Ektaal (a cycle of 12 matras or time-units) and the 16-matra Teentaal are both versatile taals as is evident from the fact that they are employed at any tempi. Yet, unlike Teentaal, while Ektaal has been explored in its vilambit or slow version by vocalists, this has not been the case with instrumentalists who play plucked instruments like the sitar and sarod or struck instruments like the santoor. But instrumentalists who follow the khayal vocal style closely do use Ektaal when they play instrumental versions of a vilambit khayal. Usually, these instrumental versions are not played on plucked instruments due to lesser sustain as compared to wind or bowed instruments.
Today’s episode features gats or instrumental compositions set to Ektaal played on plucked and struck instruments. We begin with a gat or instrumental composition set to Ektaal in Bahar, a raag prescribed for spring. There are few instances of instrumentalists having played compositions in madhya laya or medium tempo Ektaal. Here is an example of a madhya laya gat in Ektaal played by sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. He is accompanied by tabla wizard Alla Rakha. Listeners will note quick passages of rhythmic interaction between both performers through the short recital.
The next performance is an instrumental version of a tarana set to drut Ektaal in Gurjari or Gujari Todi, a raag prescribed for the morning. Presented by sitar maestro Vilayat Khan, the tabla accompaniment is provided by the illustrious tabla player Nikhil Ghosh.
We conclude with a composition set to Ektaal in Puriya, a raag prescribed for dusk. Renowned santoor player Shivkumar Sharma is accompanied on this track by well-known tabla player Shafaat Ahmed Khan. The composition is unusual as it begins from the last matra of the cycle and challenges the manner of resolving melodic ideas. The performance begins at a medium tempo but gradually increases pace and ends with a jhala, the climactic percussive section involving repetitive strokes. Playing drut Ektaal is very difficult, as the original theka of this taal has strokes that are almost impossible to play at this speed. In such cases, tabla players negotiate this section by playing a different theka that eliminates these strokes.