Laya as Tempo

How slow is Vilambit? And exactly how many beats per minute is drut?

There is no such standardization when it comes to the terms vilambit, madhya and drut. And then we can also have the Ati-vilambit and the Ati drut!

The clip below will give some idea as to these three tempos…


We have seen earlier that the artist looks at the space within the matra, while working in the vilambit laya. Wecan generally say that he is at least required to imagine the matra divided into 4 equal parts for the purpose. So quite simply, the laya remains vilambit till you can easily do this. When the count of four per matra becomes difficult, we are entering into the Madhya Laya.

And how does an artist choose how vilambit he would go? The slower the tempo goes, the more it would suit the alaap. There have been examples of artists who have gone Ati- vilambit on the khayal, which helps them focus on the sur and the alaap. And they have had their due criticism too, as the laya or the taal aspect remains completely out of focus, except for the last fraction of a matra for the mukhada. On the other hand, if an artist wants to focus on the laya aspect, then he would begin at a crisper tempo, so that he can then relish the play with the laya, and show the structure of the taal.

So the choice is made by the artist depending upon his preference, or lean towards the swara or the laya. And here is one of the factors at the root of the emergence of gharanas.

We move on to the Madhya laya, at a slower pace, the dheemi Madhya laya. This laya provides a beautiful platform to present the bandish with focus on both the swara and the laya aspects, and still presents some scope for alaap. As the tempo increases, the musical material starts shifting towards the taan.

So we now see a continuum emerging on the laya scale too, right from the ati vilambit to ati drut. And numerous bandishes in a raga are available to the artist. Each bandish is best rendered at the laya it is composed for, and hence it is better to change the bandish rather than stretching the same bandish from say dheemi Madhya laya to drut and beyond.

Another peculiarity of Indian music is that the laya once increased to a certain tempo would not be brought down during a performance, and has to keep going up, if at all.

Lastly, while different taals can be used for the choice of presentation, a special mention must be made about Jhumra and Tilwada, comprising of 14 and 16 beats respectively. These are used only for vilambit khayal compositions, and hence should be called just thekas, and not taals really. You will not find a tabla player playing solo in these!!

I think we now have covered enough ground to actually get into the presentation, and how different kinds of musical material is created….

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