Rhythmic Syllables: Introduction, Analysis and Conceptual Approach in Carnatic Music of South India

Mannarkoil J Balaji

 Sastra University, Tanjore

Volume 7, Number 3, 2015 I Full Text PDF


This article explores the rhythmic alphabet of the Carnatic System along-with its analysis, concepts and its applications. A concept-based application has lesser chances of failures during a performance and offers immense scope for impromptu improvisations which form a major part of South Indian percussion artistry.

Keywords: Carnatic Music, Rhythmic Syllables, South India, Classical Music


Carnatic Music is one of the foremost and ancient Musical systems of South India and it falls under the category of Classical Arts. It is unique in its form and content. Melody and Rhythm form the basis of many music systems of the world. As the language of Raga has swaras, the Language of rhythm has varied rhythmic syllables. By permuting these seven swaras innumerable ragas emerge and are still emerging. Likewise with the available rhythmic syllables, innumerable combinations can be formed as the process is continuous and the system is dynamic. In Carnatic Rhythm there are 14 basic syllables and by adding vowels they become 52 syllables (Annexure 1) in total.

The process

The foundation for a rhythmic metre is number of beats which needs to be expressed in rhythmic language which may fill up entire cycle or parts thereof. Hence, In other words, rhythmic syllables encompass mathematical principles.

Music is a creative art form. Creativity is a process by which an artiste is able to bring out such combinations out of the existing concepts and practices that stand out as unique and new. It is a cognitive process that produces new ideas or transforms old ideas into updated concepts. This process does not overlook or replace the existing practices, but enhances them by giving a different and unheard-of dimensions to it. When the creativity is defined, a logical process of sequence is obtained which eases the pedagogical path.

Creative Models

Of the various Creative Models, Wallis’ model gives the following steps which is closer to this author’s rhythm creation model:

  • Preparation
  • Incubation
  • Illumination
  • Verification

With specific reference to Carnatic rhythm the following logic can be applied…Full Text PDF