8- Laya and Tal Aspect

Dr. Ibrahim Ali

Ustad Amir Khan accepted laya as an instrument to keep the speed and its stability under discipline, in his swara salient gayaki. That is, swara is the medium of expression for him and laya is the means to keep its form balanced on the basis of kal [time]. It is not in itself a medium of expression. Both extremes of laya [ativilambit and atidrut] are covered by raga improvisation in Ustad Amir Khan’s style. As his bada khayal set in jhumra moves in ativilambit laya, his tans in chota khayal and taranas moving in drut laya, reach atidrut laya.


Khan Saheb contributed a lot in embellishing ativilambit gayaki and getting it venerated in music concerts. He ventured to present ativilambit gayaki at such a time, when exciting vocal styles, playing with layakaries and making the audience spell bound by collision of tal, were presented and heard.


Approximately one fourth laya of normal laya of vilambit ektal or jhumra in bada khayal is known as ‘ativilambit’. That is why, originally ektal of twelve beats and jhumra of fourteen beats, are used on the basis of forty eight and fifty six beats respectively, in vilambit khayal.


Although before Ustad Amir Khan, Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan had applied this laya, it could acquire the status of a recognized style only due to Ustad Amir Khan Saheb. Being influenced by the popularity of his style, other forthcoming artists also adopted it.


For the success of singing in ativilambit laya, capacity to stay on swaras and patience is required. Khan Saheb had this capacity. When duration of rotation of tal is increased, opportunity for flight of imagination in alap and tan etc is obtained. As the duration between beats is increased, its hold on swaras is comparatively relaxed. Hence the stability of swara gets boosted. Thus the gayaki based on imagination and deep contemplation gets ideal ground to grow.


Because of above reasons, Ustad Amir Khan adopted ativilambit laya in most of the bada khayals and applied jhumra tal befitting this laya. In those days, generally ektal, tilwada and trital were in vogue for bada khayal. Jhumra had become a non prevalent tal. Only few traditional bandishes were sung in it. But Ustad Amir Khan selected jhumra tal for ativilambit laya and the reasons for which he used it mostly, in this regard following points are worth consideration: -

  1. The form of jhumra tal is such that, in order to maintain actual form of tal, the tabla accompanist has to restrict on basic bol [sound] of tal [called theka] and there is not much scope to fill the gaps between beats with variety of fast bols. With Khan Saheb, only that tabla accompaniment was successful, where the tabla player, instead of showing jugglery of his hands, has the capability to maintain the laya and tal with controlled and melodious sound of tabla.
  2. The initial ½ part of the second beat of jhumra tal is left vacant. That is, after sama, the silence of 1½ beats can be better adjusted with previously described ‘pause’.
  3. In this tal, four times the bol: ti ra ki ta’ [on 3rd, 7th, 10th and 14th beat] comes, which is helpful to the tabla player to maintain the laya. As has already been mentioned, in ativalambit laya, one beat is divided in four internal beats, which makes it easy to understand. Every syllable of ti ra ki ta of jhumra [1 ti, 2 ra, 3 ki, 4 ta] naturally play the role of four internal beats.
  4. In the last two beats of this tal, 1 dha ge, 2 ti ra ki ta are present. So, there the internal beats are available naturally. Hence the accompanist is not required to fill the refrain with secondary phrase, nor is there any scope for it. Thus, the refrain of khayal and its sama are presented according to the convenience of the vocalist.
  5. There are 12 beats in ektal and 14 beats in jhumra. Comparatively there being two more beats, the period of rotation is increased and within which sufficient scope is available for raga improvisation. Besides it, it is necessary that period of rotation of tal should be increased for Khan Saheb’s system of setting up the whole sthayi in one rotation. According to the tabla player, Ismail Daddu Khan, one rotation of jhumra took 70 to 75 seconds, in the laya applied by Khan Saheb. But, in audio records issued by HMV, Khan Saheb did not use such vilambit laya. The time of one rotation of jhumra could be assessed as 65 seconds in these records.[i]


Generally the conservative supporter of bada khayal having vilambit laya near the madhya laya, allege that there is no relation between tal and singing in ativilambit bada khayal. To show sama in miraculous manner, to high light every beat by stress on swaras, to demonstrate mathematical dexterity by tihais [three tier method] and to entangle words with tal beats; if these are supposed to make relation between tal and singing, then certainly it can be said that these were missing in Khan Saheb’s gayaki. In an interview, when Khan Saheb was asked about the criticism on ativilambit laya, he replied as under: -

“Every one has his own nature. Some one is inclined towards drut and the other is inclined towards vilambit. Generally it has been seen that those who could not adorn ativilambit, called it bad. For them, grapes are sour.”[ii]


Instead of putting a question mark on the competence of each other, it is better to relate using or not using ativilambit laya with the nature of the style.


In the gayaki of Khan Saheb, those factors which show the relation of singing with the tal in ativilambit laya are as follows: -

  1. Because the whole sthayi falls in one rotation, the words of bandish have not to be unnecessarily prolonged and though they may not be fully parallel to the beats, still their relation with tal khand remains constant.[iii]
  2. Usually he presented sthayi two times in the very beginning, and in spite of some difference in the swara composition in both presentations, the similarity in division of words in khali-bhari, proves the setup with tal.
  3. In ativilambit bada khayal, only the laya of tal is reduced, not of bandish, that is why it becomes possible to bring traditional sthayis of bada khayal in jhumra in single rotation, which usually take three or four rotations. The traditional vilambit khayals in raga puriya kalyan [Aaj Sobana], raga nand kalyan [Ai Vare Saiyan] and raga bhatiyar [Barni Na Jaye] are the grand examples of this among the audio records of Akashwani. Pt. Amarnath has thrown enough light on the above matter, in his lecture demonstration delivered at Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal. A part of that lecture is as follows: - “The vilambit which is sung now a day, which is being called ativilambit, it is nothing else but we have brought down the theka [basic form of tal] four times, the laya of khayal is the same. The khayals, which we had sung in four rounds, now we sing in one round. Still beats are 48 [in the context of ektal]. But why we did so? It is a question related to the aesthetics. When we improvise the raga in detail and sing it enjoying deep Samadhi [concentration] and minute points there in, then when beat of the tal intervenes, it disturbs us a little. The khayal has not been done more vilambit [slower], laya of the khayal is the same; we brought down theka four times, which has come to 48 beats. Thus, this is an aesthetics, which started with Kirana Gharana. Followers of Kirana and Indore Gharanas use it. Now others are also using it because it is a good thing. Consider it as a progress.”


On the laya and tal aspect of gayaki of Ustad Amir Khan, Dr. Prabha Atre throws light as follows: -

“It is said that Khan Saheb knew the Tabla well. Its reflection can be observed in his gayaki. But very few people could realize it. In his gayaki, the movement of laya used to be as refined as that of swara, touching lightly. Does the vocalism of Khan Saheb have any relation with the tal? What is to be said about them who made such remarks? Falling forcefully on the sama, striking a tihayi, confronting with the tal all this shows relation with tal. This might be their [critics] conception.”[iv]


In fact, the purpose of application of ativilambit laya in bada khayal is that, raga must have scope to establish its full effect through swaras even in nibaddha gan [set up of song]. The famous vocalist and expert of Rampur-Sahaswan Gharana, Hafiz Ahmed Khan says in an interview about ativilambit laya: “In ativilambit laya, tal is not salient. Hence, the contribution of tal should not be expected there. There the swara is most important. The delight produced by salient ‘swara usage’ with secondary ‘laya’ can be realized only when prejudice is given up.”[v]


The extempore improvisation of bol ang, based on layakari, which is basically a part of dhrupad gayaki, was not included in the vocal style of Ustad Amir Khan. Its alternative was available to him in the form of sargam. That is why, where as the form of his sargam is inspired by khand meru, there is also expression of layakari in its movement.


In Khan Saheb’s tans, application of swara stress, produced complex laya types. The different combinations of laya type appear peculiar sufficiently. Laya parts of 3-3, 4-4 are not to be seen parallel in his laya application. Instead he used laya types in a mixed manner. Amir Khan Saheb himself says: “previously much jugglery was performed with the tabla player in singing, which is reduced in my gayaki. Much soberness has been brought in it. Although layakari in it is so tough that people are unable to understand how the tan reached to sama. Because different type of divisions are in it. People never went ahead of tristra jati [division of three units] and chatastra jati [division of 4 units], or if they ever sang any tan in khand jati [pattern of combining divisions of 3 and 4 units], they sang a palta of the whole khand jati. That is whatever bal [stress] was applied, was maintained completely till the end of tan – to show that they were singing khand jati. But, the division I make in laya, I have changed the method. If I sing one bal of tistra jati, I sing the second bal of khand jati and the next bal of mishra jati. [Then he sings to give an example]:- 

"g g r s, s n n d m, d G GG R S n, d m g r s.

*         *               *          *            

 g, s g g r s, s n m dG G RG R S n d m g r s."[vi]

 *     *             *              *           


In above tans '*' sign represents the place of bal [stress]. The long and short swara phrases, joining together, produce laya variations on the basis of stress.


So far as the application of tal is concerned, besides jhumra in ativilambit laya, few bada khayals or madhya vilambit compositions were sung by Khan Saheb in aiktal, trital, jhaptal and roopak, and chota khayals / taranas were presented in ektal and trital.

[i] Observe: L. P. No. EASD-1331 – vilambit khayal of raga megha and Cassette No. STC-04-7504 – vilambit khayal of raga chandani kedar.

[ii] Sangeet-January/February 1980, P. 19, ‘Meri Gayaki, Meri Awaz Hai’, Writer: Ravindra Bishta.

[iii] To see the Swara notation of Bada Khayal of Raga Malkauns, click here

[iv] Swarmayee-‘Amir Khan Saheb’, Author: Dr. Prabha Atre P. 31.

[v] Sangeet-January/February, 1976, Khayal Edition P.193, ‘Khayal-kuch Sangeetagyon Ke Khayalat’ [Khayal-views of some musicians]. Author: Mukesh Garg

[vi] Audio recorded interview, April 1973, Sangeet Academy, Bhopal.