Tillana – The Magic of Rhythm

Every one of us who’s been to a Bharatanatyam dance recital would have heard a tillana. Tillanas are recognisable due to their use of rhythmic syllables such as ta ka dhimi, takita jham jham. In fact, the word tillana itself is onomatopoeic. Tillanas in addition to their jathis (rhythmic syllables) also have a few lines of sahitya (lyrics). The sahitya appears in the charanam or the last part of the composition.

Tillana is a popular part of the carnatic repertoire and is heard before the mangalam, the concluding piece of a concert. It is widely believed that the early 19th century composers collectively referred to as the Thanjavur Quartet (Chinnaiah, Ponniah, Sivanandam and Vadivelu) were instrumental in bringing this composition to the Indian dance and music world. Tillanas have been composed in rare talas such as the complex Simhanandana to the simple Rupaka. Here is a tillana in raag Purvi composed by Thirukokarnam Vaidhyanatha Iyer set to Rupaka tala.

Here is one in ragam Senchurutti composed by Veena Seshanna and sung by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer.

The multi-faced composer Swati Tirunal was well known for his range of repertoire from carnatic krithi, hindustani bhajans, padams and tillanas. Listen to this vibrant tillana in ragam Dhanashree popularized by MS Subbulakshmi.

Violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman was a prolific composer of tillanas. Here is the popular one in ragam Sindhubhairavi. This video was released as a celebration of his 90th birth anniversary.

The tarana in Hindustani music is similar to the tillana in Carnatic music. Its origin is traced to Amir Khusru (much earlier than the tillana) and is influenced by Persian Sufi music. There is an interesting story, perhaps apocryphal about a music competition between two musicians at the court of Mughal emperor Alauddin Khalji (1266 – 1306 AD). One of the competitors, Gopal Nayak sang a song in Sanskrit hoping that his opponent Amir Khusru will lose due to his lack of familiarity with the language. Khusru sang the same song substituting the Sanskrit words with Persian and created a new type of composition referred to as the tarana. To read an interesting article on the history and evolution of tarana in Indian music, click here. Listen to this emotive tarana in raag Sohini by Ustad Rashid Khan, one of my favorite Hindustani musicians.

2 thoughts on “Tillana – The Magic of Rhythm

  1. Loved listening to the Tillanas. Nice blog.


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