There is at times a tendency among some Hindustani musicians to refer to the not-so-popular taals by the number of matras they contain rather than by their names. In other words, they often announce that they will present a taal containing nine, 11, 13 matras as may be the case, or they may even say that they will play or “dance” these matras.
This is contrary to the generally accepted understanding of taals in the Hindustani context, which clearly portrays taals as having specific identities defined by not just the number of matras in the rhythmic cycle but also the manner in which they are divided into vibhaags/khands, their thekas or chosen string of mnemonic syllables that mark out the rhythm on the pakhawaj or tabla, among other features.
It is for this reason that each taal has a particular name, just as every raag has a name. As I have mentioned in the past, taals may have the same number of matras, but their internal structure may differ and the thekas may be quite distinct.
In this episode of our series on lesser known taals, we discuss the 13-matra Jai taal. Similar to other rare taals, there seem to be differences of opinions about the divisions of matras and the thekas in the case of Jai taal too. Jai taal does not seem to be used often for accompaniment but we have illustrations of its use in tabla solo performances.
The first track features the iconic tabla maestro Zakir Hussain exploring Jai taal. He is accompanied by the sarangi exponent Sultan Khan. The theka in this performance, closely resembling the one used for the 14-matra Ada Chautaal, suggests a division of matras in a 2+2+2+2+2+3 format.
The next track features Talib Hussain from Pakistan, who was also a pakhawaj player. The theka in this case is different from the other earlier track, although it suggests a similar division of matras.
We end this episode with Vishwa taal, yet another rhythmic cycle with 13 matras but very different from Jai taal. The two varieties of this taal are presented by the pakhawaj exponent Arjun Shejwal.
One of India’s leading tabla players, Aneesh Pradhan is a widely recognised performer, teacher, composer and scholar of Hindustani music. Visit his website here.
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