refer to components page for details.


Maathirai means “Tablets” in Tamil and represents the fundamental sub-units of an Adcharam (beat). It is governed by the Gathi/Nadai of the Thaalam. For example Thishra Nadai will have 3 Maathirai per Adcharam.

Nadai (Gathi)

Nadai in Tamil means "walking pace" and Gathi in Sanskrit means “movement” so both terms describe the same. Nadai (Gathi) signifies the number of Mathirai, literally meaning “tablets”, or sub units of an Adcharam. In total there are five types of Jaathis:

1) Thishram - 3 Maathirai counts per adcharam (Solkattu: Tha Ki Da)

2) Chathushram - 4 Maathirai counts per adcharam (Solkattu: Tha Ka Thi Mi)

3) Kandam - 5 Maathirai counts per adcharam (Solkattu: Tha Ka Tha Ki Da)

4) Mishram - 7 Maathirai counts per adcharam (Solkattu: Tha Ki Da Tha Ka Thi Mi)

5) Sangeeranam - 9 Maathirai counts per adcharam (Solkattu: Tha Ka Thi Mi Tha Ka Tha Ki da)


Natham is the word for sound itself. The whole subject of music relates to Natham. Natham gives rise to Sruthi, and these give rise to Swarams and these in turn give rise to Ragam.

Natham consists of two divisions: Ahatha and Anahatha. The Natham produced by the conscious effort of living beings such as speech, laughs, burps etc is termed Ahatha Natham. The Natham that is heard without the conscious effort of living beings is termed Anahatha Natham, it is supreme in nature.

Anahatha natham is music of the universe, the planets, and nature. It is the sound of the cosmos unhindered by humans. It represents the primordial sound “Aumkaram” and includes the natham emanating from the Mulathara (the root, first of the seven chakras) aspect of the human body.

The cognisance of Anahatha natham is the object of yogis (Sages) and when mastered becomes audible to them.

The Anahatha natham, being entirely spiritual in nature, does not fit any particular pattern thus becomes devoid of aesthetic beauty. Although some sounds may be very relaxing this does not afford pleasure to the mind. This is why the Ahatha natham, which gives pleasure to the mind, is widely studied.

The science and art of music as practiced in this world and as cultivated in the heavens relates to Ahatha natham.

Ahatha natham can be sub-divided further into three parts: Githam (that which arises from singing/vocal), Vathyam (that which arises from instruments) and Nirtyam (that which arises from other bodily parts – i.e. feet movement when dancing).

The great Saint Mathangamunivar divided Natham further into 5 types, these are Sukumam, Adisukumam, Viyaktham, Aviyaktham and Krithravam.


Sarvalaghu (or Sarva Laghu) is derived from two Sanskrit words Sarvam and Laghu meaning “everywhere” and “small unit” respectively. It is commonly associated as being the rhythm of life as it exemplifies the basic running rhythm of a Thaalam.

Sarvalaghu does not contain any intricate patterns or complex Kanakku (calculations). Indeed it is a pattern that exemplifies the basic subunits, the Maathirai, of the Thaalam.

For example, Chathushra Gathi Aathi Thaalam has eight Adcharams in an Aavarthanam (a complete cycle) and each of the Adcharam subsequently has four Maathirai (subunits). This totals to thirty two Mathira in one complete cycle of Aathi Thaalam (i.e. 8 Adcharam x 4 Maathirai = 32 Maathirai).

When an artist plays a Sollu (syllable) for one Maathirai then he/she would be able to fit a total of thirty two Sotkal (syllables) in the complete cycle. One Sollu can also be played for two or four Maathirai, or two or four Sollu for one Maathirai or the Maathirai can also be left empty. In theory notes can be played in any of these combinations with the pattern always following the counts as set by the Gathi (Nadai). This means all the notes align perfectly to each beat of the Thaalam.

An artist following this playing pattern is said to be playing in Sarvalaghu. This is a typical way of playing for Aathi Thaalam and is something that does not disturb the main artist. It creates a feeling of peace.

When an artist plays intricate patterns of notes with the Kanakku always totalling the total Maathirai in an Aavarthanam then the artist is said not to be playing in Sarvalaghu. Here the artist demonstrates the Maathirai perfection and the ability to play various intricate Jathis and Jaathis.

Sruthi (or Suruthi)

When a song is sung or an instrument is played a standard sound is used to harmonise (connect) the notes to one another. This is a constant drone (hum) and is known as Sruthi. This helps keep a symmetric tune. The standard Sruthi used is Madyama sthaayi Sadjamam (normal Sa).

It is said that the Sruthi is the mother in the following saying:

Shruthi Maatha Laya Pitha - Sruthi is the mother and Layam is the father.


Sound is made up of various musical notes which have a distinct frequency. Sound is more pleasing and can only be enjoyed when they are in a sequence.

The various musical notes are known as Swaram. They are of seven varieties collectively known as Sapthaswaram (Seven notes):

1) Shadjamam (S or Sa) - Position 1

2) Rishabam (R or Ri) - Position 2

3) Gandharam (G or Ga) - Position 3

4) Mathiyamam (M or Ma) - Position 6

5) Panchamam (P or Pa) - Position 8

6) Daivatham (D or Da) - Position 9

7) Nishadham (N or Ni) - Position 10


Swarasthanam is the different level of a particular Swaram. Each of the Swaram has a different level. Sa and Pa only have one level and is termed as Prakrithi Swarams (one that doesn’t change). Ri, Ga, Ma, Tha and Ni have 2 levels and are known as Vikrithi Swarams (One that changes). The swarasthanam are detailed below (note positions 3, 4, 10 and 11 are overlapping):

1) Shadjamam (S or Sa) - Position 1

2) Suddha Rishabam (R1 or Ri1) - Position 2

3) Chathusruthi Rishabam (R2 or Ri2) - Position 3

4) Suddha Gandharam (G1 or Ga1) - Position 3

5) Chathusruthi Rishabam (R3 or Ri3) - Position 4

6) Sadharana Gandharam (G2 or Ga2) - Position 4

7) Anthara Gandharam (G3 or Ga3) - Position 5

8) Suddha Mathiyamam (M1 or Ma1) - Position 6

9) Prati Mathiyamam (M2 or Ma2) - Position 7

10) Panchamam (P or Pa) - Position 8

11) Suddha Daivatham (D1 or Da1) - Position 9

12) Chathusruthi Daivatham (D2 or Di2) - Position 10

13) Suddha Nishadham (N1 or Ni1) - Position 10

14) Chathusruthi Daivatham (D3 or Da3) - Position 11

15) Kaisiki Nishadham (N2 or Ni2) - Position 11

16) Kakali Nishadham (N3 or Ni3) - Position 12

Thani Avarthanam

Thani Aavarthanam refers to the extended solo (Thani) ensemble played by the percussionists in a concert. The percussionist displays the full range of his/her skills and rhythmic imagination during the solo. Thani Aavarthanam can range from two to twenty minutes.