In the past, we have discussed several taals or rhythmic cycles that have been used in the context of Hindustani music. But these have been used primarily for forms like khayal and thumri-dadra and seasonal song forms, as well as for instrumental performances. However, there are some taals that are predominantly used for dhrupad and dhamaar recitals. Of these, we have already heard Dhamaar taal. But today’s episode focuses on Chautaal, a cycle of 12 matras or time-units that are divided in six equal vibhags or bars.
Interestingly, tabla repertoire also has a taal with the same number of matras and the same structure as Chautaal. Called Ektaal, this taal is influenced by Chautaal, but the theka or accepted string of syllables that represents the taal in practice differs hugely. Being a taal played essentially on the pakhawaj, the chosen drum for dhrupad performances, Chautaal uses bold strokes played with open palms. Typically, this taal is played at a very slow speed or in medium tempo.
As is the practice in dhrupad presentations, the raag exposition involves an extended aalaap or introductory movement followed by the composition. Usually, the pakhawaj not only outlines the rhythymic cycle but also introduces different cross-rhythmic ideas or responds to similar intricate patterns sung by the vocalist.
The first track features Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, illustrious rudra veena exponent of the Dagar style of dhrupad-dhamaar. He plays a short aalaap followed by a composition set to Chautaal in the raag Todi. Pakhawaj accompaniment is provided by noted pakhawaj player Raja Chhatrapati Singh.
Abhay Narayan Mallick, one of the main representatives of the Darbhanga style of dhrupad singing, is featured on the second track. Mallick sings an aalaap and composition set to Chautaal in the raag Jaijaivanti.